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Transformers: Dark of the Moon – It didn’t suck

Transformers: Dark of the Moon - Theater Review
Release Date: 06/29/2011 - MPAA Rating: PG-13
Clacker Rating: 3 Clacks

Although I would give the machines an A for acting and the humans a C+, 'Dark of the Moon' proved a surprisingly enjoyable summer film. It won’t win any Oscars for writing, but the action proved solid and the script cohesive.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), directed by Michael Bay and written by Ehren Kruger (Blood and Chocolate, The Brothers Grimm), surprised me. After the hideously disjointed action-oriented wreck of the first Transformers (2007), I skipped Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009). However, the third installment, surrounding another Decepticon invasion, proved the better of the two. To truly shine, all Transformers needed was a cohesive plot to guide the action, which Dark of the Moon incorporates. I enjoyed the opening half hour, the nod to contemporary and space race politics, and the CGI. Unfortunately, the film’s best part surrounded the non-human actors and their dialogue, while the humans acted like two-dimensional comic relief a la Jar Jar Binks.

Unsurprisingly, the CGI, the Autubots, and the Decepticons proved the film’s true stars. The opening scene featured a great usage of 3D with toy-like, mechanical detail of Cybertron, the Transformers’ homeworld. Unlike the first Transformers movie, the switch between 2D man and CGI machine seemed smoother. From start to end, in the words of John Malkovich’s character, the film proved a “visceral” and “visual” experience. The Chernobyl set appeared sublimely beautiful in its emptiness. The film’s visual palate, including the austere white of Sam’s girlfriend’s workspace to the stark yellow of his office space, displayed a stylized aesthetic. The scenes following the opening included an awesome interspersion of 2D historical footage and 3D effects. Additionally, the 3D rendering continued throughout the movie, even in mundane scenarios such as job hunting, but those watching it in 2D shouldn’t have a problem.

The film featured some pretty heavy hitters concerning acting talent (and pop culture). Newcomers to the saga, Frances McDormand (National Security Chief Mearing), Patrick Dempsey (Dylan, Sam’s girlfriend’s boss); John Malkovich (Sam’s boss, Bruce Brazos); Alan Tudyk (Agent Simmons’ assistant, Dutch); Ken Jeong (Jerry Wang) and Buzz Aldrin all lent their gravitas. Even core fixtures Josh Duhamel (Major Lennox) and Tyrese Gibson (former Technical Sergeant Epps) really stepped into their characters. Kruger did a great job balancing the multiple characters and their plot lines. McDormand did a fabulous job as the no-nonsense security chief (while playing a Hollywood-cast female official who surprisingly rocks sensible shoes). Alan Tudyk had a great moment exhibiting his character’s dark side. And, Dempsey chewed up the scenes as Dylan (don’t get fooled by the film’s first half). Although I normally love Jeong, Malkovich, Shia LaBeouf (Sam) and John Turturro (former Agent Simmons), their manic acting, intent on exhibiting energy, reduced them into two-dimensional cartoons.

Despite the talented cast, my biggest complaint surrounded the human dialogue. In the alternation between Optimus Prime’s pathos and Sam’s cartoonish experiences, the humans seemed more like puppets while the CGI robots came across as the real actors. If we could split the film into two parts or wholly extricate the human, comic-relief oriented scenes, I would give the movie an A+. Unfortunately, the re-casting and re-writing of Sam’s love interest with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (Carly) further emphasized that puppet-like quality through her doll-like dialogue and screenshots. Huntington-Whiteley did a decent job as a character written to two-dimensionally support and love her boyfriend. However, the opening scene panty shot close up, the extreme leg and cleavage shots, and the casual upskirt panty shot constructed her as walking eye candy. Additionally, the covert swipes at Megan Fox’s character (Mikaela Banes), with mini-transformers stating “she was mean” or Sam declaring “I moved onto something better,” seemed unnecessary.

