Monday, 4 July 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

There has been a lot of hype (unhype) about this film: whether it’s any good or not; whether Michael Bay is beyond criticism because he keeps defying the critics by making films that do very well at the box office; whether we should not take it seriously because it is only a bunch of robots battering each other. An argument that is succinctly answered by Helen O’Hara from Empire here.

For me, well I tried to keep an open mind; my trouble is that when I was 9 or 10 years old I was one of the world’s biggest Transformers fans! I didn’t have loads of the toys (Optimus Prime and Megatron were out of my/my parents price range), but I did have Mirage, Sideswipe, and I remember saving up my pennys for Thrust. Geek Alert! I still have “Target 2006” a 10-issue story in the Transformers magazine from 1986! So when the first film came out in 2007 I was blown away. When Revenge of the Fallen came out 2 years later I felt like my childhood had been raped! Far more so than the Star Wars prequels, because at least I enjoyed them in the cinema. So, onto Dark of the Moon; that’s what you’re all here to read about anyway!

In 1962 NASA detect an object crash-landing on the moon, they suspect it is alien in origin. President Kennedy then states that the USA have to land on the moon before the Russians, so that only they can get their hand on this alien tech. 8 years later in 1969 (yes 8! I’m sure I saw a date on a PC screen that said 1962) Neil and Buzz land on the moon with the secret mission to investigate the space craft. What they discover is a crashed Autobot space ship, but everyone is dead.

Later we learn that the Russians also found something on the Dark side of the Moon, brought it back and it found its way to Chernobyl, and ultimately caused that disaster. Fast forward to today. The Autobots (in the absence of any immediate Decepticon threat) are helping humans to not kill each other all the time (this seems to involve the Autobots killing them instead! No, really, even on diplomatic missions). Soon the Autobots learn of the crashed space ship, and want to get there before the Decepticons; they arrive, rescue the original leader of the Autobots from the wreckage (Sentinel Prime) and also 5 beacons, return to earth and use the Matrix of leadership to resurrect Sentinel. Turns out Sentinel (voiced by Leonard Nimoy) was going to make a deal with Megatron to enslave the human race to help rebuild Cybertron! Confused? This isn’t the half of it.

Turns out that the recovered beacons are only 5 of hundreds, and it turns out that the Decepticons found the crashed spaceship on the moon a few years after the Apollo 11 mission and took away all of the other beacons. However, the Decepticons couldn’t get into the chamber where Sentinel Prime had locked himself with the remaining 5 beacons, and they needed Optimus to revive Sentinel anyway. So, the whole thing was a setup from the start! The Decepticons lured the Autobots to rescue Sentinel, so that he could be resurrected, defect, and steal the remaining 5 beacons. Locally these could be used to send a signal to the moon to active hundreds of Decepticons which were buried under the moon (for 60 odd years? And weren’t they Autobots that crashed on the moon anyway?),but  when all these beacons are linked together all over the world they can be used to transport Cybertron itself into Earth’s orbit!

Of course all this knees-bent running around, convoluted plot is simply so we can see big robots beating the shit out of each other in downtown Chicago. It’s just a shame it took 90 min to get there! And that’s probably my biggest criticism of it all. The whole plot seems to be contrived (nay, over-contrived) simply to shoe-horn in as many returning characters as possible. There is simply no need for John Turturro’s character, or for Sam’s Mum and Dad. I guess Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson aren’t so bad as there is a need for some military leader types during all the action to give a human element; but Josh just seems to be a military stooge now and has none of the charm that he had in the first film. Frances McDormand starts off well, but then realises that Michael Bay only cares about military equipment and blowing stuff up, so gives up acting after a while. And John Malkovich! WTF? Why is he there? Why is he having his belly tickled like a dog by Bumblebee? Word fail me. Possibly even a worse role than Galbatorix in Eragon! Last but not least Alan Tudyk plays John Turturro’s gay German bodyguard/assistant. It’s not funny, it’s woefully miscast; it sounds like he’s doing the accent as part of an improvisation comedy show. Why do we even need a gay German bodyguard, it’s not that kind of film; well at least it shouldn’t be.

