Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Movie review: Transformers — Dark of the Moon
KAPOW! Take that, subtlety!
First off, congratulations to director Michael Bay for adding $30 million to the reportedly $195 million budget of Transformers: Dark of the Moon to make it in 3D. If ever there was a film franchise that needed more tarting up, the Transformers saga is it.
I mean, when you've thrown everything but the kitchen sink into a movie series to ensure its eye appeal — with hottie Megan Fox's absence from the cast having been nicely alleviated by the addition of replacement hottie Rosie Huntington-Whiteley — what else is left? If there ends up being a fourth Transformer film (Optimus forbid!), maybe Bay will can allocate an additional seven figures to implement some kind of electronically-deployed Sniff-o-Rama feature.
Seriously, though, the 3D effects in the film are as nicely done as any I've seen in a live-action movie. Which is to say, one forgets about them after a few minutes (just as one forgets about the additional 3D dollars tacked onto one's ticket price), and only a nagging feeling that things are a bit darker than they ought to be occasionally disturbs one's enjoyment of what's transpiring on the screen.
And there's a lot projected up there for us to enjoy, from a purely visual standpoint. Aside from the bad president impersonators (Kennedy, Nixon, and Obama), everything else looks simply MAH-velous: from Huntington-Whiteley's sleek and scantily-clad posterior (ogled by the camera to the point of distraction during her first appearance); to the magnificent antique automobiles in the collection of villain Dylan Gould (Patrick Dempsey); to the innumerable episodes of fiery crashes, ear-shattering explosions, and city-demolishing Decepticon skyscraper abuse (fare thee well, Trump Tower Chicago!), the seemingly endless series of Armageddons which populate the film never fail to hold our attention.
Which is a good thing, because during the rare intervals when the narrative concentrates on niceties such as character motivation or plot development, the whole unwieldy mess comes crashing down like a Cybertronian stripped of its connecting cables.
Writer Ehren Kruger, leaving his Revenge of the Fallen co-scripters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman by the wayside, posits a nifty alternative justification for Kennedy's sudden determination to land Americans on the moon ASAP: It seems the crash of an alien spaceship was observed by technicians in both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. in the late fifties, spurring both superpowers to develop a means of getting there and having a potentially cold-war-winning look at the thing.
Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) and his band of loyal Autobots eventually motor up to Luna to pore over the wreckage of their ship, which was lost in space during the battle for Cybertron, and which contains some technostuff that could have won the war for them against the Decepticons. By this time, however, the cargo — including the rusted remains of the Autobots' revered leader, Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy) — represents a clear and present danger to both the Autobots and their human allies.
Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is now living in Washington, D.C., bunking with his new girlfriend Carly (Huntington-Whiteley). For some reason, he can't seem to hook up with a woman actually shorter than him, but at least he keeps finding ones who are smokin' hot. Sam's presently unemployed, while Carly (who met him during the ceremony in which President Obama presented him with a medal for saving the planet) has quit her State Department job and now works for a corporation owned by race car driver Dylan (Dempsey).
Coming into the picture for no discernible reason other than to provide comic relief from the interminable metal mayhem are Sam's parents, Ron and Judy (Kevin Dunn and Julie White, reprising their madcap roles). They're so wacky and adorable! They park their bus-of-an-RV on the street in front of Carly's loft, and offer to drive Sam around town while he interviews for a job. (His Bumblebee replacement ride — a battered old Nissan of the non-transforming variety — deigns to start only on odd occasions.)
Sam lands a bottom-rung job in the tech company run by Bruce Brazos (John Malkovich, chewing the scenery to good effect during his limited screen time). In the process of delivering inter-office mail, Sam finds himself accosted in the men's room by crazed scientist Jerry Wang (Hangover funnyman Ken Jeong), who proceeds to extract documents from deep within his BVDs (Aargh!).
Upon later examination (Aargh! again), Sam realizes that the newspaper clippings reveal a pattern of untimely deaths amongst former NASA employees. And so begins the string of unnecessarily complicated events that lead to the necessarily apocalyptic climax of the movie, in which Chicago is laid waste by hordes of Decepticons armed with the newly-recovered technostuff mentioned earlier, brought to us by about a gazillion digital effects artists employed by Digital Domain, Industrial Light & Magic, Kerner Optical, Mova, and Tinsley Studio. (It says here on IMDB).
One of the film's action highlights is an amazingly realistic and truly gripping scene in which Sam, Carly, and a squad of NEST soldiers ascend to the 45th floor of a damaged building in order to bazooka one of the doom-bringing technocontrivances perched in a cupola across the Chicago River. Before Epps (Tyrese Gibson) can draw a bead on it, Decepticon meany Shockwave (Frank Welker) unleashes his mechanical minion Driller on the building. This fearsome creature looks like a cross between a Norelco rotary razor and a Dune sandworm. The building teeters sideways; our heroes slide uncontrollably towards the glass wall panels. If the razor-jawed Driller doesn't get 'em, the 500 ft. fall to the pavement below surely will. (Or at least, it ought to.)
I'm not even gonna start on the lapses of logic and strains placed upon one's credulity incorporated into the story line. (Like Hell I'm not.) First off, if we're supposed to be witnessing events that happen on the dark side of the dang moon, why is everything that happens up there so splendidly well-lit?
Worse, the motivations of the characters (both human and Cybertron) are muddled to the point of murkiness. Sentinel Prime is (SPOILER ALERT) brought back to life by his fellow freedom fighters, only to turn traitor on them out of an ill-conceived desire to see his home planet resurrected in all its Decepticon-controlled glory right here on Earth. He is surpassed in idiocy only by the brain-damaged Megatron (Hugo Weaving), who is talked into taking out his powerful new Autobot ally by none other than Carly, who stands toe-to-mandible with him in order to appeal to his insecurity — a trait heretofore exhibited nowhere in his character.
Speaking of brain-damaged: Dylan (SPOILER ALERT part deux), after the initial planetary crisis has been averted, takes it upon himself to restart the inter-dimensional tractor beam to bring Cybertron to Earth, even after he's witnessed the kind of future that awaits any humans left alive after the Decepticons take over.
[My theory: he does it so Bay can tack on another 38 minutes to the already 120-minute long movie. In case our senses hadn't been assaulted quite enough by that point.]
I'm sure there are plenty in the viewing audience who grew up playing with Transformer toys and watching the '80s animated TV series. For this group, the sentimentality inherent in the relationships between Sam and his giant robot pals will seem entirely natural. So when he leaves doe-eyed, long-legged Carly high and dry at a critical point in their relationship, and takes off to do whatever it is he thinks he can do to make a difference in a battle between metallic titans from space, these folks will completely understand.
As for me: I'd make a beeline to the loft with the replacement hottie. (Heigh-Ho, Autobots!)
A final word in regard to Steve Jablonsky's cloyingly melodramatic score: one more swelling orchestral strain, and I swear I'd have puked — from my surround-sound-assaulted ears, probably.
WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?: "That kid's an alien bad news magnet." - Simmons (John Turturro), re. Sam
SURE IS: "This is a total clusterf—." - Brains (Reno Wilson)