Overall, this film proved a better member of the Transformer series than the movie that started it. With a running time of 154 minutes and a PG-13 rating for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi violence, destruction, sexuality and innuendo (which might have equaled an R rating in the 1980s), the teenage boys that Bay seems focused on won’t be disappointed. Additionally, with a strong plot to drive the action, when we finally reached the ending scenes, Bay rewarded us with imaginative transformation sequences. I give it three clacks. Although I expected the film to fare poorly or to suck major league, I’m glad it didn’t. So, if you’re a long time fan of the series who shuddered at the first two, if you’re a girlfriend accompanying your boyfriend (or vice versa), or an adult accompanying your kid, don’t worry, you don’t need to pack a book. But, don’t be surprised if you find yourself cheering more for the Autobots than the people they protect.

Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures

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Categories: Reviews, Theater Releases

5 Responses to “Transformers: Dark of the Moon – It didn’t suck”

June 30, 2011 at 10:45 AM

You’ve hit on exactly what disappointed me with the first two movies. I wanted more of the Autobots and less of the humans. As a kid I watched Transformers for the Autobots, and Optimus Prime was the hero.

Imagine a TMNT movie that introduced a bunch of new human characters and reduced Leonardo and company to a sideshow… stupid, right? The turtles are the stars. I’ve always felt that in a Transformers movie, Optimus Prime and company should be the stars, because they are the most interesting, compelling characters. I don’t give a damn about Sam. He’s annoying. But I’m totally emotionally invested in Optimus and I want more of him – more dialogue, more character development, and more story for him.

Do you think I’m going to be disappointed when I watch Dark of the Moon tomorrow? :-)

June 30, 2011 at 7:13 PM

I didn’t like the first film because it lacked a plot to contain the action. Compared to the ‘Transformers’ animated movies that came out in the late 80s after the TV show, the first film didn’t seem to match up. It seemed more focused on showing robots transform without the balance of the drama of the -human characters.

However, this film reminds me of the animated films released after the original cartoon. But, I won’t lie, the humans remain pretty irrelevant. In fact, they’re pretty annoying. So, you’ll definitely see more of Optimus Prime and I hope you won’t be disappointed. But, expect more of the same from Sam. I have to admit after seeing this film, I wish they’d release one dedicated solely to the Transformers (or find a better way to make the humans relevant like in the TV show).

July 2, 2011 at 1:10 AM

Well, I saw it.

Michael Bay still hasn’t learned how to tell a story. I mean, do we really need a dozen POVs in one movie? Do we really need the protagonist Sam acting like an arrogant dick the entire time? And do we really need random cameos from random actors, just for the sake of shoehorning some weird comedy into the picture?

I don’t regret seeing this movie for two reasons: 1) Optimus in badass mode was kind of awesome. “I’LL KILL THEM ALL!” Ha, oh my word, that was so out of character – he must have been pissed. 2) Leonard Nimoy as Sentinel Prime actually quoted from The Wrath of Khan. Crossover Star Trek / Transformers movie, anyone?! But seriously, I liked the fact that there was a little bit of story for Optimus and Sentinel, but if Bay cut out half of those stupid human characters and their POVs, maybe he would have found time to actually delve into this, the most interesting of the story lines – the history and relationship between Sentinel Prime and Optimus Prime.

July 2, 2011 at 8:38 AM

Yea, that’s my point. There’s one ‘good’ movie and one ‘bad’ movie. The ‘good’ movie features the non-humans and the ‘bad’ the humans. If you could split them up then we’d have an hour and a half movie. I think both sides coalesced into one movie towards the end, but it was difficult until that point.

My main problem with Bay’s Transformers humans surrounds their lack of applicability. In the TV show, Spike Witwicky’s father was a mechanic/oil rig worker who assisted in repairing the Autobots. Although Michaela was a mechanic, they never showed her fixing them in the first film. So, in the film, outside of Sam serving as the first kid to meet the Autobots, there is no link save friendship. Bay’s films feel disjointed trying to force a connection surrounding Sam’s relevance. If he were a mechanic, it’d make sense that the Autobots would run to him saying, “Sam, you’re the first one we met and you’re the only one we trust to fix us.”

I loved badass Prime. Although out of character, I enjoyed the final scene with Sentinel. However, considering the panty shots and atomized humans, I’m still surprised this film didn’t rate higher on the rating scale. The one thing that seemed odd surrounded Sam dropping secrets he was forbidden to expose, without anyone batting an eye.

July 2, 2011 at 1:22 AM

PS. I have to admit, even though I got a kick out of Optimus going nuts, this is what I was thinking as I watched the movie.