The Good: Special effects, Elimination of ridiculous ethnic pandering, Generally consistent acting, Moments of plot.
The Bad: Subversive nature of the movie, Ridiculous treatment of women, Obvious reversals, Disgusting abrogation of philosophical high ground.
The Basics: Initially engaging, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon quickly degenerates from a fairly clever science fiction work into an invasion story into a military advertisement.
I have not, traditionally, been a fan of the Transformers movie franchise. I did not particularly enjoy Transformers (reviewed here!) and I think I liked the sequel Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen (reviewed here!) even less. So, it might seem odd that I was the first in my local theater last night for the nine o’clock showing of Transformers: Dark Of The Moon. Despite her gasping and “ooh”ing and “ahh”ing each time we saw a preview for the movie, my wife begged off attending with me. Ultimately, I think she was glad she didn’t attend; I came to the point where I was not glad I had gone.
Explaining what is wrong with Transformers: Dark Of The Moon is initially difficult because the film is almost subtle in what it does, but not so subtle that if the viewer is engaged while watching the movie it doesn’t stand right out for them. I went into the movie engaged. I was initially excited because some of the elements that had been very, very wrong with the earlier two installments had been fixed. As my wife pointed out when we watched the other two recently, it’s hard to imagine a super-intelligent mechanical race that still speaks like a bunch of teenage street gang members. In other words, to appeal to the young, hip (and black) audience(s), some of the Transformers in earlier installments spoke more with ebonics and that was pretty ridiculous. That’s gone from this adventure, as is Megan Fox and her unsupported bosom.
Unfortunately, what the movie puts in their place goes from bad to worse on two very important fronts. While Megan Fox’s character in the first two installments had obvious t&a appeal, there was at least a passing attempt to give her character character. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s Carly isn’t even given the passing attempt. She is a pawn and her entire function in the movie is to present a pair of legs that will leave boys, men and many women salivating for weeks, eager to return to the theater just to see them again larger than real life. Unfortunately, this completely mortgages the one strong female character, played by Frances McDormand. McDormand, a universally respected actress of great quality and caliber, appears in Transformers: Dark Of The Moon as Mearing, the Director Of National Intelligence. She starts the movie as a powerhouse and in the last third of the film, I cannot recall any lines she had, save the punchline to her arc with John Turturro’s Simmons. This is because she is lost in a sea of masculine characters and by that point in the movie, it’s appealing to a very different audience, one where respecting women is not a primary concern. But, alas, I get ahead of myself.
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon opens, engagingly enough, with new information on the long-ago war on Cybertron. As the Decepticons moved toward complete defeat of the Autobots, Sentinel Prime created a technology that would definitively end the war with an Autobot victory. Unfortunately, before he could activate this ultimate weapon, the Decepticons shot down his ship and their valuable cargo. Somehow, the escape craft for it made its way to the moon, where it crashed in 1961, sparking the space race. And during the blackout during Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk, two American astronauts uncovered the crashed ship and brought back Cybertronian technology to Earth.
In the present day, Sam Witwicky, hero of two incursions on Earth by the Decepticons, is desperately searching for a job. He is a kept man, living with his new girlfriend, Carly, in Washington, D.C. and striking out at virtually every job interview he has. When his parents come to visit, he redoubles his efforts and manages to score a job in the mailroom of Bruce Brazo’s company. While Sam tries not to be too jealous of Carly and her boss, Dylan, Lennox and the Autobot-allied NEST team work a couple of clean-up operations in the Middle East and one in the Ukraine (at Chernobyl) that goes horribly wrong and exposes a powerful Decepticon, Shockwave.
As the Decepticons start killing off their human collaborators, Optimus Prime reveals that the Ukraine mission has uncovered a piece of technology from Sentinel Prime’s downed ship. Using the ship that brought the second wave of Autobots to Earth, Prime and another Autobot recover Sentinel Prime and five pieces of the ultimate technology from the Ark. Reunited with his former mentor, Prime is thrilled, but his elation is short-lived. Laserbeak, a Decepticon assassin, attacks Sam’s workplace as part of the Decepticon endgame. Sam tries to get Carly to safety, but the pair discovers that Dylan is a powerful collaborator who uses Sam to get information on Optimus Prime’s next move. That next move is one of utter defeat when Sentinel Prime reveals his true intentions and a full-scale invasion of Earth by the Decepticons begins.
