Capes and Monocles! A review of Transformers: Dark of the Moon

**WARNING: The following review is rife with spoilers, but I don’t care about anything anymore.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is nothing. It is as substantial as a paper napkin being blown off a picnic table by the wind. The kind of napkin you would go out of your way to chase down and pick up, only to throw away into a trash bin, so that it’s littered form wouldn’t spoil nature. It is a film in the loosest definition of the word, in that it is a series of still or moving images. It is nothing more, and occasionally so much less. It has moving parts, color, and noise. It does not have a story. I do not mean it has a bad story; it does not have one at all. Space robots, and humans alike, behave in incomprehensible manners unrelated to any events occurring onscreen. Not one part of the whole supports another. For example, the Autobots, who are top-secret military operatives helping the US government, are also being discussed publicly on the O’Reilly Factor. To use a sports analogy, this film is not a football team working in concert to move up the field; it is myriad, separate tennis matches taking place at their own pace. I realize saying something is nothing, and then describing the something, is a contradiction, but if the movie doesn’t bother with logic or flow, why should its review? Transformers: Dark of the Moon is nothing.

I have two positive things to say about the film, so I’ll go ahead and get those out in the open. First, the comic relief during the first 30 minutes of the movie is good. Second, Shia Lebouf’s girlfriend looks great in super-tight jeans. That’s it. The rest of the review will be negative.

Providing exposition to the story is problematic, since, as I have previously mentioned, there is no coherent plot. Making any sort of sense of the narrative requires ignoring anything and everything that happened in the previous 2 films, which may not be so bad, after all. Except then we’re stuck with only this one…In the early 60’s, an alien craft crashed into the moon. NASA detected the event, and engineered the space race as a veiled attempt to find and inspect the craft, which they do, and then leave alone and never mention again until 2011 because the plot requires it. The spaceship is an Autobot craft called “The Ark,” and crash landed on the moon after being shot down by presumably Decepticon forces during the war for Cybertron, though the later plot twist confuses the audience as to why Decepticons would attack the ship. The Ark’s pilot is Sentinel Prime, who was the Autobots’ leader prior to Optimus, who is the “hero” of this, and the first two, films. Back in the present day, s♥♥ t happens, and the Autobots find out about the Ark, retrieve and revive Sentinel, and then the Decepticons show up and the special effects start.

Caught in the middle of all the giant robot movement are, as usual, Sam Witwicky, played by Shia Lebouf, and his super-hot girlfriend, this time named Carly and played by Rosie Huntingon-Whiteley. No, that’s not a law firm; she’s British. Shia’s original GF, Megan Fox, was reportedly kicked off the film after she compared director Michael Bay to Adolf Hitler, angering both Bay and producer Steven Spielberg. I’m not sure how Hitler reacted to being compared to the director of Bad Boys II. So Michael Bay went out and found himself a Victoria’s Secret model to play eye candy. No attempt is ever made to make her seem a real character. We get a full 15 seconds of her ass and legs before ever being introduced to her face. When the film starts, the pair is already dating; we don’t know how or why. She regards him with an attitude of Sam, I know I’m the most beautiful woman on Earth, and have a perfect body. I could have any man ever. I know that. And I know you’re moderately good looking, and have no job, and are poor. You’re not good at music, or interesting, or have any desirable traits, really. But I will love and support you unconditionally because the plot requires me to. He seems OK with it. Sam and Carly are joined by CIA agents (John Turturro and Frances McDormand), soldiers (Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson), bosses from work (Patrick Dempsey and John Malkovich), parents (whoever the f♥♥ k plays them), the recently ubiquitous Ken Jeong, and the list goes on, in their quest to help the Transformers in ways that probably aren’t really required, since it’s a giant space-war conflict between giant space robots.

The original cartoon series, which I am hesitant to invoke as a basis for criticism, since it was an 80’s cartoon that existed solely to market a line of toys to 8 year olds, featured like 5 humans, most prominently a boy named Spike and his dad. They served their purpose as a point of reference for the audience, and that’s it. All of the plot and characterization belonged to the realm of the Transformers themselves, which is appropriate for a program called Transformers. Bay’s films, however, turn their full attention to the small, little forms of humans who run around and move a lot, without actually doing much, as giant gear things roll around and explode in the background. We are introduced to many Autobots, but introductions are all we get. Dino is a Ferrari Transformer with an Italian accent; I know this from the 2 lines he has in the entire 2.5 hour film. Q is a scientist Autobot who looks like Einstein; I know this because he is introduced as a scientist robot in an early scene. The next time we see Q, a Decepticon is executing him during the climactic battle. The tears don’t come easy. Bay thankfully wrote the Amos n’ Andy minstrelbots out of the 3rd installment, but he replaced them with the “Wreckers,” who are English Soccer hooligans. Hilarious, I know. Unfortunately, they all survive the climactic battle unscathed.

Sadly, as little characterization as the Autobots get, it’s certainly enough to make the Decepticons jealous, who are all growling, slobbering animal things who cannot even talk. A few of the baddies have names. One of them is called Shockwave; he is introduced to much hubbub early in the film as a hyper-strong Decepticon sporting only one, menacing red eye. “Here’s our villain!” The audience exclaims. He does not reappear until the last 30 minutes of the film…Megatron, Soundwave, and Strascream are all back, but they have also developed a penchant for spitting and slobbering. Megatron somehow has rotted teeth. I didn’t know robots had teeth. In the first film, he was a space battle ship. In the sequel, he was a space tank that could fly. In the 3rd movie, he is a rusted oil truck. It seems entropy affects us all. He also inexplicably hangs around with a weird miniature head Decepticon that giggles crazily and licks s♥♥ t. I guess they met on eHarmony.

