Let's leave the FA/IB drama behind us and get to something that I actually enjoy talking for hours about. Movies.
Yesterday I saw Michael Bay's Transformers: Dark Of The Moon. Given my reaction to the last two films, I was already anticipating titling this review Transformers: Turd Of The Poop. I didn't even pay to see it. Like with ROTF, I paid to see a better movie, then sneaked into the Transformers theater. Why? So that the theater gets paid, but Bay doesn't. He doesn't deserve my money. I gave it to JJ Abrams instead, because I loved the fucking hell out of Super 8.
Which is why it feels bizarre as hell to have to say this:
Dark Of The Moon isn't terrible.
Now, I didn't go in there hoping it would be terrible so I could bitch about it (Okay, yeah, I did somewhat); I went in with the same attitude I always have when I go to the movies. "Okay, I know that this will have some flaws, as all movies do. But I'm ready to have the good parts of the film make me want to overlook those flaws."
And for the most part, DOTM pulls it off. Not to say that there aren't MASSIVE FLAWS in this movie. Oh sweet weeping Christ no. But they're the types of flaws I've forgiven in other action movies that I've begrudgingly liked.
The biggest thing that's thankfully gone from this movie is the sense of 'uncleanliness' I felt while watching the first two. Watching Bay's movies, I get the impression that they are made by a man whose personality is that of the douchebag jock from 80s teen comedies. Transformers and Revenge Of The Fallen are two godawful movies that have an underlying nastiness that skeeves me right out. Dark Of The Moon manages to avoid much of the racism, inappropriate humor, nationalism and contempt for the audience which those two had. These elements still pop up in DOTM sometimes, but it's like an occasional fleck of spittle in your face instead of a full-on projectile vomit. Not good; but way better than the alternative.
That seems to be what a lot of people are saying. For once, I'll disagree with the reviewers calling this the "WORST MOVIE EVERRRR!!!" Aside from the fact that Bad Boys 2 is the worst movie ever, this one really doesn't deserve so much hate. It's the best of the trilogy, easily. But that statement needs to be put in perspective. The first two movies are like a lapful of rotting meat. This one's like a greasy, cheap hamburger. It is in no way a thing of greatness, but at least it's edible.
Since this movie is about as uneven as hand-grenades in your oatmeal, let's take a look at the individual elements of it, shall we?
THE CHARACTERS (and holy shit there are a lot of them)
*OPTIMUS PRIME: Kind of scary, actually. In some scenes he's deeply concerned with the welfare of all living beings, in other scenes he's all like "KILL ALL DECEPTICONS! BLAGGH!!!" He gets to do some very badass stuff at the end though. Oh, and he flies for a little bit. Which is awesome.
*MEGATRON: He looks great. Beaten but still holding on to dignity. Sadly, he doesn't get anywhere near the screentime he deserves. It's like they don't know what to do with him.
*SENTINEL PRIME: Easily the best-looking robot in the whole franchise. I dunno why there's beads in his beard, but his pointy red body moves fluidly and commands attention. His firetruck mode is a thing of beauty too. All this and Leonard Nimoy's voice! It's a shame that the motivation for most of his actions in the film feels scripted instead of genuine. Also, they actually have him say a Spock quote. It's pointless and made me groan in pain.
*BUMBLEBEE: He's there in the film, but doesn't leave much of an impression. Probably because they've never actually given him a personality. He still talks in radio snippets, but he's gotten better at it and it sounds like real dialogue now.
*STARSCREAM: Still looks like a chicken fucked a trapezoid, and he doesn't get much screentime, but he's the simpering, scheming bastard he's supposed to be and that we all love.
*SOUNDWAVE: Sadly, they kinda fuck him up. He's been demoted from communications officer to 'Go spy on Sam's girlfriend'. He turns into a sleek silver car now. As if there's not enough cars in the movie already. And where did all his extra mass go? He used to be a freakin' orbital satellite! Plus, they gave him eyes instead of a visor. His head was perfect the last time! Why'd they fuck with it!?
*SHOCKWAVE: He looks goddamn awesome. A close 2nd place to Sentinel. Again though, he doesn't do much besides command a gigantic burrowing metal worm that eats buildings. His role is basically that of the keeper of the Rancor monster. And he doesn't talk!! How hard would it have been to have David Warner record him some lines!?
*IRONHIDE: Gets one scene of solid badassery. [BIG ASS SPOILER] ...then they kill him. A lot of my other complaints are nitpicks, but I really hated that they did this. I liked Ironhide. Why didn't they kill off someone else we didn't give a shit about? Still, it wasn't like when they killed off Jazz. He got to do something cool right beforehand and his death was treated with importance. Still, I hate when a movie kills off a character just to shock the audience.
