Exploding prematurely onto Blu-ray/DVD just last Friday, Michael Bay's extravagant summer blockbuster Transformers: Dark of the Moon is the second-highest grossing film so far from 2011 (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 is number one). Before coming to home theater systems, DOTM even made a second trip back to IMAX screens on August 26, for two weeks.
As both TSR writers from the Midwest, Aaron Ruffcorn and I have a unique connection to this movie. Aaron was an extra in the film (his incredible re-telling of such events can be read here). And as someone living in downtown Chicago, I was constantly surrounded by Autobot/Decepticon wreckage from the film's usage of the city's Loop area. Both of us were very excited about this movie (I even put it as #1 on my "Top 7 Most Anticipated Summer 2011 Movies" list).
So, was it all worth it? Read below as Aaron and I rant out our feelings on one of the most successful movies of the year. And as always, it is recommended you see the film before reading, as spoilers are fair game.
If you unwittingly stumbled into a theater, not knowing what film you were about to see, and say you came in to Transformers: Dark of the Moon at some entirely random time, my bet is that you'd be absolutely floored by the visual spectacle unfolding before your eyes. You'd be thinking, "this is the craziest, best thing my eyes have ever seen!" And that would certainly a big compliment to Michael Bay. Hats off to him there. The problem here is, you'd have to stumble back out into the real world within the next ten minutes or so, just in order to maintain your appreciation of such. Spend too long sitting in front of DOTM, and you'll find your "best thing my eyes have ever seen" comment fading fast.
Michael Bay is an expert's expert at employing overkill. I almost wish his three Transformers films had been spliced into a dozen short films, and maybe released like once per season or some such. That would have been a lot more digestable, and ultimately, I feel, a lot cooler. As it stands, Bay's served up three overlong, overproduced, semi-soulless spectacles.
I wanted to like DOTM, and in some ways I did. I hated Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen so relative to that film, I would say I actually loved DOTM. I found the final forty-five minutes of DOTM to be very exciting and unique and well-crafted. I really don't have too many complaints about the final act of DOTM, but I'd like to kick this back-and-forth off with a more critical bent. I can come back to what I liked about the film later (hint: Shia Labeouf & Rosie Huntington-Whiteley).
Apart from the aforementioned overkill present in just about every frame of the film, here's something else I didn't like about DOTM: Back in January, Michael Bay was quoted to have said, "I got rid of the dorky comedy. We have a more serious story this time, and I'm trying to make up for the other two. It's dork-free Transformers!" Turns out Bay was only partially right about this. I mean, sure, most of the ROTF-ish potty humor is absent from this installment, but there's still plenty of dumbed-down lowest-common-denominator stuff going on here. From the hyper-obnoxious Ken Jeong to the maybe-as-obnoxious Julie White, there's just a lot of unbearable waste here. Jeong's entire performance and presence was played way too over-the-top, and having to sit in the theater while Jeong spazzed away, made me uncomfortable, like genuinely uncomfortable. I harbor genuine hatred for his scenes, there's like a burning intense passionate bristling going on here. Julie White was annoying as always too. I wish Sam Witwicky's mother had been killed in the first or second film, her presence is equally unbearable. I usually like John Turturro a lot, but man, he's just bad in these films. There's hammy and then there's HAMMY. And I hate spelling with all caps. So yeah, sad to say, there's plenty of "dorky comedy" still, as perpetrated by Jeong, White, Turturro and occasionally the robots in diguise. Bummer.
There's just so much in the first two hours of DOTM that's over-the-top stupid, and it's hard to watch it for much longer than ten minutes at a time -- if you're interested in maintaining any level of appreciation that is.
HAHA. I would have loved to have seen Witwicky's mom bite the dust too, possibly due to pot-brownie poisoning in the second movie, but I'm sure that would have lead to another dumb scene in the monstrously stupid Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
I agree with you wholeheartedly that Bay is an "expert's expert" at overkill, and I think this is such a huge flaw with his compensating auteur-ship and in turn his movies. Especially these loud, bright, brainless spectacles of budget burning known as his Transformers saga. After being released into the wild after having seen the previous Revenge of the Fallen, I was convinced that it was basically Bay's entry into a one-man d*ck measuring contest. It's all about size, and almost nothing else.
