Transformers: Dark of the Moon Review

Jul 8, 2011
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Transformers: Dark of the Moon Review

I will admit that I am a hater. An overwhelming majority of my movie reviews on SlashGear have been negative. When they were positive, they were usually reviews for pretentious Oscar-fodder like Black Swan. I’m more likely to hate movies that other people liked, and I pride myself more on hating those movies in new and interesting ways, rather than bucking the trend. This is why my review of “Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon” may come as a surprise. If you liked anything about the previous Transformers movies, you will like “Transformers 3.” I recommend it. Go see it and have a good time.

Of course, that’s a qualified recommendation, right? Not necessarily. After all, the group of people who liked “anything” about previous Transformers movies must be quite large. These movies make literally hundreds of millions of dollars at the box office, and often break records on opening weekend. Clearly, there are plenty of people who like ‘something’ about Transformers movies. Granted, the last Transformers movie was not only bad, it was offensive, and it endowed some of its robots with characteristics more often found in racist stereotypes than in extraterrestrial mechanical warriors. For the third, and I’m guessing this won’t be the final installment in the series, Michael Bay has removed most of the garbage that cluttered the first two.

In fact, Bay may have removed too much. The film is the most poorly edited movie I have ever seen. The pacing is horrible. There were numerous times when I wondered if Bay actually made a movie that was an hour longer, and then cut out bits and pieces seemingly at random. The cuts are jarring. Often I thought to myself: “Wait, how did they get there?” Or, “This stuff they’re talking about, when did this happen?” Seriously, it seems like major plot points were excised with no regard for narrative structure, for better and for worse. The movie makes little sense, but who cares? We’re talking about a race of robots from space. How did these robots get built in the first place? Why do they now bleed red fluid (the only blood you’ll see in the movie comes from robots)? Why would a robot have razor sharp blades deep in the iris of its eye? And, once again, who cares?

After I left the theater, I was ready to come home and write a scathing review, trashing the movie. But I have since mellowed. Was it a good film? Of course not. But was it fun? Actually, yes. There were cool things to see. There was a ton of fighting, with guns and cars and jets and swords and lasers and bombs and everything you could possibly want from an action movie. A huge, snaking robot tears down buildings! People fly through the air wearing bad-ass wing suits! There are gratuitous close-ups of the hind-quarters of a Victoria’s Secret model! ALL IN 3D!!!

I have to give Michael Bay credit for the 3D. With most directors, it seems like they got bored of the 3D effect halfway through the movie. The beginning will have glorious, multi-layered shots that take advantage of the effect, but by the end, you hardly notice the depth. Not so in Transformers 3. From start to finish, Michael Bay is trying to make a movie that takes advantage of 3D in new and exciting ways. While I liked “Avatar” much better as a film, I think Bay is just as competent, and perhaps even more inventive in his use of 3D, as James Cameron.

I still hate the character design, though. The robots are so . . . confusing. You can’t tell what you’re looking at. Before the film, I read a story in the New York Times that broke down a single frame of the movie. Michael Bay explains the importance character design has in helping the robots express emotion. And the character in question is a generic looking humanoid bot with a single, expressionless red eye. It barely speaks. It has maybe five minutes of screen time. There is no better indication that Bay has no idea what he’s talking about when he talks about character. But he definitely knows flying, explosions, and Victoria’s Secret models.

I miss the old Transformers, but I’m not nostalgic for the old series, and especially not the old movie. Anyone who tells you the original Transformers movie, which, like Transformers 3, features Leonard Nimoy’s voice (in addition to Orson Welles, Don Johnson, and a surprisingly rich cast of voice actors), is better than the new films has clearly not seen the original in quite a while. I went back for a revisit recently, and I was amazed at how commercialized it was. Of course, Transformers was invented as a toy with a TV show tie-in, but in the original movie, the entire first generation of characters is wiped out very early to make way for the new robots. They might as well have filmed a stock boy at a Toys R Us clearing off the shelves to make way for the new merchandise, it’s so obvious. So, I won’t complain about the commercialism.

I also won’t claim that the original robots seemed more human. They were just as hokey as they are in the recent movies, perhaps more so, since they were a children’s cartoon. But when you saw a character on screen, you could at least say: “Oh, that’s his hand.” Or, “that’s his face, and there are his feet.” In the new movies, it seems like the Transformers are made of a bag of spare parts thrown loosely together with little coherence. There is too much going on in each individual character’s body to grasp the fluidity of the action. Bay would have been better off keeping the characters more simple. Leave some of the nuts and bolts up to the imagination, instead of showing us every single car part laid bare.

So, “Transformers 3” can be pretty bad in parts. If you look closely, you could easily find bits and pieces to offend a politically correct sensibility (what exactly did those generic Middle Easterners do to deserve an Autobot attack?). There are holes in the plot and gaps in the editing, though I wouldn’t be surprised if these are filled in by a special edition “Director’s Cut” DVD that doubles the 2.5 hour run time.

But “Transformers 3” is also fun. If you know what to expect from a Michael Bay movie, you won’t be disappointed, you’ll be delighted. The 2.5 hours zoomed by. The 3D effect actually felt worth the higher ticket price. So many summer action flicks fall short on either the plot or the action. At least “Transformers 3” gets something right.


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