*RATCHET: Doesn't get a single damn thing to do. I thought at least he'd be healing 'bots in the climax.
*DINO: Is a pretty cool guy. eh has chain hooks on his arms and doesn't afraid of anything. Why is he called Dino though? I know it's a model of Ferrari, which he is, but it just makes me think of The Flintstones. (He was originally going to be Mirage. I would have loved to have seen a blue-and-white Ferrari Enzo robot. <shakes head sadly>)
*QUE: EEEYAH!!! God, his head looks freaky! Like a skinned skull!! He's an Einsteinlike pacifist inventor who contributes exactly one thing and eventually dies. It's a relief. (They nearly called him Wheeljack, which would have made no sense.)
*WHEELIE: In my ROTF review, this was my description of him: "Kill it now. Jesus Christ, kill that annoying little piece of shit right now." So one of the biggest surprises of the movie was that Wheelie ended up redeeming himself as a character. His accent's toned down, he's more mellow and thoughtful now, and during the climactic battle, him and his new sidekick Brains do something genuinely selfless and heroic. I'm dumbfounded.
*BRAINS: It seems like he very easily could have been the new annoying racism-bot, but all those qualities are toned way down from what Skids and Mudflap were. His voice sounds black, but not in any offensive way. His lines are sometimes funny. He actually helps a few times. He's more interesting for how awful he could have been, but managed not to be. (I have a feeling his and Wheelie's parts were written for Skids and Mudflap though. They're even voiced by the same two guys!)
*CRANKCASE & CROWBAR: Hard to tell them apart. They're two of three black SUV Decepticons that attack the Autobots. Ironhide and Sideswipe fuck them up.
*HATCHET: Crankcase & Crowbar's pet cat-thing. Like Ravage on steroids. Sadly, you hardly get to see him before he dies. Also, his toy is a jet. What?
*SIDESWIPE: Once again, criminally underused. And they changed his voice actor for some reason. He still looks great, he gets one solid sequence with Ironhide, then it's into the background for the rest of the movie. Man, this poor guy gets shit on.
*LASERBEAK: Wow he's an asshole. He looks like a skinned chicken. And he drools. And he talks, which is weird. Why does he get lines and Shockwave doesn't!?
*THE WRECKERS; ROADBUSTER, TOPSPIN AND LEADFOOT: Everyone expected these guys to take Skids & Mudflap's place as the irritating shitballs of the film. Amazingly, they're not. Double-amazingly, I wanted to see more of them. There's no explanation for why they're NASCARs, but they're a trio of heavily-armed brutal mechanics ...and they're British! I'd assumed they were gonna be rednecks! Their voices kinda run together though, so I'm not sure if Topspin even got any lines. They look cool though.
*THAT GIANT MANTIS-THING THAT TURNS INTO A GARBAGE TRUCK: This movie's Dispensor. He gets maybe thirty seconds, total, of screentime. And he's one of the coolest-looking things in the movie. GODDAMMIT. They had better fucking make a toy of him. I want a realistic garbage truck Transformer SO BAD.
*THAT GREEN HEAD-WITH-LEGS THAT FOLLOWS MEGATRON AROUND: I... don't even know.
*BARRICADE: Yaaaay! They actually closed one of the first movie's biggest plot holes and had Barricade show up during the climax! Poor bastard gets shot in the eye though.
*AND SOME ODD CAMEOS: I am not sure, but in one scene I think I saw Jolt in vehicle mode. During the big battle, I swear Long Haul and Brawl were in the background, and I'm pretty sure they both got killed in earlier movies. (Though the same thing happened with Blackout and Bonecrusher in ROTF.) Also, there's a robot who might be The Doctor crawling around Megatron's head in one scene. He gets squished before he can say anything though.
Now for the humans.
*SAM WITWICKY: Shia's performance is more committed this time. He's supposed to be frustrated and panicky for most of the movie, and he does it well. There's one scene where he's 'fixing' his junky car that got a laugh out of the whole theater.
*CARLY: This was one of the biggest mistakes of the movie. This character IS Mikaela. But blonde and British. It's painfully clear that the script was written with Mikaela in mind, but Megan Fox got fired, so they changed a handful of lines and like magic, she's a new character. The smart thing to do would have been to recast her. They did that in The Dark Knight and nobody cared. Should have done it here too. Carly is mostly useless and exists to be kidnapped, but does get one surprisingly badass scene with Megatron. Really. Also, there's one shot during the bigass climax, after she's been sweating and rolling around in her outfit for days, where I actually said out loud, "BOY, YOUR CLOTHES SURE ARE WHITE!" Gleaming white. I almost have to wonder if it was an intentional reference to Mikaela's clothes in the last film.
