Self Reviewed: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Self Reviewed: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Whether it is American cities or our beloved chilhood memories, you can't deny that Michael Bay is good at destroying things. But is he really THAT bad? In light of his recent comments relating to the "Ninja Turtles," let's re-visit the polarizing third entry in his Transformers franchise to examine what he does well...



You've got to hand it to Michael Bay. He delivers what he has promised; nothing more and, certainly this time, nothing less. 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' is a masterwork of its particular style. It serves primarily as a visual experience more than an elegant film, but for what it sets out to accomplish, you can't fault it for that. I would hope that anyone going to watch this is going in wanting to see giant robots pummeling one another and massive explosions at every turn because if you expect much substance beyond that, it was never part of the deal.


If anyone was skeptical about 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' after the much-maligned second installment, put your fears at ease. There was no writers strike to diminish the experience here. Easily, this is the best in the series so far, and I'm willing to bet that even if Michael Bay and the usual cast don't return, that the success of this film will solidify plans for continuing chapters. Not that the stories matter a great deal. Sure, this one does a good job at uping the stakes for the human players, and it packs a surprising emotional whallop, but in movies where the goal is to show spectacle of the highest order with some of the best effects work in Hollywood, how much can we expect from the mere mortals? For example, what purpose does Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whitely) serve? Oh, I know the obvious and easy answers. Eye candy. A dramatic device to motivate Sam (Shia La Beouf). However, nearly every shot of Whitely is exploitive. She's given little to do except to fulfill what I fear is Michael Bay's fetish, not the audiences'. Her scenes of peril fall flatter than her acting because we are given no reason to care about her aside from the affection Sam is supposedly said to have for her. A more effective scene involves Sam nearly risking himself for the ever-lovable Bumblebee.



The plot this time around is the most extensive yet, and again involves the destiny of the AutoBots and Decepticons being linked with Earth through some long-buried secrets. The story line of each film stands as its own self-contained narrative, so it isn't necessary to have seen the previous movies to pick up what's going on here. As explained in the opening narration, a vital Cybertron technology went mising along with the legendary Sentinel Prime. The location of the lost technology may or may not be hinted at in the title and it ties itself cleverly to the history of the Space Race between Russia and the United States. Eventually the urgency of all this information builds until the Government realizes they can't function without help from Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), which is convenient for him since he is without a job at the start of the movie. One might assume along with Sam that someone might have use for a guy who helped saved the world twice, but nevermind. Shia LaBeouf is again joined by Tyrese Gibson as Epps and Josh Duhamel as Lennox. I have felt in each film that they were underused, and that's more or less true here as well, but they get some of the best human action of the entire movie. Also on board for the third time is the manic Simmons, played by John Turturro with his usual gusto. Frances McDormand is a new addition as a very grumpy Government Official, and John Malkovich has a few tragically brief yet brilliant scenes as Sam's new boss. It's nice to see him show up, but his disappearance goes unexplained.


The movie is a whopping two and half hours. It moves along at a lightning pace, which is just as well, but I'm not convinced that Michael Bay is terribly adept at conveying a three-act structure. Each installment has started with a voice-over by Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) divulging important information to establish the story. Then what follows is a series of events that just seem to happen until they end. As far as I could tell, the scene that kicks off the last act just sort of pops up arbitrarily. I didn't mind much, because during the entire last hour, Michael Bay's technical prowess really proves itself in spades. Bay may not take regard of physics or the logistics of how the atmosphere works, but this is far and away the best action climax he has ever created and it sets a new bar for other features of this type. What surprised me is how relatively easy it is to track what is going on. There is a wingsuit sequence that has been discussed extensively and watching it unfold is absolutely astonishing. The effects of the bots themselves are pretty seamless and they appear to have actual weight to them this time, and occupy the same space as the human actors. The destruction of Chicago is surprisingly affecting in its execution and it evokes an emotional response that I didn't expect. Many will recognize locations from 'The Dark Knight' and considering how high-profile Chicago has been in the movies as of late, I can see perhaps why Christopher Nolan chose not to return for next summer's 'The Dark Knight Rises.'



As for the 3D, I will say that it is unequivocally the best live-action use of it that I have seen. Michael Bay went to great lengths to inform venues to project it properly and the IMAX in Seattle followed his instruction. It was a vibrant image and technically, impressive. However, I maintain that 3D is not a viable means to make films. First of all, it's an obtrusive technology that limits a filmmaker's options for shots. A director must go out of his way to purposely stage shots with 3D in mind, and while this is what made Michael Bay's effort successful, it is simultaneously the reason it should not be implimented very often. To really notice the third dimension, objects have to be placed heavily in the foreground to emphasize the depth of field. For many passages of 'Dark of the Moon', I forgot the 3D was even there. This further proves that 3D really adds nothing to feature films in the cinema. Any director worth his salt can create the depth of field necessary for audiences with two dimensions. I suspect that 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' will be just as entertaining in 2D, and that will be the format for my second viewing to compare.


Michael Bay is certainly bold in his vision. He embraces with energy what he is good at and doesn't give much thought to the rest. That used to bother me until I realized that the bombastic nature of his direction is intended. He made many promises about 'Dark of the Moon' after the poor reception of 'Revenge of the Fallen.' For one thing, he set out to film the movie using James Cameron's 'Avatar' cameras and assured it would be the best use of 3D yet. So it is. The horrific humor of the last sequel is mostly gone as well, which lets the darker tone and action that accompanies it take hold. For everything he promised and subsequently presents, Michael Bay must be commended. What you see is exactly what you get and for sheer action and seamless effects, it is an exceptional presentation. Somebody should sit down with Michael Bay though, and teach him some better uses for female characters. I'm starting to think Megan Fox was onto something by not signing on for this one. Besides, how does Sam have time for a girlfriend, anyway?
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