Wednesday, June 29, 2011

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON -- More Than Melts the Eyes Out of Their Sockets

Let me begin this review by reiterating the following disclaimer: I LOVE TRANSFORMERS. I love the cartoons -- I watched the entirety of the first two seasons in chronological order on the Hub network earlier this year, typically DVRing them during the week and watching them in two-hour clusters over the weekend, and it was an amazing nostalgia trip. I loved the toys -- had all of them as a kid and was pleasantly surprised to discover that I still have a bunch of them hiding away at my parents’ house. And yes, I even love the movies. The first time Optimus Prime reveals himself in 2007’s TRANSFORMERS was one of the great geek-out movie moments that I’ve ever experienced. Even 2009’s TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN, which even Michael Bay admits was a steaming turd, has its moments if you can ignore the racist Autobots and the giant clanging robot testicles. The TRANSFORMERS films are, quite simply, my biggest cinematic guilty pleasures of the past few years -- except that I don’t feel guilty about it at all.

Now, I honestly believe that Michael Bay has been on a mission to redeem himself after the much-maligned second film. The man may not be Orson Welles, but he takes great pride in his work nevertheless -- say what you want about Michael Bay flicks, but even the stinkers are always spectacles that few other filmmakers could even dream of accomplishing. He had something to prove with TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON... and prove it, he most certainly did. Michael Bay has officially out-Michael Bayed himself with this movie in terms of pure, unbridled robot carnage. If this is the last installment (and it kinda has to be... at least until someone inevitably reboots the franchise in a few years), he has brought new meaning to the phrase, "going out with a bang." But more than that, he fixed a lot of the problems that plagued the previous installments: Transformers are now much more recognizable. Action sequences are no longer completely incomprehensible. Silly comic relief is still there, but toned down considerably. As for plot and dialogue and human characters with some semblance of depth... well, hey, it’s Michael Bay, not Shakespeare. If you are watching TRANSFORMERS and looking for stuff like that, you probably shouldn’t be watching TRANSFORMERS.

But let’s talk more about the visuals and the action, because obviously, that’s what DARK OF THE MOON is all about. One key factor is that it was filmed using 3D cameras, which forced Bay to alter his style somewhat. Seems the human eye cannot register three-dimensional images if they are less than three seconds long. Now, Bay has made a career out of rapid-fire action sequences that could cause a person to go into epileptic seizures, but this time, he had to slow things down a bit. Not TOO slow, mind you -- but slow enough for the 3D to work, which in turn is slow enough for us to actually keep track of what’s going on, which Autobot is wreaking havoc upon which Decepticon, which Chicago office building is literally being ripped in half and used as a weapon, etc. To say that the action in this movie is an improvement over the first two installments is a vast understatement. In fact, everything that Bay has given us so far -- not just in the Transformers franchise, but in his entire career -- culminates with the climactic battle of this film. The last hour or so is nothing short of an epic symphony of destruction. All-out war between the Autobots (and humans) and Decepticons. Non-stop brutality and utter mayhem. Robots and people getting their innards ripped out, Mortal Kombat-style, or simply blasted to smithereens. I’m not joking when I say that the action does not let up for a second. Just before it begins, the screen goes black, as if lowering a curtain -- and when the curtain rises and the image returns, it’s just madness and carnage. And that carnage and madness continues and continues and builds and builds until it’s finished. And then the movie ends. It’s sheer insanity. It’s awesome. It’s everything you could possibly want in a Transformers movie. Every character -- good and bad -- gets a moment to shine. It must be seen to be believed, and the trailers have only provided a miniscule glimpse of what’s in store -- but I will say that Optimus Prime and Bumblebee have officially attained ULTIMATE BADASS status with some key moments that caused the audience at my IMAX 3D screening to roar its approval. There are some smaller action sequences throughout the first two-thirds of the film, but really, everything that happens is just one big build-up to the final spectacle.

That includes, like, a story and stuff. Remember the space race of the ‘60s that culminated with the moon landing of 1969? Turns out that was all the result of an Autobot spacecraft that crash-landed on the moon a few years earlier. This discovery was kept under wraps for a long time... even as the events of the first two films unfurled, which makes Optimus Prime none too happy. But he is now able to revive Sentinel Prime (voiced perfectly by Leonard Nimoy), the Autobots’ long-lost former leader and creator of some of their most prized technology. Meanwhile, the Decepticons, still led by Megatron, have been licking their wounds and biding their time to strike again... which of course they eventually do, with a few surprises up their robotic sleeves, including the deadly Shockwave, who kicks serious ass. Also meanwhile: Sam Witwicky (gigantic douche Shia LaBeouf, whose career will hopefully implode now that this series is done) has graduated college and is struggling to find a job, despite being a two-time hero of humanity, a fact that really sticks in his craw. But at least he has a new super-hot girlfriend, played by Rosie Huntington-Whitely, whose accent and lips help ease the pain of Megan Fox’s dismissal, and who doesn’t help Sam’s inferiority complex by making more money than him and having a cushy job with a pretentious, sleazy boss (Patrick Dempsey). Back for more fun & games are John Turturro, once again acting as if he’s in a whole other movie, and Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson as soldiers who don’t have much to do other than run around and watch the robots kick each other’s ass. (Actually, that’s not entirely true -- the human soldiers DO get one pretty cool moment during the final battle. America, Fuck Yeah!) Somehow, Michael Bay convinced Frances McDormand and John Malkovich to be in this movie as the Secretary of Defense and Sam’s megalomaniacal boss, respectively -- seeing them is surreal, but they both add their own brand of screen presence and it works. Ken Jeong also makes a bizarre appearance, and Sam’s crazy parents are back for some comic moments, which is cool because they are strangely hilarious.

What it all boils down to is this: Do you like TRANSFORMERS? Do you want to see TRANSFORMERS bash the ever-loving shit out of each other and lay waste to a major American city for a solid hour? Do you want to applaud and cheer and go “HOLY SHIT!” many, many times? Then, my friends, TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON is for you. See it on the biggest, loudest screen you can find. Hell, even spring for 3D if you’ve got a few extra bucks in your pocket -- it’s probably the second-best use of the technology in a live-action movie after AVATAR (though in this case, I think it’s more the events that we are seeing in 3D that are eye-popping, not so much the 3D itself). Pound for pound, it’s clearly the best of the trilogy and some of the best work of Michael Bay’s career. Some might consider that light praise -- but those people, along with all other haters and curmudgeons and killjoys and negative nancies, can go F themselves. TRANSFORMERS, rule!

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