Sunday, July 3, 2011

Movie Review: "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" (2011) (Spoilers)

I saw Transformers: Dark of the Moon with a couple of friends last night.  Here's my review:

The Good

For starters, the movie was never boring.  Even the cinematically-superior Super 8 had moments where it dragged.  I will give Michael Bay and his coterie of writers credit--I've seen several Bay films and I don't think any of them were dull.

Sentinel Prime's betrayal was a really good idea.  I've discussed the concept of evil Autobots with some people on my alternate-history message-board but I've never seen it actually done.  It would have been more interesting if more Autobots went went him--in his ultimatum to the United States, he demands that "Autobot rebels" be expelled, which came off to me at the time that there were non-"rebel" Autobots.

I liked a lot of the humor, including the bathroom assault on Sam by conspiracy-theorist Jerry Wang (Ken Jeong) and how he later busted out out two pistols on Laserbeak.  Although I didn't like Sam's behavior for much of the early part of the movie, I did find him funny at times.  The scene where he totally spazzes out and (briefly) overpowers a NEST soldier was one of them. The scene where Sam's mother starts talking about how he wouldn't be so lucky with women a third time unless he had a large member--and how Sam and his father both react to that--was also amusing.

Speaking of Laserbeak, I liked him (or was it her?).  I remember in the cartoon that he was Soundwave's spy-bot, but here he does quite well as an assassin robotic vulture-from-hell.

The "secret history" angle of the film (the Cold War space race was really about who could get to a crashed Cybertronian spacecraft first) was interesting.  And they brought in the Buzz Aldrin, which was kind of cool.

I remember when I was a kid watching an episode of the animated series in which the Decepticons' gambit is to bring Cybertron to Earth, although I cannot remember why.  It's good to see they took a plotline from the TV show and at least tried to provide a reason for it (convenient location to billions of slave laborers to rebuild it).  I also liked that we saw the war on Cybertron, however briefly.

The Decepticon gambit of using small-scale space bridges to bypass the defenses the humans and Autobots have established to defend against orbital attack was a clever one, as well as how they manipulated the Autobots into reviving Sentinel Prime and how they actually had the space-bridge components the entire time.

I did like how they depicted Megatron, despite lying in a trash heap in an alley after being essentially usurped by Sentinel Prime, watching Cybertron materialize in Earth orbit and being glad the planet has been saved.  Although the ideological differences between the two Cybertronian factions are not described in detail (I would deduce the Decepticons are fascistic due to their cult of personality around Megatron and Cybertronian-supremacism), I imagine Megatron would have ultimately wanted the best for his world and race despite his general villainy.

And however much I didn't like Sam (Shia LaBeouf) earlier in the movie, later on, when he in TVTropes terms Takes A Level In Badass, he's impressive.  He holds a gun on Carly's treacherous boss, plays a pivotal role in killing Starscream, and then later hammers Carly's boss into a space-bridge device with a length of rebar after vowing to kill him.  No "hero refuses to kill the villain and the villain does something stupid to get themselves killed" idiocy here.  Boo-yah.

And *how* Sam is depicted killing Starscream is foreshadowed by a training session in the NEST base in which we see human soldiers jumping on Bumblebee from above.  Writer Ehren Kruger did think that one through.

The Bad

Where do I begin?  There's just so much to criticize once you actually start thinking.

Sam was really, really obnoxious in the beginning of the movie.  I can understand that not being able to find a job would be frustrating, but I would expect someone with his life experiences to be much more desirable to employers (since the Autobots' existence is apparently known to the general public, there's no need to cover up his role in the first two films) and have much better job interview skills.  Seriously, I've bungled job interviews, but never as atrociously as he has.  One would hope an Ivy League school (Princeton?) would have prepared its graduates better.  And the way he behaves toward Carly wasn't cool at all.

Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) was not a good character.  She and Sam had little chemistry, which is kind of important given how she's set up as the love of Sam's life.  The only depth they tried to give her was that she was from a military family and her brother had died in battle and that only comes up in one scene, when she and Sam have their fight.  That part of her character could have been developed much more, perhaps if it had been introduced earlier--when we see that she and Sam are living together, we could see photos of her and her brother, for example.  About the only significant thing she does besides being taken hostage is to manipulate Megatron into turning on Sentinel Prime. 

(I admit it, I did like the "Sentinel Prime's bitch" line.)

I'm not going to defend Megan Fox's behavior, but it would have been far better if Steven Spielberg or Michael Bay (whoever actually pulled the trigger) simply made her watch Schindler's List a bunch of times or volunteer for one of Spielberg's Holocaust projects as a condition of further employment to get it through her head that no matter how overbearing a director is, comparing him to Hitler is ridiculous (and given how Bay is Jewish, particularly insulting).  If Fox absolutely had to go (some crew from the second film accused her of diva-like behavior), they could have recast Mikaela instead of shoehorning a much less-developed character into her role and throwing in some comments about how Mikaela was "mean" and how she dumped Sam, which strike me as being fairly out-of-character.

