Friday, April 13, 2012

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

2011, Michael Bay -- Netflix

I get why critics hate the Transformers movies.  They're loud and in your face, they feature convoluted plots but give you little reason to care about the outcome.  The character focus is not on the titular Transformers, who have next to no personality or even really motivation of their own, other than Decepticons are the bad guys who want to take over the planet and the Autobots are the good guys who want to stop them.  Forget that in this film the Autobots are effectively reduced to slave labor for US military special operations and essentially told to step in line.  What they actually want doesn't really matter.

The character focus instead, again, lies on Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf), who, after saving the universe twice, is now an unemployed college graduate lamenting ad nauseum about his status in life, despite having a "hot", well-employed girlfriend who supports him no matter what (that is until he decides to try and save the world again at which point she becomes yet another of the selfish whiny bitch girlfriend stereotypes that big Bro action films like these like to create).  LeBeouf's character is still self-conscious, and still runs at the mouth a mile a minute without a censor in a razor-thin tightrope of amusing/annoying dialogue.

At the third movie of the series, there's been precious little character development in Sam Witwicky's life, and, to be frank, he contributes very little to the proceedings, other than allowing the effects department to take a break for about an hour out of it's 155-minute run-time.  His Megan Fox replacement, Rosie Huntington-Whitely is even more a useless character, with only his boss (an unnecessarily padded cameo from John Malkovich) and her boss (the modern cliche of the moustache twirling villain played by Patrick Dempsey) usurping the both of them in pointlessness.  About an hour of this film's plot and "character development" could easily have been expunged without really harming the story at all.

The story that would remain is that of the Autobots, who discover that the US military have been withholding information about a crash landing of a Transformers spaceship on the moon back in the 1950's, which is what spawned the space race.  This is set up in a well-handled flashback sequence that opens the film and is further embellished with shameless appearances from various Apollo astronauts, including Buzz Aldren, telling of their exploration and extractions of the spacecraft.   What is further revealed is that Optimus Prime's predecessor, Sentinel Prime (voice by Leonard Nemoy, in a nod to the 80's Transformers movie) has been in storage and Optimus resuscitates him. Etc. Etc.

Really, your enjoyment level of the Transformers movie will depend almost entirely on how invested you can get in the war of the Autobots versus the Decepticons (although I imagine there's a tipping point that if you're a big, big fan of Transformers, the movies might be disappointing in their lack of Transformers character development).

Dark of the Moon positively jiggles with fat, for nearly 2/3 of its running time, but in some respects, it's not all that bad.  Like some sort of chubby chaser, I think the films fat was kind of enjoyable... excessive yet still entertaining in a way.  There was no reason to have John Malcovich playing Sam's whackadoo boss, but it's kind of fun that he's there.  A cameo from Community's Ken Jeong as a conspiracy nut was a flagrant deus ex machina, and yet, I enjoyed it.  Was it necessary to have John Turturro back once more?  No, but seeing him molest his friend's wife (Francis McDormand, wife of one of them Coen brothers) was kind of fun.  Did we need a visit from Sam's parents?  No, but I think Kevin Dunn and Julie White are fabulous.  And Alan Tudyk's weird German assistant to Turturro with a black ops past?  Ridiculous, but scene stealing, and wildly amusing.  It's all just deep fried butter, but it would be meaningless if not for the chocolate covered bacon it accompanies.

Sweet and salty is the third act, a nearly hour-long action set piece in the heart of Chicago, with the Autobots and Decepticons running wild, blowing shit up at every turn, skyscrapers toppling over after being compromised by some weird robotic worm thing.  There's paragliding suits which are fricking amazing to see in action (not a CGI effect) weaving between buildings, and Bay has finally honed his robot fighting to a degree where you can actually makes sense out of what you're watching.  I may never watch this film in its entirety again, but I'd definitely watch this sequence over and over and over.

The film, and the entire series' biggest failure is in the design of the Transformers.  They're unnecessarily busy, obtusely complicated, and downright ugly, making them hard to look at and even harder to appreciate.  The fact that the Decepticons are rather generic and lack much if any colour makes them disposable and indistinguishable villains (whereas the Autobots at least are coloured distinctly to differentiate them).

Given the massive financial success of these films, obviously the populace, if not the critical community is enjoying them.  I get it, they're not good films, but they are goddamn entertaining ... for the right crowd.  I would never recommend this movie to anyone, but I also won't say I didn't enjoy it.