Recapping the plot of Transformers: Dark Of The Moon might make the movie sound impressive or engaging (and for those worried about spoilers, Dylan and Sentinel Prime’s betrayals are pretty obvious from the outset because it’s That Kind Of Movie) and it could have been, but that it changes in tone and tenor for the last third. The first portion of the movie is pure science fiction. It’s not always good science fiction, whatwith the announcement that the world is in peril followed immediately by a scene where the viewer is taken to a car museum to look at shiny restored cars and the camera virtually molests Carly, and an appearance by Bill O’Riley. But for the most part, the movie starts well and it gets better. In the middle portion, the betrayals we know are coming arrive; Dylan is too smarmy to be good and the lack of Megatron for the bulk of the film tells anyone with more than a tenth of a brain that Sentinel Prime is not all Optimus hopes he will be. And in that section, the movie becomes a heart-pounding alien invasion flick. It’s a good one, but don’t expect the philosophy of something as smart as V (reviewed here!). No, any sense of what could have been even Autobot philosophy disintegrates when Optimus Prime tells everyone that the plan is to kill every Decepticon.
And then the movie goes to hell for the final third. The last third of the movie is complete, cinematic trash. Indeed, the best possible recommendation I can give in regard to Transformers: Dark Of The Moon is to walk out after the deportation scene. After that, the movie is over. What follows for the final third of the almost-three hour movie is what made me absolutely come to loathe Transformers: Dark Of The Moon. The movie stops being a story and it becomes the job advertisement for the U.S. Armed Forces that the movie was set-up (unbeknownst to the audience in the first third) to be. The last portion of the movie has Epps, Lennox and their teams moving through the besieged Chicago where the Decepticon forces have taken up, picking up different units of military forces and showing off what their talents can do. Sam Witwicky and the audience are exposed to a virtual job fair wherein the paratroopers, Navy SEALS, sharpshooters and ground troops all illustrate their special talents.
It’s dumb. Flat out. People might not want to read such precise criticism, but it’s dumb and it’s exploitative. Readers might want to believe they are watching an epic of science fiction, but they start watching one of the most absurd infomercials of all time. In the final third, Mearing gets all of her information from people who are not even assets and all of the men around her define what is important and essentially make the decisions that she ruled in the first third of the film. This is even more absurd than Carly being dragged through rubble, falling through and out buildings and being proximate to explosions without getting a single stain on her white outfit. And if one wishes to make the argument that I’m reading too much into this obvious candy for Summer Blockbuster Season, I’d ask who is shooting the firearm when the movie suddenly turns into a first-person shooter perspective for a scene?
Who knows? We don’t. We don’t know because that’s not the point. The point of Transformers: Dark Of The Moon at this point in the movie is not anything reasonable, rational or even entertaining. The point of the movie at this point is “You’re looking for a job, these are your options: Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines. Pick whichever you want, your life will be exciting like a first-person shooter game and your prize is this dripping chick who wants you, who cares that she can’t string together a coherent sentence? You don’t; you get to be her protector!”
It’s cheap. It’s almost as cheap as the way Leonard Nimoy uses his line as Spock (it’s actually Dickens, not Spock, but Nimoy made it famous for a whole new generation) in the mouth of Sentinel Prime. I had decided to watch Transformers: Dark Of The Moon because I enjoyed Star Trek (reviewed here!) and I thought that this movie might provide some hint as to the quality of the forthcoming sequel. We can only hope it does not go in this direction.
Usually, I spend some time discussing the character development and acting, but I’m done. Sam Witwicky doesn’t develop, he gets tossed around and goes to a job fair. The female characters get put in their places by men who act smarter and more powerful than they are and the acting is entirely familiar. Blowing up Abraham Lincoln was pointless and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley has such a pointless role as Carly that it’s no surprise in the last half that she struts more than acts.
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon might be the best of the franchise, but it’s still a lousy movie, despite the potentials from the beginning.
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© 2011 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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