For me, Dark of the Moon is a notch slightly above Revenge of the Fallen, but I wouldn't distance them too much. Yes, the "HAMMY" humor is back, and with a stereotypical vengeance, opting for awkward elongated cameos (Malkovich, McDormand) over the previous movie's rampant robot potty humor. (What makes Huntington-Whiteley's legs so un-robot-humpable?)
This movie still has the same problem in that it unloads an arsenal of effects until everything starts to be taken for granted. For me, I see it as Bay going so over-the-top that we just accept anything he's got as standard. Somehow, Bay is able to make a fighting sequence between two digitally created characters feel numb and extremely difficult to follow. Bay and his visual masterminds make a whole lot out of fancy location shots (essentially the tactic used to make a Transformers movie), and then somehow cheats themselves out of feeling justly impressive. That requires some sort of expertise, I'm sure.
On top of that, it's just extremely silly, with it's manipulation of real historical events (Chernobyl, moon landing) and its strange obsession with constantly re-writing the Transformers origin story.
What do you like so much about the third act? I mean, what parts of it really caught your eye? What are your thoughts on Huntingon-Whiteley, Bay's new slab of strutting meat?
OK, I'll start with your final question and work backwards. To be blunt, I'm a sucker for Victoria Secret models, and Michael Bay knows how to shoot 'em. I found this particular "slab of strutting meat" to be particularly enticing (much more so than Megan Fox), I suppose you could say I'm rather carnivorous in this department. Sure, I found her acting to be rather stiff and catwalk-esque, and Carly's interest in Sam was pretty unbelievable, but still, the eye-candy factor, yeah, it made an impression on me. I really hated the opening song which accompanied the close up of her ass, it was cheesy and over-the-top, attempting to force the viewer into feeling something tangible between the leading lovers, but it all just felt empty, came up way short. Felt like a close up of a beautiful ass, nothing more. Much in the same way you described the numbness you felt from watching the robot battles, I felt that way regarding Sam and Carly's relationship.
I've always enjoyed Shia LaBeouf, but I lament the fact that his career has been hijacked by this vacuous franchise. His performances in Disturbia and A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints both really impressed me, and it's just sad to see him derailed from the track of quality films. I imagine he'll get back on track, but as good as he is in the Transformers films, no one can truly rise above the rampant suction therein. I felt at times, in all three of these films, that Shia was giving it his all, which is admirable, but at the end of the day, his performances kind of seemed too serious, like he gave the films more respect than they deserved, instead of understanding that it's schlock and playing it accordingly. If you approach the franchise seriously, and get truly wrapped up in the emotions involved in the story (what emotions? what story?) then I could see vibing on Shia's performance a bit more, but I just didn't feel anything (back to your aforementioned numbness) so his exuberance and bright explosiveness as an actor here, comes across as over-acting. I guess it all depends on how you frame it. I still liked watching him in these films, but it's kind of like hating a particular granola, and having to sift through a big bag of it, for the one ingredient that you enjoy -- it's all too much work.
Regarding the final act, for the most part I just got into the visual spectacle. I suppose my mood was buoyed by seeing myself running through the wreckage at the opening of the final act, that was a rare treat for sure -- I believe that probably primed me a bit (no pun intended). I genuinely enjoyed the toppling skyscraper sequence; I loved the earth-shattering energy of Shockwave's giant spiraling worm-machine. The sound design of this franchise has always consistently blown me away, and it really came to the forefront in this final act. I also love Steve Jablonsky as a composer, and thought the score here was particularly good. Again, it's hard to appreciate all of this for much longer than ten minutes at a time, but if you digest in snippets, it is all rather remarkable. I suppose the multiple beers I'd consumed in the theater helped in this regard, as I was nodding in and out of the film, teetering on the edge of blackout. Just kidding, sorta.