*SAM'S PARENTS: They're still horrifically annoying, and they wear green pants and Mom jokes about Sam's dick, but thankfully, they are in this way less and their scenes go by fast.
*PATRICK DEMPSEY'S CHARACTER (because I couldn't remember his name): Slimy asshole. He commits one of the worst moments of 'kidnapping someone, then giving them information that could ruin the entire plan' I've ever seen. Though maybe it was to show that he's waffling between which side he's on. It's possible.
*JOHN MALKOVICH AND FRANCIS MACDORMAND'S CHARACTERS: These people can act. These people have won Oscars. WHY DO BOTH OF THEM ACT SO BIZARRE IN THIS? They act in ways normal humans simply do not behave. Which brings me to...
*KEN JEONG'S CHARACTER: Some of what he does is funny, but all of it is purposeless. Someone who acts this erratic could not function in society. Period.
*ALAN TUDYK'S CHARACTER: I like the guy, but he's ANOTHER weirdo who seems like he's just improvising most of his part. No real reason for him being in the movie.
*JON TURTURRO, JOSH DUHAMEL AND TYRESE GIBSON: Yeah, they're in this too.
*LESTER SPEIGHT'S CHARACTER: He's a big giant black man who complains a lot. For the most part, he feels like an actual person instead of a racist caricature. Still, he gets annoying.
*THAT GUY IN THE MAILROOM: He only has half-a-minute of screentime. He uses all of it to be an annoying fuck and make me hate him.
THE DIRECTING Either Michael Bay has actually learned from past criticism (which would be nice but it's unlikely), or someone was seriously restraining him throughout filming. Almost everything that was truly awful about ROTF is reigned in here. Yet it feels grudgingly so. It feels like this movie wanted to be just as stupidly offensive, and all of that was going to happen but was cut out. There are some jarringly odd edits in this. Places where there was definitely a scene linking two other scenes and it's just gone for some reason. That might actually have to do with Skids and Mudflap. Some scenes with them in it were shot, but there was such backlash against them that they were completely cut out. (Amusingly, Michael Bay even offered a $25,000 reward to anyone who can find them in the movie. And even more amusingly, supposedly someone already has. What do you wanna bet Bay never had any intention of paying up?)
The pacing is actually pretty good in this. It's one-hundred and fifty-seven minutes long, but honestly does not feel like it. It helps that the story is coherent enough that you feel you're actually following something.
The action sequences are better. Either that, or I've just gotten used to watching things in Bay-vision. They do feel slowed down and not as shaky. Finally, you actually get to SEE some of the stuff that happens in the movie. There's good use of slo-mo and panoramic city shots. I didn't bother with 3D (because for me it just makes movies dimmer without adding anything), but a lot of the shots had enough depth that I don't think 3D was necessary.
Two action scenes stand out: one with army guys flying through the city in wingsuits (that turn them into human flying squirrels), and one with all the human heroes tumbling around in a skyscraper that's being cracked in half. Some of these parts are genuinely awesome, in the sense you feel awe watching them. But here's part of the problem. Once again, this movie spends too much time with the humans and not the damn Transformers. Even though the skyscraper scene was great, it made me wonder where the hell all the robots were at.
THE SPECIAL EFFECTS Better than ROTF. With that film, there was just something slightly 'off' about the robots. They didn't feel like they were 'there' as much as they did in the first film. This one does it flawlessly though. Not once did I ever doubt that the Transformers were really there and interacting with the humans and the environment. Sometimes I even thought to myself, 'How the hell can they look this real!?' The only two times I felt something looked fakey was one shot of the Autobots' ship, The Chrysanthemum (or something like that) taking off, and a few shots of JFK's CGI head.
Did I mention that Presidents Kennedy, Nixon and Obama are all in this movie? BUZZ ALDRIN AND BILL O'REILEY ARE BOTH IN THIS MOVIE. AS THEMSELVES. WHAT THE BAAAAAAALLS!?!?
THE WRITING Maybe Kurtz and Orci were the problem the entire time. Ethan Kruger wrote a little of ROTF's "script", but he did all of DOTM, and that's a good thing. There's one consistent story throughout that is relatively followable. It's far from what any movie's storyline should be, but for a sci-fi-action movie it's about average in terms of 'What the hell is happening?'.
