Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Director: Michael Bay Starring: Shia LeBeouf, Rosie Hunington-Whiteley, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro Co-Starring: Frances McDormand, Patrick Dempsey, Alan Tudyk
Main Voices: Peter Cullen, Leonard Nimoy, Frank Welker, Hugo Weaving Watch for: Star Trek references.
Editor: James Haygood Would I Buy It: Blu-Ray, for sure. "How come the Decepticons always get the good shit?" I'm fighting an uphill battle with this one. Just call me OPTIMIST PRIME: THE MOVIE DEFENDER. The problem with Transformers 3 is that nobody, not a single fanboy, forgets Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. It's name is spoken with the same instant negativity as a new Nickelback album. The problem with TF3 is that there's a smear campaign on this film before it even hit it's release date. However, as I never, ever read a review on a movie I've been waiting to see before I go see it (unlike much of the internet-going populous who seems to think knowing if they're going to like it in advance is life/death), I got to watch this and have my fanboy mind thoroughly blown. Afterwards, I read some of the reviews and boy, am I glad I didn't. They're so busy hating on the film, they don't even realize just how many spoilers and plot twists they give away. At the good ol' Spenceley Spoileriffic, you should know that walking in the door, I've got the light on and the windows wide open. All spoilers are fair game. MSNBC? Shame on you. It wasn't cool when Rosie O'Donnell did it to Fight Club, it's not cool now. I don't care how much you hated something, don't ruin it for the people who want to see it. It's just manners. Now. The movie. Which rocked my emotional world. The main story is based off of a 3-episode arc of the original Transformers cartoon (known as G1 by the fans) entitled "The Ultimate Doom". This is the first of the series that goes beyond pulling elements from the series and in fact directly uses a plot, which it gets mad praise for from me. I actually discovered this quite by accident, as I'm a casual fan of the show. In preparation for the movie, i had been watching my G1 discs and it just so happened that the evening after I saw the movie, the next episode was "The Ultimate Doom". I about jumped up in my seat when I made the connection. The major addition to the movie plot is the betrayal of Sentinel Prime, a character with whom I am not familiar of in more than name. According to a TF-loving friend of mine, he was the Prime leader before Optimus, but that was about all there was to it. He never resurfaces and he never goes "evil", however this element of the story was one of the most shocking and interesting plots for me. I was caught totally by surprise. I was convinced Sentinel was pure Autobot, but I jumped out of my seat with everyone else when he shot Ironhide in the back. This wasn't a surprise to me that Ironhide died, I kind of called that before the movie came out. Given how he was "built up" (given more screentime if not character development) in RotF, my movie guy instincts told me that he'd be the one to kill when things got serious. And they did. And they got a lot more serious than I thought they would. It seems that Dark of the Moon best defines what Michael Bay has been trying to do all along, which is show that we are bystanders, nearly helpless victims of the 'natural disaster' that is the Transformers coming to our planet. Traditionally, you don't tend to get a lot of back story when the aliens invade. However, seeing as how in this film, we have 'good guy aliens' helping out, the expectation seems to be that the inward focus should be on the robot characters, we should have fully fleshed histories and know both who they are and where they've come from. Bollocks, I say. That's the fanboy talking. Off the top of my head, District 9, Independence Day, War of the Worlds and the entirety of the Alien/Predator franchises give barely a glimpse into the origins of their alien visitors. The only thing we need to know is that they're scary and they're here to kill us. As far as the Decepticons go, I'd say they've got that down. As a fan and filmmaker, I can't speak for Joe Moviegoer, who may have difficulty keeping track of which robot is which, but with the voicework and mannerisms of the main robot cast, I understand everything I need to about these characters in order for the movie to work. It may not be the robot-centered film the diehards wanted, but that's my main problem with raging fanboyism, is that they feel their own notion of what the movie should be defines exactly what the movie should be. Rather than sitting back in the chair and allowing the director to tell his version of the story, the dig their heels into the past and refuse to let go. Generally speaking, anyway. That's the impression that I get. Anyway, the twist is revealed, the Earth is invaded, the main characters are "killed off". Tell me, did anyone actually buy that? That's twice, Optimus. It ain't gonna work a third. The main thing that bothered me about that sequence is that as giant as the explosion was, it was caused by Starscream taking a