Sunday, 3 July 2011

Review: Transformers : Dark of the Moon

Rating: 12A
Runtime: 157 min

Credit where it's due: Michael Bay knows how to make an enticing trailer. I even previewed this, his third Transformers instalment, in my 'Summer of Sci-Fi' article back in April with a naive optimism that, after the abysmal efforts of Revenge of the Fallen, the final piece of the 'robots in disguise' trilogy would turn out well. After a string of big budget blockbusters to his name, it's true that Bay knows what he's doing when it comes to CGI, action and blowing the shit out of everything, but by no means is this a solid basis for a respectable movie (see Revenge of the Fallen).

Even poor Rosie has no idea what the hell she's doing there
The biggest change is the substitution of style-over-substance Megan Fox with Victoria's Secret hottie, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. From the offset Rosie is more likable and, arguably, better eye candy. However, it's clear to see why models shouldn't crossover to acting: her performance appears stiffer than [insert adolescent lingerie model pun here]. What's more disappointing is she barely features, thus rendering her token role as 'Shia's eye candy girlfriend' as a rather pointless addition.

Dark of the Moon treads familiar ground to the previous sequel with The Autobots, having saved the world a couple of times, now part of a secret Government team as they 'solve' international terrorism (and by 'solve', I mean blowing the shit out of everything) as well as hunt down and destroy the cowering Decepticons. Sam (Shia LaBeouf), meanwhile finds himself in the big wide world after college, as he discovers just how hard it is to find a job - yet somehow lives in a swanky home with stunning girlfriend Carly (Huntington-Whiteley), so things aren't too bad. Life seems to be chugging along until both opposing robotic parties learn of a hidden spacecraft on - you've guessed it - the dark side of the moon. This results in a race to retrieve its hidden artefacts as well as uncover a dormant Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nemoy) whom can summon the power to transport their home world into the Earth's atmosphere.

Without bashing Bay's work completely, the comedy in the early stages of the film is rather funny. A small role for the class act, John Malkovich, as Sam's new boss works well, as do the subsequent scenes involving a hilarious Ken Jeong. So much so that it feels a little out of place compared to the rest of the two-and-a-half-hour slug. Another big improvement from it's predecessor are the fight scenes, specifically regarding robot-to-robot combat. No longer is the editing so choppy and direction so poor that you can now see blow for blow battles with much more clarity and enjoyment. As anticipated the CGI is impressive, but with the kind of budget and resources on offer it isn't hard to mess up.

Unfortunately that's where any praise ends. It's one thing to make a bad movie, but it's another to acknowledge this and pledge to not make the same mistakes again. Well that's exactly what Michael Bay does, and surprise, surprise: he ignores his own advice (and logic) as Dark of the Moon fails to rectify the biggest flaws of the previous sequel. It's clear he lovingly crafts his pictures, which also makes it abundantly clear how bloody self indulgent the man is: essentially it's the equivalent of Bay masturbating for two-and-a-half-hours, with a smattering of 360 degree pans, slow-mo and lingering shots of, well, little importance: then repeat again. 45 minutes can easily be cut as we learn just how precious he deems everything to be after he oversees the editing. The 3D was, apparently, crafted to achieve a high quality viewing experience. However, the epic fail of said feature made me realise that such a fad is well and truly exhausted. On several occasions I'd peep over my glasses to witness footage in standard 2D: suffice to say I was not impressed.

It's not so much the acting that's terrible, but the poorly written script that exacerbates things. No wait, the acting is pretty shoddy, too. Characters spout cheese-ball lines and the consistently laughable dialogue doesn't move the story forward, but instead hinders any development. The result is that any credible character arcs go out the window as Bay tries to distract us by throwing in numerous explosions as our protagonists slow-mo run to safety, as if to  distract the audience so we don't realise how bad this is.

It pains me to say Frances McDormand (Fargo, Burn After Reading) adds very little as a generic Government hard ass, out to assert her authority on all matters robotic. Similarly John Turturro's (The Big Lebowski, Miller's Crossing) talents are, yet again, wasted with a limply written part, which no doubt has the pair banging on the Coen Brothers' door seeking sanctuary.

If you're looking for brainless, illogical, high octane, dumb 'fun', then this ticks the boxes. Severely overlong and shamefully self indulgent, Michael Bay again succeeds at producing an over-the-top action flick with virtually no substance. A silly, yet at times, entertaining summer film marred by some poor editing, pathetic dialogue and a piss poor narrative, Dark of the Moon is marginally better than Revenge of the Fallen, but in all honesty that really isn't saying much now, is it?