(Especially the latter--see my earlier post In Memorium: Mikaela Banes in which I noted that loyalty was one of her character's big traits.  If Sam had said "she chose her father over me" or something like that, it would have been much better.  Instead, we get petty crap like her being "mean" and dumping Sam.  Really, Michael Bay?  How immature.)

Starscream's attack on Sam and Carly toward the end of the movie was ridiculous.  I have never seen a mechanical life-form spit that much.  He was like an F-22-sized psychotic Sylvester the Cat.  And the drama-queen way he screamed when he got speared in the eyes by the gadget in Sam's glove was so irritating.  I like my interpretation of Starscream better (I wrote a fan-fic entitled The Revenge of the Fallen Reboot that basically transplants G1 Starscream into the movie-verse) than the one depicted in this film.  He wouldn't be second-in-command of the Decepticons if all he was was a sycophantic whiner.  And again, his penchant for treachery and his desire to usurp Megatron were completely ignored, just like in the second movie.

The U.S. military, like it did in Skyline, appears to have largely lost its capability of engaging beyond visual range.  When the Decepticons occupy Chicago, we see a couple of human fighters being taken out at knife-fighting range by Decepticon spacecraft with no indication they had attempted to attack from greater distances. At least they correct this later when they attack the Decepticons with cruise missiles guided in by special-ops troops.

Speaking of the special-ops guys, they entered Chicago via Ospreys, which are largely unarmed, and they did it without escorts.  No wonder Starscream was able to destroy half the aircraft and kill (I assume) a whole lot of them.  Lennox was in contact with General Morshower and even asked for a distraction so his team could get in.  We don't ever see this distraction, although the fact Lennox's team wasn't absolutely massacred by the Decepticon gunships seems to indicate it works.  Sam, Epps, and Epps' friends manage to infiltrate the city on foot and we later see some other soldiers entering the city via its waterways, so it would have been smarter to have done this.

The film depicts the Decepticons having forces, including gunships and even a much larger battleship, on the Moon.  Apparently they've been there for decades.  Where were they during the first movie?  I would imagine Megatron would have called them in during the battle for the AllSpark, which was his primary goal--he was so intent on catching the AllSpark that he wasn't paying attention to his surroundings and got frozen into a glacier.  There was no indication in the first movie that he was intending to meet up with Sentinel Prime.  The Decepticon forces would also have been useful in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, given the casualties the Decepticons were taking from the massed NEST tanks and the (apparent) lack of human air support.

The first movie bashed Bush, which I didn't like, and the second movie bashed Obama, which I didn't think was really appropriate either.  The third film features another obnoxious civilian official in charge of NEST (granted, she's an improvement over the guy from the second movie) and depicts both her and the U.S. government willing to agree to Sentinel Prime's demands after two hundred Decepticons infiltrate the United States via the space-bridge.  If the U.S. government was depicted as being in on the (phony) exile of the Autobots, that would be one thing, but the movie essentially depicted the (Republican) Congress, Bill O'Reilly, and the Democratic administration as a bunch of foolish appeasers and Optimus Prime being the sole mastermind of the plan in order to prove a point with the human leadership.

(I concede the infiltrated Decepticons could have done a lot of damage, but it couldn't have been worse than what happened to Chicago *after* the apparent assassination of the Autobots when they left Earth.)

And although this is a bit petty, the scene where we see the Decepticons in hiding in Africa and a bunch of National Geographic-style animal shots are interspersed with Megatron's posturing was lame.  Unless of course the goal is to show how degraded Megatron has become--he intimidates a bunch of elephants and demand they bow before him.  If only it weren't obvious that the animal shots were taken from elsewhere--the coloration and lighting look rather different.

The Verdict

An entertaining movie until you actually start to think about it.  Five out of 10. 

Although I do admit feeling a bit tempted, I'm not going to write a "Dark of the Moon" reboot fan-fiction.  "The Revenge of the Fallen Reboot" is going to be my last fan-fic, although I'll gladly disburse ideas to my loyal readers for them to use themselves.

This review also appeared here at the Dudeletter.

5 comments:

  1. "And again, his penchant for treachery and his desire to usurp Megatron were completely ignored, just like"
    Er, just like what?

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  2. Just like in the second film. Thanks for pointing that out. I've fixed it now.

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  3. http://korsgaardscommentary.blogspot.com/2011/06/transformers-dark-of-moon.html

    My own review... I wasn't too happy with it either.

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  4. I liked it only for the battle sequences. I also thought they did some smart things like populating Chicago with survivors hiding in buildings and running around on the streets. The whole battle for Chicago was stunning and worth the price of admission, but they need to do away with trying to give these films any sort of plot.

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  5. @ Korsgaard:

    I think I've already read the review, but I'll take a look at it again.

    @ MDS:

    Or actually put some effort into giving the movies a plot. At least with ROTF, they had the excuse of the writers' strike necessitating they rush through the script.

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