At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

MPAA Rating: PG-13/ Genre: Sci-Fi Action/ Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Alan Tudyk, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Patrick Dempsey, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Ken Jeong; Voices of: Peter Cullen, Hugo Weaving, Leonard Nimoy, Jess Harnell, Charlie Adler, Robert Foxworth, James Remar, Francesco Quinn, George Coe, Tom Kenny, Reno Wilson/ Runtime: 154 minutes

I think it is safe to say that, following its release back in the long-gone year of 2009, movie lovers and just fans in general all but declared World War 3 on film helmer Michael Bay’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen for everything from an overwhelming amount of cruddy humor, a narrative that was the dictionary definition of loose, and just an overall sense of pure mindlessness. Suffice it to say then that this is one film which managed to get everything but the special effects wrong unlike the first film which, arguably, put an emphasis not just on wowing the audience, but also on its narrative whilst also severely limiting though not getting rid of the comedy. Suffice it to say then that Bay’s willingness to simmer down or just completely eradicate all of the goofball antics that made the second film such a slog fest was an issue at the center of most people’s minds in the build-up to the release of Transformers: Dark of the Moon. An issue that was perhaps more relevant than just what this movie was about, where it fit in the grand scheme of things in the series, and also just what the heck happened to Megan Fox that led to her being booted from this? Thus I guess the question is sooo how did Bay answer back? Well I think it is safe to say that as far as the franchise was able to go within Bay’s grasp, Dark of the Moon does check a few boxes in regards to what fans expect from a Transformers film. Yes the film does have its issues, most notably a first half that is wayyy too long, but once the action sets in there is really nothing to thwart it. Indeed Transformers: Dark of the Movie is nowhere close to being a truly great film, and it’s not even on the level of the first film from back in 2007, but when looked at in regards to plain and simple entertainment purposes, incredible special effects, and just popcorn film-level fun, then this film is a truly undeniable triumph.

The plot is as follows: So according to the lore that this film sets up, the mission to the moon was due to the fact that, due to learning that a vessel of alien origin had landed on the lunar surface, President Kennedy decided to try and get there before the Soviets so we could get the information for ourselves. Thus this is what resulted in Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin being the first men to set foot on the moon officially, but unofficially discovering what remained of this ship and several giant robots within it. Cut to present day and back on Earth and we see that the Autobots, with their fearless leader Optimus Prime in tow, are summoned along with their human government counterparts to the ruins of that infamous Russian site known as Chernobyl to investigate when the presence of tech of an unknown origin is suspected. Upon arrival, they discover evidence of an ancient ship, which we already know about, from their home planet of Cybertron known as the Ark which had extremely valuable cargo aboard. Cargo which takes the form of not just the former leader of the Autobots Sentinel Prime as well as several “pillar”-like objects that serve…..a purpose that I shall not tell you. Thus our heroic robots in disguise travel to the Moon in a mission to recover both their leader and his cargo, but lurking in the shadows and, as always, watching and anticipating just what the Autobots are up to are the evil Decepticons led by a beaten and quite rumpled-looking Megatron who, as usual, have a scheme cooked up to take over the planet. However, unlike their previous attempts, this one is so devious, so terrifying, and so diabolical that it might actually have a chance at succeeding…..that is unless the Autobots, Optimus, and sigh a returning cast of human characters led by Sam Witwicky have anything to say about it.

Now it should be noted that Transformers: Dark of the Moon really is a classic example of two films trying their absolute best to one-up the other and be the dominant film that audiences are watching. Indeed there is the complete and total slowly and excruciatingly inching forward minute by minute first half and then there’s the pitch-black, potent on the violence, engaging, and adrenaline-overdosed to the nines second half. Yet for all of the grief I give it, I guess I should point out that the first half is not completely the total snooze fest I make it out to be. Indeed, within the watching the paint dry on Bumblebee’s rear fender, there is some important back story, some essential exposition, a few action beats worthy of this franchise, and several new characters introduced. At the same time, there is way too much bad humor, a smidge too much in the exposition department, and the feeling that you would just rather doze through this then be engaged by it. On top of all that, this feeling of being put to sleep faster than if Jigglypuff was singing to you in a private concert is balanced out a few moments where things are going by you way too fast and the visuals are just as quick. Indeed it most certainly is not a balancing act by any means even if the first half seems like it is trying to be a counter to the seemingly non-stop action that is the film’s second half since even for a film of this nature, 2 and a half hours of nonstop action beats would be overwhelming. Also whilst the core of the ever-growing narrative as it is both built and progressed here is both somewhat involving and engaging, it is also slowed way too much and watered down by unnecessarily long stretches in the film where even the tiniest bit of intel seems to have a prerequisite of minutes upon minutes of random material in order to reveal themselves. Finally, and as noted above, this film’s pacing is also burdened with a degree of shoehorned in comic relief, but thankfully it is nowhere near as bad as it was in the 2nd film.  Ultimately though, this film feels like someone at Paramount “politely requested” that this movie’s runtime be 150 minutes, thus giving us way too much material, on either end of the film that just wasn’t necessary no matter how optimistically you choose to look at it.

