Thursday, June 30, 2011

Movie Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

When the first Transformers film was released in 2007, I was flabbergasted and ranting ravely like a kid again, amazed at the prospect that one of the cartoons/ toy franchises I grew up with finally made the leap into the big screen. It wasn't a perfect adaptation of course, but the initial concept remained the same, and apparently Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg delivered on their promise to make the "Robots in Disguise" a kick ass movie and spawn it into a lucrative franchise. However, when 2009's Revenge of the Fallen came along, it was met with mixed to almost downright negative reactions from critics and audiences alike, which is understandable considering the presence of eyesore characters and a plot that was clustered around like crazy. Simply put, the movie universe wasn't exactly cut from the same cloth as Generation 1, but it fared well enough in the box office to make millions of dollars in ticket sales, coming to the point that another sequel would be made, and it would be Bay's last foray in the franchise.

When it was first announced, Transformers: Dark of the Moon certainly sounded like a strange way to name a movie (why not "Dark Side of the Moon"?), but after watching the final product, it all makes sense why it was given the title. Without going much into spoilers this early, I can say that the third "Bayformers" was aptly named, and lives up to the director's promise that it will be a lot "darker" than his previous two outings with the Autobots and Decepticons. After the jump, take note that it will be SPOILERVILLE from here on out, so if you plan to watch the movie with a clean conscience, come back and read this review after you've seen it.

Movie: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, John Turturro, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Peter Cullen, Hugo Weaving, and Leonard Nimoy,
Directed By: Michael Bay

After paying a sum full just to see this movie on its midnight screening (and in 3D no less), I found Transformers: Dark of the Moon to be a step up and a whole lot darker than its predecessors, but at the same time it simply wasn't the gratifying finish I had in mind for the series. Granted, it's a Michael Bay movie, and his trademark style of filmmaking reeks all over the film, right down from the fight scenes and slow motion sequences to the big explosions and sexy chick walking amidst the chaos and destruction. Stunning visuals, a decent soundtrack highlighted by Linkin Park, and good marketing promotions spearheaded by Hasbro's own toys will tell you this movie is the kind of summer blockbuster flick a regular joe would pay to see for brainless fun and action, but somehow I felt cheated by its presentation nevertheless. The epic conclusion I had in mind for the series didn't turn out the way I expected, and instead what I got was something acceptable, yet sorely lacking.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon 3D Trailer

Story wise, Dark of the Moon weaves together an intrinsic plot that once again deals with the evergoing battle between Autobots and Decepticons, as well as further establishing humanity's earlier encounters with the Transformers decades earlier. As seen in previous films, Optimus Prime and the Autobots have made Earth their new home and have sworn to protect it from any threat, be it a Decepticon attack or the humans from destroying themselves. When a battle against the Decepticon Shockwave leads to the discovery of lost Transformer technology, the Autobots soon learn that one of their vessels thought to be lost during the Cybertronian Wars had crash landed and remained on the dark side of the Moon for many years. They also learn that humanity's periodic Space Race program in the 60's was just a cover up excuse to justify their missions to the moon to study the ship and keep any information from the public eye. Frustrated by this revelation and lies made, Prime makes it a point to investigate the "Dark of the Moon" crash site, where he finds his old mentor and leader Sentinel Prime, as well as "The Pillars" - devices intended to be used to open a Space Bridge for their cause during their war on Cybertron. Knowing the chaotic repercussions of this, the Autobots' human allies fear the worst happening if such a device fell into the wrong hands. Ultimately, those fears are justified when Megatron and his Decepticons put their decades in the making plan into motion, setting forth a chain of events that result in loss, betrayal, and destruction, leaving the Earth open and unprepared for what comes next. If humanity is to survive, it will take the combined efforts of The Autobots and their human allies to save the planet from total devastation.

First things first, I watch Transformers not because of the story or humans, I watch it for those bloody awesome giant robots that grind, run, and blast the hell out of each other in furious metal combat. Of course, my one and only favorite Transformer Optimus Prime is the king of the house in this movie, and while his battle scenes here aren't as EPIC as the "Take You All On" scene from Revenge of the Fallen, I can say that the Autobot leader kicks a lot of Decepticon ass in more ways than his previous adventure. Having the voice of Peter Cullen alone made this viewing worthwhile already, and that's the one aspect of the Bayformer movies that kept drawing me back. Peter Cullen is Optimus Prime, and since he brought legend and infamy into that role back in the 80's with the Generation 1 series, I've had high regard, respect, and acclaim for the character and voice behind him. Nobody messes with the Prime... and he shows it in spades here.

