REVIEW: ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’
YATES: Bay fails to deliver character development
It’s hard to believe that in 1984 the Transformers debuted in the United States in the form of little plastic Hasbro toys and an animated television series. I’m sure Hasbro had no idea that the Cybertron robots’most profitable days were still 20-plus years away.
In 2007, Steven Spielberg and Michael Bay teamed up to reboot the franchise as a live-action film with re-designed robots and an emphasis on humans. This summer the ‘bots are back for round three with “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” Director Michael Bay said he wanted to focus on character development and storytelling for the third installment. Could the master of big budget flicks keep his promise?
Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) has finished college and fallen on hard times. Despite a college degree and a medal of honor from the President, he can’t seem to find a job. The Autobots and secretive military Nest team have moved on without him, and Sam is having a hard time adjusting to civilian life with new girlfriend Carly (British model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley making her screen debut). When the Decepticons come looking for the remains of a crashed Cybertron-based ship on the moon, Sam is asked to join forces with the Autobots once again – this time to prevent the Decepticons from using what was on the ship to enslave humans and bring Cybertron to our solar system to be rebuilt.
Bay fails to deliver in his promise of more character development, and instead opts for the same formula used in the first two films. Bay also mentioned that this would be a darker film, yet the movie had more laughs than the summer comedy “Bad Teacher,” last week’s He Said, She Said review. I gave “Hangover 2” a pass under the rule of thumb of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – and I’ll do the same for “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” While nobody in the film will win an Academy Award in the Best Actor category, the film offers two-and-a half hours of action and dazzling special effects that will keep you entertained.
The film’s exposition cleverly intertwines actual footage from the Apollo 11 lunar landing into the film to offer the sci-fi narrative a scrap of verisimilitude. The storyline takes us to some unique geographic locations, including Chernobyl and Afghanistan. New York and Los Angeles have to be considered the most widely-destroyed American cities in cinematic history, so it was good to see Chicago finally get its comeuppance as the new kid on the block to be demolished by aliens.
The regular cast of characters is back, sans Megan Fox after a well-documented spat with director Michael Bay. LaBeouf shines once again in the slick-talking, witty hero role – though his importance to the alien war is played up a bit too much in this installment. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson return to lead the human resistance, and John Turturro as Agent Simmons seems to get better with each film. Newcomers Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand and John Malkovich breathe new life into the franchise, though I would vote for more Malkovich (who wouldn’t?).
Much like Transformers 2, the film seems to run a bit long, with a drawn out final battle. If Bay wanted more character development, he could have shaved about 20 minutes from the final scenes and offered up some meaningful dialogue to help viewers connect a bit more with the characters or relate to some of their dilemmas. It was fun to see what the screenwriters could come up with to create a third epic battle for supremacy among the alien transformers, and as far as that goes, I think they succeeded. What lies ahead for the billion dollar franchise is anyone’s guess. If I had to bet, I would say a prequel where we learn about the war that destroyed Cybertron. Sounds like a logical choice, as they seem to have the formula for the robots down – perhaps leaving humans out of the story is a wise choice for the next film.
WIEGENSTEIN: ‘Transformers’ is just plain boring
Here’s my initial remark about the “Transformers” series of movies, and “Dark Of The Moon” in particular: it’s not everyday that you can see the words “in association with Hasbro Toys” show up in the opening credits of a film. But given that about half an hour into any given flick in the series, the action devolves into a big-screen version of a kid clumsily smashing action figures together, it’s nothing if not fitting.
But what is director Michael Bay, if not the king of giant metal things running into one another? “Dark Of The Moon” (I assume Pink Floyd had complaints about them adding “side” into the title?) is the third in a still-continuing series, if industry word-of-mouth is anything to go by. And while numerous sci-fi/action genre films use the opportunity of a sequel to delve a little deeper into the emotionality of its characters (hence “Spider-Man 2,” “X-Men 2,” and “The Empire Strikes Back” being considered superior to their predecessors), Bay has inverted the model, dialing back all the humans as much as possible.
What little humanity remains is hardly anything to boast about – a vast amount of the humor in “Dark Of The Moon” derives from watching Shia LaBeouf, the ostensible star, be as big a loudmouthed moron as possible. He suffers, we chuckle. He goes up against Patrick Dempsey for the affections of his girlfriend (Rosie Huntington-Whitely), and it’s hard to root for him even as Dempsey slimes up the screen (kudos to McDreamy for going full ham, however).
Oh, right, plot summary: the entire U.S. space program was ultimately centered around learning about/covering up the existence of a massive ship escaping from the Autobot/Decipticon battles of yore. It crashes onto Earth’s moon (no points for guessing which side), and begins yet another struggle between the two robotic groups. In the midst of all this inevitably lies Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf), who begins the film whiny and ultimately needs nothing less than an intergalactic war to shut him up.
Veteran actors like Francis McDormand, John Turturro and my beloved Alan Tudyk (of the short-lived TV series “Firefly” and its companion film “Serenity”) seem stranded in the midst of all this, though they do their best at elevating the material given to them. McDormand in particular jumps into her role as a hard-nosed U.S. intelligence operative with an appropriate level of briskness, though at times it seems as though she might just be moving as fast as possible to extricate herself from the film. Huntington-Whitely is such a nonentity she’s hardly worth mentioning, aside from my surprise that she’s able to navigate a battlefield in what appear to be kitten heels.
The main flaw in “Dark Of The Moon,” however, is the kiss of death for a summer tentpole action movie: it’s just plain boring. The grand finale is a spectacle up to Bay’s typical standards, but there are at least three skirmishes in the lead-up, rendering the film a butt-numbing two-and-a-half hour slog. He’s always been among the most straightforward of modern directors – you’re never surprised by what you get in a Michael Bay film – and several shots in the film point out that he can indeed create beautiful imagery. But in a summer already populated by action films that manage to maintain a sense of interest and urgency, there’s simply no room for “Dark Of The Moon,” on this planet or any other.
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