Unilaterally Sarcastic, Dangerously Cheesy

Film Review – Transformers : Dark of the Moon

I famously defended Transformers : Revenge of the Fallen when it was released, mainly because I felt that the critics were being too harsh on it. Was it a good movie? Fuck no. Let’s not even try to defend it as being a good movie. The film had exactly two moments in its runtime that worked on any level for me and those were Optimus’ fight in the forest and Shia LaBeouf making fun of the frat-bros with the tight shirts. That was about it. Megan Fox, who was ever so gorgeous in the first one, was given more words and thus made insufferable. This was coupled with the sad fact that she seemingly ruined her face through cosmetic wizardry between the first and second films. The juvenile humor was overbearing and the action scenes were a total clusterfuck. It was like the cinematic equivalent of the Super 8 train wreck; it went on for far too long and there were lots of explosions.

But Michael Bay and company seemed to recognize this. I think they lost sight of what people wanted in a live-action Transformers film and this time around they set out to build it from the ground up to please people who were turned off by the second installment. The juvenile humor that turned many people off isn’t gone, it’s just handled by far better actors. John Malkovich can do whatever the fuck he wants and make it work. That’s in the bible. Throw in a manic Ken Jeong and you’ve got perfection. And you know what, Shia LaBeouf has a manic energy that makes him uniquely likeable. There’s a reason Spielberg latched onto him all those years ago. He really acquits himself well in this installment.

Then there’s the Megan Fox replacement, plucked from the pages of a Victoria’s Secret catalog, the lady who Jason Statham gets to throw it in on a regular basis, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Damn does the girl look good in this movie. I mean, Michael Bay knows how to make her look the the epitome of the perfect woman every second she’s on screen. What’s even more surprising is that she handles her character with more believability than Megan Fox ever managed to, and I don’t think this woman had ever attempted to be pretty and speak at the same time before Michael Bay called “action.” I know it was a major point of contention in online discussion whether Michael Bay chose her for her looks alone, but never during the course of the film does she not pull her own weight. Granted she’s not given a whole lot to do, but she doesn’t have the dry line reading that you would expect. Perhaps she just hits the middle ground that is left while everyone else is so busy chewing scenery. Because Malkovich, Turturro, and McDormand leave bite marks with their performances. Don’t let me make you think that’s a negative, because in a film like this everyone needs to go big or go home.

The film is all about going big, but not in the manner that ROTF did. The threat is larger but it’s handled with a much finer touch. The climax of part two was an unmitigated disaster that was essentially too chaotic to understand. At no point in Dark of the Moon do you lose track of who is fighting who. There is little explanation given for why certain characters arrive or who they are aside from casual namedropping, but by the third film in the series you can imagine a lot happens in between the installments and just ride it out. This isn’t high art. It’s a movie about robots fighting robots with humans caught in the middle and the last hour of this film is simply stunning in its magnitude and carnage. It pushes the boundaries of the pg-13 rating with the amount of brutality thrown around. I may sound dramatic when I say that but when these robots get ripped apart there is blood being shed. Literally, I don’t remember that happening in other installments but when characters die here they’re dripping blood and crying in agony. The robot on human violence is abundant if not particularly gory. Michael Bay did a very good job of making the tension of an alien invasion feel very, very real in that last hour of non-stop action.

I must say that major props must be given to the crew for giving the series a sense of closure at the end of this film as well. I will not spoil the major deaths but let’s just say that it would be hard for a fourth film to occur with some major players being taken off the board in a pretty definitive fashion. The script had a sense of determination in that regard that I think comes from a new writing team following Orci & Kurtzman’s exit. There is a definite shift in the handling of character death here from the casual dismissal of Jazz’ fate in the first film, I can say that much.

All in all it’s one of the best tentpole summer releases you could hope for. It has the epic scale that Green Lantern wishes it had achieved and those let down by Revenge of the Fallen will be pleased that a balance has been struck between the first and second films to provide a more balanced and enjoyable Transformers film.

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