The third (and presumably not the last) installment of the undeniable blockbuster franchise is still ‘more than meets the eye’. However, that’s not necessarily a good thing.
I have to start this review with a bit of a history lesson. Just so those of you who may feel that I’m just being some sort of an old 30-something fogey who just ‘doesn’t get’ the Transformers movies, I have this to offer. As someone who was actually alive when the toys and cartoons were at their peak, you would’ve been hard pressed to find a bigger fan. I watched the cartoons religiously and collected the toys as much as my meager allowance would allow me at the time. I still have my original Optimus Prime, although he’s not in what you would exactly call “mint condition”. I can just about recite every word to the ’87 animated movie. And call me crazy, but I still think that flick holds up to this day. But it’s a brave new world, and why settle for some plain Jane 2-D animation when you can see these majestic machines brought to life on the silver screen in dazzling, yet wallet-draining 3-D, I ask you?
It seems like it’s been way longer than four years since the first Transformers rolled into cinemas, boasting beyond state-of-the-art special FX, single-handedly giving birth to an entire trend of big-screen adaptations of 80’s cartoon franchises. Or as I like to call it: ‘How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Accept The Rape of My Childhood.’ But that’s another review for another time. I saw the first Transformers opening weekend and…I liked it, I really liked it. In all honesty, if you had asked me what I thought about it when I first walked out of the theatre (like they do on those commercials) I probably would have told you that I loved it. That’s how impressed I was with what I saw on the silver screen that Fourth of July weekend four years ago.
What did I love about it? I thought it had achieved what films like Jurassic Park and Terminator 2: Judgment Day had done so many years ago – providing audiences with a quantum leap in the realm of special effects and a completely realistic integration of live-action with CGI. When ‘Mumblebee’ (that’s right, that’s what I call him) transforms for the first time in front of Sam Witwicky (the Millennial generation’s seemingly go-to action star) viewers are just as wide-eyed as he is. And when Optimus Prime transformed into robot mode while driving down a major highway just to battle a Decepticon foot soldier, to put it bluntly, my jaw hit the floor. We had never seen anything like that and we all knew it. And to this day, there are scenes in that flick that I’ll still park my butt on the couch to watch if ever I run across it on cable.
And while I’m sure Transformers didn’t grace any critics Top Ten lists that year, it went on to gross over $300 million alone domestically. Not too shabby for a summer popcorn flick based off of a kid’s toy from the 80’s huh? And then the horror happened, the gears of the Hollywood machine started grinding and - unless I’m mistaken - I believe the news of a sequel was announced while the first film was still in theatres. And thus the assembly line began.
Now if it seems that I haven’t had much to say about Transformers: Dark of the Moon, don’t worry, that’s been intentional. I can sum that up in three words. I hated it. Absolutely hated it. Now in its defense, I do have to say that I didn’t hate it as much as I hated the second installment, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. You lost me at robot testicles. I do not have a high opinion of Michael Bay as a director to begin with these days, but I expected more out of him than that. And for the premium prices, moviegoers have to dish out in order to experience the hi-tech goodness, we deserve more.
Dark of the Moon, how do I loathe thee? Let me count the ways:
1) Length: I wish to the gods above that I could remove the word ‘epic’ from Michael Bay’s vocabulary a la Inception. Just yank out whatever part of his mind that feels compelled to make 2 and half hour plus action films. Just because something can be done, doesn’t mean that it should. I mean really, did The Phantom Menace teach us nothing?!
2) Storytelling: The Transformers themselves may be an advanced race of intergalactic robots but the storytelling and plot could use a major overhaul. The first act is clunky as usual as it sets up a background story that you really couldn’t care less about and makes even less sense. Apparently yet another incredibly powerful Transformer has been stranded, this time on the moon. I got to say for such an advanced race, you think that they would have better navigational technology or just maybe Google maps. There’s a bunch of new robots, doesn’t matter who because most of them are wiped out. Oh and Chicago gets destroyed for no good reason.
3) Characterization: Shia LeBouf spends most of his time in this film whining about not having enough meaning in his life. All this while he’s living rent-free with his smoking hot ‘new’ girlfriend, relative newcomer Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. I just wanted to bitchslap him the entire movie. Wake up Sam, according to the Gospel of Charlie Sheen, that’s what we’d call ‘winning.’ Leonard Nimoy voices, one of the new robots, and while its great to hear his voice coming out of another Transformer (kids 25 and under, you got some homework to do if you don’t get that reference) he’s not utilized very effectively and well before you get to the end of the movie, you already know the outcome of his character.
That’s always been a major point of contention with the Bay films; the robots always just feel like cannon fodder. Aside from Optimus Prime, almost all of their voices are indistinguishable. It’s kind of baffling to me that they wouldn’t be willing to shell out a few shekels for some quality voice talent to match the top-notch graphics. Mumblebee is a prime example of this. He’s supposed to be the Transformer that you feel the most attached to as a viewer because he’s Sam’s car and bosom buddy. Yet he only speaks in TV and movie soundbites.
4) Rant Alert: Of all the things that bug me about Transformers: Dark of the Moon and the franchise in general, the liberties that the filmmakers took with the design and/or modernization of the robots, I could not have cared less about. So Ironhide’s a Hummer instead of a van? Mumblebee’s a Camaro instead of a VW bug, big deal?! I was quite tickled by all the feedback I read on-line from the purists who were upset about these changes to their beloved characters. Uncle D is here to provide you all with a much needed reality-check. Those toys we loved so much, twenty some odd years ago were just products - very cool and clever products - but products nonetheless. Designed for one thing and one thing only - to cram down the throats of eager impressionable children in hopes that we (meaning our parents) would buy them. And buy them we did, by the truckloads. And those cherished cartoons that we were glued to the screen for? Just snazzy, 30-minute commercials. Don’t get me wrong, I still love the feelings of nostalgia I get from seeing those toys and cartoons but I’m not deluded into thinking that there was anything ‘pure’ about them. Ratchet could have turned into a George Forman grill for all I cared. So relax folks, it’s really not that serious.
I really had high hopes for this franchise but I have come to the stark realization that despite the fact that the source material for these films was borrowed (i.e.; raped) from my childhood, these films are not being made for me or any others in my generation. The target audiences are the youth of today that, quite frankly, don’t have the standards or expectations that moviegoers of my generation have. So I can say this about the film - it does deliver where one might expect it to. The visuals and the graphics are of course amazing. And the stunts and settings are suitably grandiose. Michael Bay does what Michael Bay does best and that is blow sh*t up. I cannot remember a disaster film done in Chicago and it’s pretty cool to see the spectacle of its destruction. I haven’t lost my taste for popcorn film, nor will I ever. I just feel that when I can barely remember any real details about the movie I just spent almost 3 hours watching, that says a lot about the film.[ad#X-Men First Class]