But there are special effects! If Transformers: Dark of the Moon isn’t big on characters or plot, it’s certainly high on movement. Things move all the time. I mean it; nothing ever f♥♥ king sits still. The Transformers are always jumping, or rolling, or hitting stuff, or running, or rolling more. They roll a lot. They have one battle tactic: dive roll and shoot. Even while talking, they’re picking electric lice of themselves, or jumping about, or smacking something. It’s maddening. The humans aren’t any better. They all seem to have rather extreme cases of attention deficit disorder. They blabber nonsensically in incomplete sentences and tourette’s hiccups, in a jilted uneven dialogue that would make Robert Altman scratch his head. The acting in general is awful, by the way. Things blow up, too. Chicago blows up, for example, for reasons that aren’t quite clear. The Decepticon forces touch down on Earth in Washington D.C., and the next scene has Chicago lying in ruins as alien battle ships patrol its skies. Yes, the battle for the universe takes place on a Chicago skyscraper. I wonder how that affects property values? How did that battle strategy meeting go? “Decepticons, welcome to Earth! Quickly, Paramount was offered enticing incentives to film in Chicago. To the Windy City! Travel 700 miles and then raze it to the ground!” The action is shoddy; there is no continuity or progression in the battles. The best example is an early highway chase scene, which is actually recycled footage from bay’s 2005 film The Island. They just awkwardly spliced in CGI robots falling around. I’ll bet you can see Ewan McGregor somewhere in there if you look hard enough.

Another big gripe I have with the film is the editing, or lack thereof. It’s weird; the movie is 2.5 hours long, and yet it feels like we’re watching Cliffs Notes. Scenes switch, and time has inexplicably passed. I’ve never scene a narrative so poorly slapped together onscreen. Evil robots arrive in DC, and then Chicago is destroyed. Sentinel and Optimus have a heart to heart in what looks like Africa, and then Sentinel is just kind of back in DC in the next sequence. Sam and his girlfriend are precariously hanging onto the rafter of a destroyed skyscraper, perched in mid air between 2 other buildings, and the next scene has them running along an alleyway street level. It’s like they filmed each sequence individually, then threw it all in the air and put the movie together in the order the stuff fell down.

Whether due to poor editing, or just the lack of actual plot, nothing anyone does in the film makes sense. The army complains it can’t break the enemy defenses around Chicago, and yet at the end of the battle they just shoot missiles at the Decepticon battle ships. The missiles work. The ragtag group of humans needs to get across a narrow canal, so they spend 20 minutes lowering a bridge. No one mentions swimming, using a nearby boat, hopping across the floating debris, or having one of the 10 god damn giant robots on their side carry them across the water. The Decepticons, who are lying hidden on the dark side of the moon inside dozens of space battle ships, need to be teleported to Earth. If only one of them had looked out the window, they may have realized they could have just used their god damn space ships, and fly to Earth in a few hours. Oh wait, they’re all slobbering animal things without the ability to reason. I don’t mind a crazy story, or people doing stupid things, but a film needs some sort of logical framework within which the action can take place. Transformers: Dark of the Moon lacks any semblance of that principle.

There’s also a plot twist, which doesn’t work. For one thing, it happens 40 minutes into the film; even M. Night Shyamalan has the presence of mind to wait past the one hour mark. It’s also a bad twist. You know how I knew Sentinel Prime was an evil traitor to begin with? He wore a f♥♥ king cape and a monocle! A CAPE AND A MONOCLE! Where’s the top hat? I bet the DVD director’s cut will have him twirling a mustache next to a damsel tied to train tracks. Plot considerations aside, no one’s actions mesh with their alleged characterization, either. Sentinel is supposedly carrying out his plan not because he is evil, but because he wants to save Cybertron. So once he wrests power from Megatron, why does he let the Decepticons keep on being evil? Megatron is supposedly the master of nastiness, but when Sentinel pushes him down, why doesn’t he fight back, or order his minions to fight with him? Why does he slink away to mope in an alley? Why does he later offer a truce to a crippled Optimus instead of killing him? Optimus himself is the “hero” of the film. Here’s why I used quotation marks: he murders at least 10 Decepticons. He attacks his enemies mercilessly using battle axes, swords and guns, without care for the lives of humans around him. In reference to opposing transformers, he says “we will kill them all” and “You, die!” When asked to leave Earth by humans, he pretends to honor their wishes and respect their strength, and instead sneaks into Chicago with a small army. After Megatron saves his life, Optimus waits until he turns around and rips his spine out. What kind of message is that? Would you want your kids seeing this movie? He’s supposed to be the noble Autobot leader, but Bay gave him the personality of Arnold from Commando. Dear Mr. Bay, having the protagonist murder someone, and then turn to the camera and deliver a one-liner, doesn’t make him a badass; it makes him a psychopath. The moral of the film seems to be “kill your enemies, and lie and deceive in order to do so.” The original television show was made for children; it featured positive messages and likeable characters. I’m not saying the live action films need to be shot in gumdrop land, but we’re staring at a pretty large gap here.

Look, I’m tired. I’m going to stop now because I really don’t know how big a word file I would need to get everything out there. The movie was awful, and I don’t recommend it. It was busy, and loud, and confusing, and lacked any kind of unifying theme or even story. As a kid, I used to ask my mom to buy me Transformers toys because A: the show succeeded in its purpose as a marketing tool, and B: I loved the characters. The Autobots were noble and kind and strong. They cared about each other and humanity. The live action versions care about piling up the body count. The film has already grossed $1 billion, and everyone’s seen it, so this whole review might be spitting into the wind. But if by some miracle of fate you haven’t seen the movie yet, don’t.

Later days,

Sagramore

 

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