Transformers: Dark of the Moon review
|REVIEWS - MOVIES|
Michael Bay transforms Dark of the Moon into a good film, despite what some critics have said...
The ‘bots are back in town for more Bayhem.
After the runaway success of 2007’s Transformers and the overblown, controversial - but arguably still enjoyable - 2009 sequel, Revenge of the Fallen, Michael Bay returns to the Transformers franchise once more for Dark of the Moon, a blockbuster that looks set to steal summer, if it wasn’t for those pesky wand-waving kids…
The movie opens during the final years of the war between the Autobots and Decepticons on the Transformer’s home planet, Cybertron. Sentinel Prime, Optimus’ predecessor, makes a last-ditch attempt to escape but his shuttle is hit. Crash-landing on our moon, it inadvertently starts the 1960s space-race, culminating in the historic 1969 landing. Using a break in the television coverage, Armstrong and Aldrin investigate Sentinel’s ship, the ‘Ark’ and, although the robotic forms are lifeless, they confirm that mankind is not alone.
Fast-forward half a century, we return to Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), who has now graduated from college and is hunting for jobs. Sam is living with his new girlfriend, Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), but is struggling to come to terms with his return to normal life after saving the world…twice. Even Bumblebee has deserted him, as - with Megatron in hiding - the Autobots are now helping to solve human conflicts. However, a tip-off leads Optimus Prime to Chernobyl where he discovers a piece of the Ark, before being attacked by a giant snake-like drill controlled by a new Decepticon, Shockwave. The encounter leads assertive official Charlotte Mearing (Frances McDormand) to reveal to Optimus the true purpose of the Apollo 11 space-mission, who then retrieves and reactivates Sentinel.
Excluded from Autobot affairs by Mearing, Sam finds a job working for the eccentric Bruce Brazos (John Malkovich). However, when an encounter with conspiracy theorist Jerry Wang (Ken Jeong) ends in a Decepticon attack, Sam again teams-up with ex-Agent Simmons and uncovers information about the Decepticon’s plan. They need Sentinel to power a piece of technology he was fleeing Cybertron with; a teleportation device known as a ‘space-bridge’.
Reinforced by an invasion army, the Decepticons plan to teleport Cybertron to Earth, enslaving the human race in order to rebuild their planet. All that stands in their way are a small band of brave humans and Autobots.
The plot is better, but no clearer, than the previous films, and pacing issues mean some may find the two-hour thirty-four minute running time a stretch. Much of the first half moves at Bay’s typical break-neck speed - the tone shifting quicker than an Autobot can transform - before it finally pauses for breath ninety-minutes in and builds towards the final showdown. However, when this comes, it is episodic in format, rather than the stereotypical crescendo of action. Bay has compared the battle to being ‘like Black Hawk Down with giant alien robots’, and he is right. His film does not have the raw emotional intensity of Ridley Scott’s film, but Bay replicates the structure of a group of characters moving through a hostile city and fighting off emergent threats. This also allows him to do what he does best; action set-pieces.
And he does them very well.
The final forty minutes feature two of the most breathtaking action sequences ever committed to film; the first involving Lennox’s (Josh Duhamel) elite unit of soldiers parachuting into the city using ‘wing-suits’. By filming the performers as they flew between buildings - and perfectly mixing this stunning stunt-work with immense CGI visuals - Bay offers an experience unlike any other; and this is one of the strongest aspects of the sequel.
However, even this is dwarfed by the sheer spectacle of a set-piece involving a collapsing sky-scraper. The building, with our heroes inside, is attacked by Shockwave’s giant drill. Worming its way through the floors, chewing through metal, glass and masonry, it causes the tower to topple at its mid-point. The whole sequence is visualised with tremendous style and as such is mesmerising to watch. However, despite the flawless special effects and terrific score from Steve Jablonsky, the final phase of the battle proves to be short, ending abruptly; it definitely would have benefited from an epilogue.
Despite all this action - which, as mentioned before, is jaw-droppingly good - the question still stands...is Transformers 3 better in 3D? I’ve seen the film in both formats, and in short, the answer is no. To give Bay credit, he has made arguably the most effort on any film since Avatar (2009) to make the 3D worthwhile. The scenes aboard the Ark have great depth, and an instance during a thrilling freeway chase along with the aforementioned sequences does make good use of the technology. Bay has also attempted to rectify the loss of colour inherent in the 3D glasses by brightening the prints of the film and writing to projectionists to ask them to make sure the equipment is set at the correct levels. His efforts are admirable, and fans of 3D may enjoy the fruits of his labour, but I was still left sceptical.
