Monday, July 4, 2011

Movie Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Transformers: Dark of the Moon **
Directed by: Michael Bay.
Written by: Ehren Kruger.
Starring: Shia LaBeouf (Sam Witwicky), Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (Carly), Josh Duhamel (Lennox), John Turturro (Simmons), Tyrese Gibson (Epps), Patrick Dempsey (Dylan), Frances McDormand (Mearing), John Malkovich (Bruce Brazos), Kevin Dunn (Ron Witwicky), Julie White (Judy Witwicky), Alan Tudyk (Dutch), Ken Jeong (Jerry Wang), Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime), Hugo Weaving (Megatron), Leonard Nimoy (Sentinel Prime)

The first Transformers movie was big, loud, dumb and incredibly fun. The second movie was just big, loud and dumb – and left me with a throbbing headache – it was Michael Bay at his most out of control and at times visually incoherent. The third movie falls somewhere between those two extremes. Needless to say, it is big, loud and dumb, but it isn’t quite as much fun as the first film, yet didn’t leave me angry like the second one. The first 90 minutes or so constantly threatened to over the edge into the same territory that made Revenge of the Fallen so awful, but aside from a few moments never quite did. The last 45 minutes rank among the best sustained action sequences that Michael Bay has ever put on film – although after about half an hour of it, I was ready for it to end. Yes, if you did the math, the movie is well over 2 hours, and that is still way too long for a movie about giant robots fighting each other. And yes, the film is so loud for so long, and features such wonderful actors as John Turturro, John Malkovich and Frances McDormand going so far over the top it is tough to watch them at times. Perhaps it’s just because of lowered expectations, but I didn’t hate Transformers: Dark of the Moon as much as I thought I would. I certainly didn’t like it very much, but there are things here that are quite good. But there’s just way too much of everything else.

The movie once again stars Shia LaBeouf as Sam Witwicky – now graduated from the Ivy League, and struggling to find a job. His girlfriend (who was played by Megan Fox) has dumped him, but he has found another hottie, Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who makes Fox look like Meryl Streep by comparison), so he’s doing fine in that department. Once again though, Sam will find himself drawn into the war between the Autobots and the Decepicons. It turns out, that the entire space race of the 1960s was to retrieve all they could from a crash landing on the moon of an autobot craft, piloted by Sentinel Prime, with a weapon that would have won them the war. The government, of course, never told the Autobots about this, and now they are pissed. Optimus Prime uses his powers to bring Sentinel Prime back from the dead, and of course, all hell breaks loose, because everyone wants the weapon. For some reason, what took me less than a paragraph to recap, takes the movies more than an hour and half to get through. It is this part of the movie where Transformers: Dark of the Moon is at its worst. It is filled with over the top moments of comedy, that quite simply fall flat (like an extended sequence featuring The Hangover’s Ken Jeong, which is quite simply painful to sit through). There are a host of unnecessary characters either added to the movie, or brought back to the series, that simply add nothing. This section drags on and on, and I was quite seriously bored by it.

But what everyone will leave the theater talking about is the final 45 minutes – which is a robot battle royale on the streets of Chicago. I have often criticized Michael Bay’s films for their incoherent action – which values speed over clarity – but when he gets one right, he is as good as anyone. And he gets this action sequence right. This is what audiences come to the theater to see, and Michael Bay delivers it in the last 45 minutes of the film. Yes, it goes on far too long, and after a while, my eyes simple glazed over as the film was going through the motions, but for the most part, this part of the movie was pretty damned good – that is if all you want to see is giant robots fighting each other. And if you don’t want to see that, why the hell are you going to see a Transformers movie in the first place?

But for me, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is just too bloated to really be satisfying. This is empty, soulless action movie, which you expect going in, but you don’t expect to be bombarded with it for almost two and half hours. It’s just too damn much. If Bay had found a way to make this film 90 minutes – and I see no reason why he couldn’t, as it’s not like he has a story or characters that anyone could possibly care about to get in the way – than this could have been one of the best guilty pleasure movies of the summer. But at this length, it’s an endurance test.

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