Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Bishbot's impressions of Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (SPOILERS)

I just got back from seeing Transformers: Dark Of The Moon and thought I would hop on the old internet and share some fannish thoughts:

As you can imagine, there will be spoilers. I will NOT be summarising the plot but I will also not be too shy about mentioning characters and events. If you care at all about spoilers you should already have stopped reading!

Right - that's got rid of those guys. Looking back on my now two-year old review of Revenge Of The Fallen I become aware that I liked that film a lot more on first viewing than I have done subsequent times. Oddly, for Dark Of The Moon I feel that this situation might be reversed. Do not take that to mean that I didn't enjoy myself or don't think the film is worth watching. On the contrary, Michael Bay has created a gigantic explosive story filled with Autobot vs Decepticon action that a Transformers fan has no business skipping. The only problem is; he did that last time.

Lets leave the first film out of this for a while. Transformers (2007) was a great first attempt. It had problems, as most summer action blockbusters do. There were some oddly broad performances (I'm looking at you Turturro!) and the pacing was a bit wobbly but it basically did what was necessary to kickstart a franchise and delivered an action film that anyone who likes that sort of movie could admit to enjoying.

What we really have to consider Dark Of The Moon in relation to is the hugely problematic sequel. As I've stated, I enjoyed Revenge the first time I saw it. I enjoyed it the second time, and the third, but to a much lesser extent. It was gigantic, ridiculous in every way. The action from the first film was ramped up to an insane degree and as a fan of robot carnage (and lets face it, aren't we all?) I couldn't help but be swept away. When examined as an actual story the scripting and pacing problems from the first movie are now ratcheted (ha!) up to an unforgiveable degree and the plot is essentially the fetch and carry the maguffin last third of the first movie stretched out to two and a half hours. I enjoyed it but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have done without the Transformers trappings and that's not really good enough.

Dark Of The Moon, lets get this straight, is a better film than Revenge Of The Fallen, but it achieves this in the shallowest ways. It is still too long, two and a half hours again, and the pacing is still way off. On a first viewing this doesn't present much of a problem as you're constantly assaulted by new kinds of robotic action but I think it will show itself more and more as familiarity sets in.

The script probably is marginally better, but it's never anything above serviceable. The "comedy" moments are reduced, and, surprisingly, so are the American military hardware porn sequences. Some of the comedy works, some doesn't. None of it is on screen for so long as to really make you cringe and I even laughed at a couple of things Wheelie says, which will probably be a new sensation for most of you.

I'm not really going to go into the plot but suffice it to say that the film has one and it makes more sense than Revenge Of The Fallen but won't win any prizes. It does borrow from The Ultimate Doom though, which is fun for fans.

The robots get a lot more to do than ever before and even get a few sequences where there aren't any humans around to ask dumb audience questions. I'm not a human-hater, I understand perfectly the need for these movies to include prominent human characters, and not just for budgetary reasons, but hey, I'm a Transformers fan, I'm going to be counting the sequences that contain robots. Unfortunately none of the Autobots other than Prime or Bumblebee are really fleshed out, again. Rather than try to build up the character of some of the background 'bots in the last two pictures, Bay elects to introduce some new Autobots to also not be properly fleshed out. I couldn't even tell you all their names, and when the guy in the Transformers cufflinks can't do that, you've got a problem with your Transformers movie.

The Decepticons fare even worse, predictably. Megatron is in there, and you know who he is - Hugo Weaving continues to be pretty good. There is a robot called Soundwave. You know the one, he growls in a deep baritone, laughs at humans and turns into a sports car. Laserbeak features, and I rather enjoyed him. He turns into a lot of innocuous household objects and has a mission to hunt down specific humans. I wouldn't go as far as to call him creepy, but he's a pretty good update. Shockwave, sadly, despite all the promotion, is not up to much. He has none of the calculating coldness of the comics or the sycophantic loyalty of the cartoon. In fact, I'm not sure he even speaks a single audible line. Including Shockwave in a movie but not putting him in opposition to Megatron was a severely dropped ball (I know, I know - new continuity, but come on guys!).

The biggest new figure was Sentinel Prime, voiced rather well by Leonard Nimoy. He features heavily in the plot and is the main reason that Shockwave was essentially a pointless addition. It's a new take on the Sentinel character but that's not a bad thing, at least he HAD a character.

You've got basically all your humans from last time around and if you enjoyed them last time you will again. Obviously Megan Fox's Mikaela is now gone, replaced by Rosie Huntington-Whitely playing Carly but it is very obvious that they barely had to change anything to make the script fit around this change. It would be a bit jarring if anyone watched these films for the character relationships but luckily...

So, meanderingly, we come to the real reason that Dark Of The Moon is a better movie than it's immediate predecessor - action. Now in 3D, the battle sequences are simply astounding. Bay seems to have (slightly) slowed down his editing style and it is definitely easier to determine exactly what is going on. This is especially important because the things that are going on are a fantastic spectacle. I actually feel worse about spoiling specific action beats than I do about plot points because I can't help but feel that is the level you want to be surprised at with these films. Suffice it to say that everything explodes, all over the place, the CGI is basically seamless and the transformation sequences have to be seen to be believed. If you like that sort of thing you need to see this movie for this reason and this reason alone.

I hope you enjoy it. I did, despite my slightly peeved sounding article. Just for the love of Primus don't expect it to correct anything you didn't like about the previous one. That brings me to my original point. I fully expect Dark Of The Moon to please me more and more as I rewatch because it is technically better than Revenge in most ways so will grow to replace it in my affections. It's just a shame that the improvements are so marginal that I don't really have room in my spark for both of them.

Brief edit: One thing I really disliked that should never have been included - Autobots intervening in the Middle East. That was all kinds of wrong. It was only a brief scene, but it sure appeared like they were killing humans. Even if those humans weren't great guys, that's a line Optimus just doesn't cross, and I don't care which continuity he's in.


Lagomorph Rex said...

It was pretty much equally appalling as the preceding one. And both of them make the first one practically an Oscar contender in comparison.

Salt-Man Z said...

Sadly, the Autobots in these movies don't seem to care much about humans, either as the targets of NEST hits, or as collateral damage. (Witness Ironhide chucking a defeated 'Con through the window of a sidewalk shop!)

Lagomorph Rex said...

thats the part that really made me the maddest about both Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon.

But then, these two movies were written by the same guy who wrote Reindeer Games.. so what do we really expect.

Anonymous said...

That's easily my biggest beef with the movies, the fact that the characters are very much unlike how they are anywhere else. Optimus is shown to be gung-ho and trigger happy which doesn't track with established cannon.

They basically distilled his character down to a couple wise sounding speeches and a ruthless destructive bent. The Optimus I know is so much more then this, protective of life and grudgingly engages in conflict only because he has to.

The movies have always been a very shallow reflection of the source material. Anything that simultaneously steals from an established continuity and also deliberately distances itself from it shows an obvious disrespect.

I certainly don't expect Shakespeare, but if this is the best the franchise has to offer then I weep for the future of Transformers.

Bishbot said...

It's not the best the franchise has to offer, don't lose hope. I'm finding "Prime" to be a little dry, but there's considerably more heart in it than in the movies and we still have the various comics from IDW. Transformers isn't going anywhere and I guarantee there will be bits coming up that you'll like.