There were also various plot points/actors that served no point at all. Ken Jeong’s character with the secret plans that Laserbeak was feeding him; stored in his pants? Bit of a twat that just needed a good slap. 10 min of time wasted. Stupid watch thing that Sam wears, just to make sure that the Autobots leave without a fight. Just an excuse for Sam to act like a fanny for 20 min! More time wasted. We first see Megatron driving around the Serengeti, so that he can tell some elephants to “All Hail Megatron”! He does meet up with Soundwave and Starscream to be fair; but then what? Are we to assume that Megatron drives all the way from East Africa to Chicago? Sorry, am I being picky now?

Of course the two main characters are Sam and Rosie (apparently her character was Carly; couldn’t have told you that until I just looked it up on IMDB!). Rosie Huntington-Whitely is good to look at (well she was a Victoria’s Secret model), and indeed, the first thing we see of her is her perfectly formed arse! Then she opens her perfectly formed mouth, and sounds like a fog horn, with a forty-a-day habit, and a sore throat! And a script to match. Oh, and she really can't act. Too far again? Sam has completely left behind any redeeming features. His desire for a new car and his teenage awkwardness in the first film we could relate to; but gurning because he has to find a job and wants something instantly important (despite having no qualifications) is not. He then spends the rest of the film either shouting at people more important than him, (coz, you know, he’s Sam Witwicky and he saved the world twice), or shouting AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH! a lot. We also never really believe that either of them are in danger. In fact, there is a shot of Rosie standing up amidst the carnage of Chicago with stuff blowing up all around her (no, really) and she doesn’t flinch, look worried/scared, or in the slightest bit concerned for her own well being. Yes, Rosie and Shia are indestructible!

Still there must have been something good about it? Well, it looks good. The 3D during the moon landing did look very good. There is also a great scene where Bumblebee transforms around Sam, knocking big bits of debris out of his way as he flies through the air, before ending up back in the car seat. Naturally accompanied by Shia’s AAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH! But it did look good. Some of the battle scenes at the climax of the film also look good, and MOST of the time we know what’s going on; unlike Revenge of the Fallen where there was lots of similar robots bashing each other and the viewer had no idea who was who, Autobot or Decepticon! At the end of this climax Optimus quickly dispatches both Sentinel and Megatron; which leaves me thinking “Why didn’t he just do that to Megatron in the first film?” 

                                             Indestructible, and hasn't got a clue.

Musically, Steve Jablonski seems to have re-hashed the themes from the first film (I’m comparing a lot of things to the first film rather than the second because I’ve blacked out most of Revenge of the Fallen). Say what you like about the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, at least Hans Zimmer kept coming up with new ideas. Sorry, I was talking about good things! Don’t get me wrong, I really like the score from the first Transformers film, there are lots of cool themes and fits the film perfectly; it’s just that it doesn’t seem to have evolved much since then.

Verdict? Well, it’s not as bad as Revenge of the Fallen; no, I’m going to say it: it was better than Revenge of the Fallen (there, a positive word). The story wasn’t quite as full as plot holes, it made more sense (at the time anyway, mostly), and the special effects were top notch. However, you have to offset that with consistently bad acting; not necessarily the fault of the actors. We know John Malkovich, Frances McDormand and John Turturro at least can act, they just seem to realise that the director doesn’t care if they can act or not, or whether the script is any good - as long as there’s some stuff blowing up! And if there's some military equipment as well, then Michael’s happy. Overall: not very good. As Sucker Punch also demonstrated: glorious special effects alone, a good film does not make. If you think I've been quite harsh about Dark of the Moon, I really haven't:

Oh, and if there is less lens flare in J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 than expected, that’s because Michael Bay stole a whole bunch to use in Transformers!