For the other 'bots, you'll get a lot more time with them here than in the last two movies. Of course we have veterans Bumblebee, Ironhide, Ratchet, and Sideswipe returning, but you also got the inclusion of newbies like Dino, The Wreckers, and Wheeljack, and they're here to add up to the ranks, as well as bring more toy merchandise to kids and collectors courtesy of Hasbro. That's not to say the Decepticons are lacking in strength and numbers either. There are plenty of bad guys to go around here, and much of them are G1 fan favorites like Soundwave (getting a new Mercedes car form) and the DotM debuting Shockwave, who are hell as intimidating as they look visually. Starscream and Barricade also return, with the former taking the fight to the humans up close and personal, which results in a hilarious and silly moment in the movie you'll just have to see for yourselves.

Hugo Weaving also returns to voice Decepticon leader Megatron, who gains a new transformation mode in the form of a truck, but is still recovering from the injuries he received in the previous movie. Unfortunately, Megs doesn't get as much screen time as he did in the previous two flicks. Instead, he's regulated to the side, as the true baddy of the movie is revealed to be *SPOILER* the treacherous Sentinel Prime! Voiced by legendary Star Trek and Spock actor Leonard Nimoy, this version of Sentinel made a deal with Megs back in Cybertron to preserve their race and restore their planet by bring Cybertron to Earth and using humanity as slave labor. It's a surprising twist that works well in the sense that Nimoy once played the role of Galvatron in the 1986 animated flick "Transformers: The Movie", and what was thought to be a heroic role for him in the live-action adaptation of Transformers turns out to be another villainous role, albeit one that is tragic this time around.

As much as I enjoyed bits and pieces of the human casting of the TF movies, there comes a point where I feel cheated whenever the focus shifts into their perspective and cuts away from the metal robot action we fans and moviegoers PAY TO SEE. Yes, I understand that Shia LaBeouf's character of Sam Witwicky is an integral part in making the connection to the Transformers relatable to people, but was it necessary to tell his young adult life story for much of the first act of this movie? Heck, instead of prolonging it for half an hour, we could have seen it for 5-10 minutes and people would get the point that he's a struggling guy looking for work and desperately searching for purpose in his life. That's not to say that he's not a credible actor though, and Shia does pull and finish his Witwicky act full circle. Despite the time skip, he's still the smart ass yet goodhearted kid helping out his Autobot buddies whenever a crisis comes along. He also gets to really kick ass and take a stand against a well known Decepticon in this sequel, and while it's a little too convenient to see him get heroic all of a sudden, it works for the overall plot the movie conveys.

One of the surprising (or not-so-surprising depending on how you look at it) moves made by Bay was firing Shia's former co-star and TF hottie-on-screen Megan Fox, replacing her character of Mikaela Barnes with a new female lead, Rosie Huntington-Whitley, who plays the new love interest of Sam - a somewhat familiar character from the Transformers mythos, namely Sam/ Spike's future wife Carley Spencer. This recasting process in my opinion took its toll on the movie's pacing, and while I appreciate the fact that the Carley character ends up with Sam, I'm really disappointed that Fox's character has been booted off and changed by the trilogy's end. If Mikaela stayed on, it would have brought things full circle, but alas it wasn't meant to be. Huntington-Whitley is sexy, but like her predecessor, she's just there to "act" by showing herself as the TF babe men and geeks can oogle over while things blow up and slow down in the background.

For the other familiar faces, prominent guys like John Turturro's Agent Simmons, Josh Duhamel's William Lennox, and Tyrese Gibson's Robert Epps return to bring the comedy and action back for one final hurrah. The former, for that matter, makes it worthwhile to see the movie and indulge in his wacky humor, and there are even cameo bits by John Malkovich and the hilarious Ken "Mr. Chow" Jeong to leave the audiences laughing over some out of place silliness amidst the robotic action and drama clawing around in between scenes.

For the final verdict, Transformers: Dark of the Moon isn't a bad flick nor was it disappointing (oh I'm looking at you Green Lantern), but I feel it could have been more had things gone a certain way. It does live up to its "dark potential" by providing the necessary violence, destruction, and kick ass action sequences with a somewhat mature plot, but overall I find this only second to the first film in terms of presentation and personal amusement over the build of the movie. I will say that the TF fan in me was pleased with the references Bay and the writers used that make nods to several other Transformers material, specifically the IDW comic book and cartoons, and heck even Star Trek since Nimoy is around for the ride. Despite the mixed reactions, I will give my props to Michael Bay for sticking with the formula and providing us with five years of Transformers goodness. Hopefully whatever comes next will either improve on what he established or reimagine things in a better light. We won't know for sure, but that's all she wrote now for Bayformers, so it's "'til all are one" from here and the next time around.

Rating - 3/5

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