Tuesday, 12 July 2011
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Starring: Shia Leboeuf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich
By Alan Bacchus
Here we go again – another round of Bay-bashing. And really, it’s so easy to hate this stuff. Certainly in this latest chapter of the Transformers ‘saga’, as before, it's more mind-numbing beat downs of sight and sound. Metal machines pounding each other endlessly, hyper-active human characters talking a mile a minute, American patriotism gone wild.
I had fun with the first film, if anything simply to watch what I had once thought was an unfilmable franchise turned into an impressive array of top notch special effects and eye-popping real world explosions, stunts and action. There were even some genuinely likeable and fun characters to enjoy, namely Sam Witwicky’s affable mom and dad.
By the second film, the repetition wore out its welcome very quickly – like after the first five minutes – thus rendering the theatrical experience assaulting. Even Sam's parents were annoying.
And so, with little expectations other than the smattering of lenient critics calling it the ‘best of the series’, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is a pleasant surprise. Sure, it clocks in at two-and-a-half hours, but it moves quickly.
Writer Ehren Kruger’s chief improvement is a simplification in character and plot. The opening establishes the reason for the title, Dark of the Moon – a fun riff on history, wherein Kruger postulates that the reason for the Apollo mission was to investigate and recover a downed alien spacecraft from the early ‘60s. Bay and company have fun with these conspiracy theories, including a jaunt to Chernobyl, and they plot out a fun backstory, which seems to erase what was established in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. So, objection here.
In the present, our hero Sam Witwicky is out of school looking for a job but frustrated that his hero status has been shoved under the rug by the government to cover up the presence of the Transformers robots. The Decepticons still exist in hiding and are plotting a scheme by which they can recover an important artifact from the Moon to revive the body of a long lost Autobot leader. This old robot does come to life in the form of ‘Sentinel Prime’ (voiced well by Leonard Nimoy), who may or may not be working for the Decepticons. Ultimately, the evil robots aim to construct a giant portal that would bring the entire planet of Cybertron to Earth for the purposes of intergalactic colonization.
Surprisingly, Transformers works well in 3-D. Most of the problems with this new medium have been corrected by Mr. Bay – there’s little, if any, ‘double imaging’, the brightness level was normal, the 3-D process accepted Bay’s kinetic action scenes well and I got no headaches! What an improvement from Avatar.
Because of the 3-D process, Bay’s shooting style was significantly toned down, for the better. Longer, wider shots tend to improve the scope of the spectacle aids. In full action, the robots were actually discernible, and for the first time in the series it wasn’t just a swash of colour and light blurred across the screen. In fact, this film might just have the least amount of action with much of it back-ended during the Chicago siege sequence. Bay takes his time and lets humour push the film into the third act when it gets wild and crazy. Arguably the best sequence involves very little robot action. It’s a fun adventure for Sam and his military team sliding across a Chicago building toppling over on its side.
Strong new characters add some freshness where the old ones had become stale. Frances McDormand’s tight-ass Chief of Staff character is fun, and she’s one of three Coen Bros. alum (including mainstay John Turturro) going along with the fun. Burn After Reading’s John Malkovich goes over-the-top in a role as Sam Witwicky’s looney boss. The ubiquitous Ken Jeong does what he does best as an equally looney conspiracy nut. And Alan Tudyk is just plain batshit crazy as a German assistant to John Turturro.
The new Megan Fox, Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, is a marked improvement. She actually might have some acting chops, and she certainly has a better funny bone than Ms. Fox had in the series.
Considering the license to print money this series has become, like the Pirates series, I don't doubt we will see more Transformers movies in the future. But thankfully, I doubt we’ll see Michael Bay back at the helm. Instead, he’ll likely be moving on to more creatively inspiring directorial ventures. We’ll see.