ROTF had a big problem with some characters getting lots of screentime and other characters getting blink-and-you'll-miss-them appearances. Again, DOTM is better but not quite good. There's a hell of a lot of characters in this, and most of them get at least one scene to stand out. This has its own problem though. Characters are given individual scenes instead of feeling like part of the movie as a whole. Imagine the consistency of stew. Now imagine the consistency of spaghetti and meatballs. Do you get the analogy? In one, the meat is a part of the whole, in the other, it's in big roly-poly lumps that fall off your fork.
Also, physics. There is a scene in this; the culmination of the villains' master plan, which is the one true screamer of the film. You'll know it when you see it. It's BIG. There is no fucking way it could happen without cataclysmically screwing up Earth's gravity and probably killing everything on Earth. And yet it happens anyway. ROTF was crammed full of howlingly wrong bullshit, and I'm sure I may notice more after I think about DOTM for a while, but this was the only one that really stood out. It was almost welcome. Like, "Hi! I'm the impossibly stupid thing that always happens in Michael Bay movies! Good to be back!"
The movie ends really abruptly too. And a lot of characters die in the climax. So many that I don't know how they could pull off a sequel. There's a rather big loose end that could provide fodder for one, but if this is the end of the franchise, it feels like one. (Honestly, I can't say I don't want there to be another sequel, because I'm a Transformer fan for the toys, and the DOTM toys so far have been fantastic. So long as there's more movies, there'll be more robots to buy!)
THE MUSIC I didn't even notice it.
THE PRODUCT PLACEMENT Lots and lots and lots.
THE TITLE 'Dark Of The Moon' still sounds clunky and dumb, but it turns out it's actually been the name of a play and a few novels. So I won't rag on them for that. But I will rag on them for plagiarism. ;)
MINOR THINGS There's a scene where Laserbeak straight-up murders an entire family. And it's very well directed. It uses restraint and is genuinely horrifying. Color me surprised. There's other parts that actually show the suffering and collateral damage of the big giant robot battles. So there's some thought given to consequences here. On the other hand, there's also a bit where Ironhide hurls a truck into a store with no idea if anyone's inside. :/
There's a scene with the sexiest car I have ever seen. Normally I hate when Michael Bay lingers pornographically over hardware, but this car deserved it.
There were parts where things that hadn't made sense earlier were given later explanations that made sense. Gooood Michael Bay; you get a biscuit.
There's a scene near the beginning where some Autobots attack a desert nuclear base. It's not explained why, it's not clear what the outcome is and it seems like it's only in the movie to provide neat-looking trailer shots.
There's a scene where John Maklovich trys to coax Bumblebee into a fistfight. It is massively awkward. There's a scene with Alan Tudyk and some guns in a bar. It is pretty cool. There's a scene in the comics adaptation where Megatron shoots an elephant in the face just for getting in his way I really fucking wish that had been in the film. There's also a scene in the comic where Skids and Mudflap are burned to death with acid. THAT SHOULD HAVE BEEN IN THE FILM, BAY! YOU OWED IT TO US!
IN CONCLUSION Like I said, it feels like Michael Bay got put on a leash for this one. And... the movie sometimes feels hollow because of it. I *HATED* the first two movies, but at least I had a strong emotional response to them. With this one, my friend and I both walked out of it saying, "It was pretty good." But just pretty good. And that's kind of disappointing.
I usually prefer an earnest trainwreck of a movie to something that's okay with being mediocre. I'm glad that this movie didn't feel as bloated as ROTF, yet scenes that were epic in scale here curiously didn't feel as epic as similar scenes in the last two.
It feels like, when they neutered Bay's offensiveness, they dulled his passion too.
Let's be honest: the first two movies were clearly made by someone who LOVED what he was doing. They were awful, but they were that breed of Ed Wood awfulness: "Screw what anyone else says! I'm making this movie MY WAY!!!" And I hate that about Bay. Yet I find myself missing it when it's not there. It feels weird.
I could talk about Revenge Of The Fallen for eternity. As much of a stinking shithole as it was, it was unignorable. Dark Of The Moon is just another semi-competent, semi-broken action blockbuster. It's not an event. And that's a little sad.
I dunno whether to give it two-and-a-half or three stars. But I do know I'd much rather watch films that get either five stars or zero.
On the other hand, Megatron blowing up a national monument just to make a throne for himself was very in-character and quite badass. That's the kind of thing I wish there'd been more of.