When I saw the film in 2D the image still seemed brighter and clearer, and I found I could focus on the detail and follow the fast movement of the action sequences with greater ease. The set-pieces were just as thrilling, and a 2D projection still feels more natural and aesthetically pleasing than 3D.
Ehren Kruger has taken over the writing duties and does well in keeping the characters inline with the other films, while also allowing Sam to develop slightly. LaBeouf brings infectious enthusiasm to the role, and although his character is left to shout and scream too much in the opening hour, the decision to have him as a wannabe-hero rather than the usual reluctant-hero is a welcome change. Although I hesitate to attribute any allegorical allusions to a Michael Bay film, it is interesting considering the director’s close relationship to the US military that Sam’s characterisation has followed the path of numerous Iraq and Afghanistan war films in depicting its hero struggling to adjust to normal society after risking his life.
Megan Fox’s absence isn’t massively missed, but Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is a poor replacement. Discovered - a rather loose term, if you ask me - by Bay while directing a Victoria’s Secret Commercial, the Devon-born model doesn’t make the transition from cat-walk to big-screen well. Her performance borders on possessing the same emotional range of a shop-window mannequin, while her ‘fear’ during the perilous action sequences carries all the conviction of a coat-hanger.
Her performance may simply be dwarfed, though, by the sheer weight of overacting by the supporting cast. John Malkovich’s appearance may be brief, but his scenery chewing is enough to rival the Decepticon drill - or at least the ridiculous performance of Ken Jeong. The Hangover (2009) stars surreal role is mercifully brief, and concludes in a sequence that’s almost a Monty Python sketch (Was that Wilkins? It must be a board meeting…).
John Turturro turns his character’s eccentricity up to eleven, from his TV interview introduction to wheelchair-bound seduction of Frances McDormand! Accompanying Turturro is his effeminate bodyguard Dutch (Alan Tudyk), who is likeable but superfluous. McDormand and Patrick Dempsy, as Carly’s boss, turn in more restrained - yet ultimately respectable - performances, and the film sees the welcome return of Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson. Julie White and Kevin Dunn are also back as Sam’s parents, but after they were over-used in the last film their brief cameo here is at one point surprisingly charming.
As for the ‘bots…Hugo Weaving's Megatron is given depressingly little to do, as are most of the Decepticons. Thankfully, the ‘twins’ from Revenge of the Fallen make no appearance in the film, and the new Autobots, including Que, a mix of Albert Einstein and Q from the James Bond franchise, are unlikely to offend. Bumblebee is still voiceless accept for his radio-speeches, but the special effects team do an incredible job of getting emotion into his eyes; particularly in one sequence during the Chicago battle.
Optimus Prime, as ever, is phenomenal. Peter Cullen voiced the character throughout the 1980s and simply is Prime. He is also given a weighty vocal sparring-partner in the form of the scene-stealing Sentinel; a welcome return to the franchise by Leonard Nimoy (who is a relative of Bay), who voiced Galvatron in the original ‘80s movie.
Many sequences between humans and robots are effectively filmed, but there still needs to be more characterisation and interaction between them. Nonetheless, there is enough in Prime, Bumblebee and Sentinel to create enough dramatic and emotionally engaging scenes to keep you entertained between the action sequences.
As for comparisons, the film is vastly superior to Revenge of the Fallen in terms of story, action, and structure and, while it may not possess the charm of the first film, the sheer spectacle of this instalment surpasses it. Dark of the Moon ignores the inexplicable mythology of the first films (the ‘Cube’, the Fallen) to direct the action in the realms of technology. In doing so, the film finally starts to feel like the epic piece of sci-fi it always could have been. Furthermore, the instalment also sees many more references to the original series, which is sure to excite fans of the franchise (Prime has a trailer!). In short, I'd say it's the best of the trilogy.
So despite the messy storyline, ridiculous overacting and structural problems, the film is nonetheless a wonderfully enjoyable popcorn movie that delivers plenty of action, spectacle and humour (however surreal). While no masterpiece, it likewise doesn’t deserve the critical derision that some have directed its way. Bay delivers escapist entertainment on an epic scale, and he has surpassed himself in this instance by creating some of the most memorable, awe-inspiring sequences I've ever seen; it’s Bayhem at its best!
IF YOU ENJOYED THIS ARTICLE, PLEASE HELP SUPPORT OUR SITE, AT NO COST WITH ONE CLICK ON THE FACEBOOK 'LIKE' BUTTON BELOW:
If you're interested in writing for Shadowlocked (disc and screening reviews, etc, or just getting some extra coverage for your extraordinary writing talent, get in touch with us.