Well, I think that might be the longest analysis on Huntington-Whiteley's entrance into the Transformers franchise available on the internet, so thank you for that. I can't say much to that other than your mentioning of the "ass scene" cheesy song just reminds me of (the lame band with a goofy name) Hoobastank. I'm not sure if Hoobastank played during that moment, but I'm sure they were at least considered.
More importantly, I must say that LaBeouf is my favorite part of the entire Transformers franchise, and possibly the most consistent. I agree that his performances in those movies you listed are notable, but I think his carrying of these three films is still pretty remarkable, and comes with a great amount of charisma that has both humor and action-potential in it. From the very beginning, he's been a good pick for the good looking dork; one who needs robots to help him save the world, and sometimes to even help him get girls. Even his inclinations towards neuroses are funny throughout the three movies; his "kitten calendar, kitten calendar, kitten calendar" freakout in Revenge of the Fallen is pretty amusing, and also hard to repeat. Whether he's making us believe that robots exist, or that talking to girls would be tough for a guy who looks like LaBeouf, the young actor definitely works on all cylinders as a key part of the entire Transformers saga.
Before we wrap this up, as this is your last turn, let's take a time to look back at the entire Transformers franchise. This is thinking, of course, that Dark of the Moon is the true conclusion (although profits from this one will probably say otherwise). What's the best movie of the three, which one do you enjoy watching the most, what fight sequence is your favorite from the three (other than the final act of Moon), and what do you think about the rumors of Jason Statham possibly leading the Transformers franchise into a new direction?
Also, yes. "Multiple beers." I could pull a Bayer and use that as evidence A (or "B," really) as to why you would have enjoyed such a movie, but I'll leave it alone. The image of you teetering on the edge of blackout is pretty damn funny to me. It's definitely a movie that wouldn't lose much to a couple of beer naps before its last hour!
Regarding what you've stated about LaBeouf, agreed entirely. He's as solid as solid can be in these films, but I'll stand by what I said, I do believe this is a silly franchise, and to see him consistently give it his all, for some odd reason bums me out. I can't say that I wish he'd not thrown himself headlong into the process, as that would just be lame, but I feel like he was way better than everything else that Transformers brought with it. LaBeouf was easily the best thing about the franchise. He was good to the point of reminding the viewer how mostly everything else was just plain silly to the Nth degree.
Looking forward, sans LaBeouf, the franchise is doomed to a steep downward spiral. Jason Statham could be OK, but the word 'replacement' dare not be uttered. You're right, Statham's presence would undeniably take the franchise into bold new territory (likely even dumber territory). I'm extremely disinterested in a fourth film, and I hope Michael Bay feels the same (as far as directing goes). He and LaBeouf both have plenty more to give (in the non-Transformers field), and if anything, I'm excited that this laborious trilogy has drawn to a close.
And to draw to a close here, I'll answer your outstanding questions...
I'd say that DOTM was easily my favorite of the three. It did have less "dorky comedy" than the other installments, I preferred Huntington-Whiteley to Megan Fox (ten times over), and the "story" was easier to follow/digest. I loathed ROTF to no end, pretty much hated that one, and didn't care much for the 2nd half of the first film. As I've stated, I thought DOTM started a little weak, but got better as it went, and much like a good baseball game, it's how you play in the late innings that really matters. The ending of DOTM left me with a decent feeling; the closure therein, and the closure of the Shia-led franchise in its totality, felt well-played to me. As far as which fight sequence was my favorite of the trilogy: it might sound like double-talk, but the opening sequence of ROTF was probably my favorite. That gargantuan baddie was super impressive, the sound design and special effects surrounding that juggernaut were perfectly executed. Which brings me back to my "appreciable in ten minute snippets" comment. I was enthralled with the first ten minutes of ROTF, and shortly thereafter my descent into hatred began. I suppose that's as good of a way to sign off as any.