This of course brings us to the quite visceral and engaging chaos and robot combat that is the defining elements of this film’s second half and I just have to ask: who decided this would be any less violent, and therefore worthy of a PG-13 rating, by having the Transformers be the ones who bled the most? I ask because there is a LOT of robot blood being spilt here as we see both Autobots and Decepticons shoot, shank, and literally tear one another apart in the ultimate WWE Smackdown episode ever. Thus the second half of this film is what I would like to call “what would happen if the Transformers were behind 2012”. Indeed buildings fall, and are utterly decimated, people are killed in masses, and there’s just a general sense of chaos in the air. Indeed this film’s second half really gives off the vibe of a big-budgeted alien invasion film, which yes it is if you think about it, but nevertheless this is quite epic and doomsday-style material here. It also should be noted that this film goes as dark as its rating will allow, as grim as the creative minds in charge will let it become, and as exhausting from a physical perspective as any film I have ever seen. I say this because this is a film that, for all intents and purposes, inserts those who watch it smack dab in the middle of some of the most chaos ever showcased in an action film. Also from the smallest piece of debris to just how realistic the robots are, there is a nice vibe of attention to detail present that the only things you are left to wonder is just how bad the collateral body count is about to become. Indeed this is a truly incredible showcase for just how far special effects had managed to go up to that point and leave you wondering just where they will go from here. Finally it should be noted that in certain respects, Michael Bay is really firing on all cylinders in this outing as well. Indeed as lively and chaos-stricken as the action is, Bay makes sure that his camera is where it should be and snaring the action for us in a way that only further unleashes it upon the sense. Yes he may take a lot of heat, but this man is still one of the more intriguing helmers to be found in the Action genre.

Ultimately, the common concept that both the film and this review of said film have tried to hint at is just how precise Bay has been in bringing his take on Transformers to life is in this. I say that because this film is full to the brim with some amazingly beautiful and detailed shots of tech sorcery that seems so realistic and persuasive that even James Cameron’s Avatar should be in amazement (even if both Avatar and this could learn a lesson or 2 about story since this is Robots vs. Other Robots and Avatar was Dances With Wolves in space). Sadly, this film still more than it should goes by a little bit too speedily thus making it hard to have a moment of pure appreciation for the skill involved, but there are at least a handful of moments where things take a moment to breathe, the camera finds its way towards a particular robot, and in that that moment the true scope of things really comes to the forefront. Indeed all the scars from combat to say nothing of the complexity behind their moving internal parts will never not amaze me, and the fact that these creations are as integrated into a real-world atmosphere as smoothly as they are is truly quite astonishing. Yes that is something that has been around since the first film back in 2007, but this film even manages to be slightly better than the first film and loads better than the second one in that respect. As for the film’s acting by its cast of human characters, it’s nothing to honestly write home about though not bad by any stretch even if the performances by everyone from series regulars like Shia LaBeouf, Tyrese Gibson, John Tuturro, and Josh Duhamel as well as by series newcomers like Patrick Dempsey, Alan Tudyk, and perennial screen icons John Malkovich and Frances McDormand are simply overwhelmed by all the digital effects magic at work though that’s ok. At the end of the day therefore, the person who gains the most here is each of you watching because yes this movie could have been better, but at least this ain’t no Revenge of the Fallen.

All in all if it has any meaning to you then it should be noted that Transformers: Dark of the Moon is better than Revenge of the Fallen in every way that matters. Yes this film’s first half is nearly as engaging as watching paint dry, due to simply more filler material than this film can handle, but after that it is just a shot of genuine adrenaline the rest of the film. Indeed Bay has managed to respond to every person who has ever been critical of his work, can’t say I blame them, and given them a film that fulfills exactly what this series was supposed to: huge robots with personality engaged in combat with other huge robots with personality causing horrific amounts of chaos and destruction on a major city. Yes this film is as far from the dictionary definition of perfect as possible, but at least Bay took note of the audiences’ feedback and made this film huger, significantly less comical, though nowhere near lean fighting machine. Yes the film is still a textbook case study in excess and time consuming due to being over 2 and a half hours long, but it moves by fairly quickly once the action begins to take hold. Thus it is safe to say that, if you are willing to put aside this film’s many many many flaws, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is a decent enough ride with some very brutal robots in disguise and one whiny as all get out human being. On a scale of 1-5 I give Transformers: Dark of the Moon a solid 3 out of 5.