pot-shot at them. Sure, you're probably supposed to feel disgusted and think "You cheap-ass no-good villains!", but aside from the characters in the movie and lil' kids who don't know better, I wonder who this scene actually fooled. I've seen complaints about the logic here in various message boards, stating "So, basically Optimus & Co. faked their deaths and hid out while the Decepticons killed hundreds/thousands of people? What a dick." From Optimus' character's standpoint, I understand this move. I wish I had a better idea as a writer for how they could've handled this, since the comic book death thing is quickly getting tiresome in this series, but when the bad guys say "Get off the planet or we're gonna kill people", making them think you're off the planet (or dead) is a pretty good offensive strategy. It makes them let their guard down. Sure, people are going to die, but how many more people would have if the Autobots had just run in, guns blazing and been torn down before they know exactly what they were up against? You have to pick your battles. That being said, when they came back, boy did they come back. I'm not sure if the fact that it's a robot makes it okay, but I laughed pretty hard at the Wreckers tearing the fight pilot bot to pieces. "This is going to hurt". It got me hero-loving, take-THAT-you-fiend! juices flowing in the best of ways. Every Decepticon death from this point on earned some sort of exclamation from me. I was quite impressed with just how brutal this PG-13 adventure got. The absolute most brutal death was that of Starscream, everyone's favorite power-hungry, evil fighter jet. As Sam was flung about during Starscream's pain-induced fit, I couldn't help but be reminded of the eye removal scene in Kill Bill 2. The friend I saw it with was upset because it was a "stupid death for Starscream", but when I saw it, I couldn't help but think of it as a great moment for Sam. He killed a 'leader-class' bot on his own. That's substantial. Plus, Starscream was a little bitch anyway and deserved to go out like a little bitch, just like his quick death in the animated movie. My friend was also upset with how they killed Soundwave, calling it, similarly, a "terrible death for that character". I think he's thinking of Soundwave, the autotune-bot from the show, of whom I have no knowledge of his fate, but deserved something grand. Movie Soundwave had a bit part and died of the way a secondary villain dies in any given action movie. That worked fine for me. No one really understands how the group of Autobots ended up in a captive situation considering all of their limbs are made of projectile weapons, but that's a fairly standard movie thing (that I recall Austin Powers making fun of), so I'm willing to just let it slide. Optimus' kill-them-all rampage was quick, well, explosive. Michael Bay got himself in trouble with this one, by comparing it to the infamous one-shot from "Old Boy", said by many to be the greatest and most realistic fight scene of all time. So, when Michael Bay described this shot we got a 'mere glimpse' of in the trailers, I assumed it was going to be just like Old Boy, from the side, panning along. However, I'd say this is more like a Snyder "300" shot, time ramping and shifting in focal view. Most of what we see in the trailer is what we get in this scene, aside from the finale of punching a fairly large piece out of Shockwave and using his own cannon to bring down the primary pillar. Shockwave. The marketing made him out to be a bigger deal than he actually was in this movie. Perhaps it was to draw attention away from the fact that the main villain would be this new Autobot fire truck dude, but more likely it was just to get the fanboys excited and sell a few more action figures. He looked cool, though. I'd probably be happier with him if I hadn't seen all the marketing materials. They really didn't make him have much purpose though, aside from telling the worm-creature what to devour next. The human aspect of the action was one of the really surprising factors here. The V-22 and wingsuit shots from the trailers, I actually did think that was just about all we were going to get. The wingsuit sequence is one of my favorite scenes from this movie. Not only is a lot (most?) of it practically filmed, but the depth of these shots was amazing for the 3D version. I particularly love the thread-the-needle with the one soldier waving his arms frantically, fearing he's going to snag himself on some debris as they shoot through the building. It was a very exciting scene that you just wouldn't have gotten in this movie from anyone but Bay. Part of me likes to think Bay saw the other Hasbro property film, GI Joe, and thought "No, guys. THIS is how you do a military movie". Food for thought, Duke. The building collapse was amazing. If you saw it, you know. I needn't go into it. My other favorite action bit was the Prime v. Prime fight at the end. It seemed that they finally got the scale right for shooting a Transformer fight. Whereas in the first two films, many of the battles were shot low and close from the "human perspective", Optimus & Sentinel's fight felt more like a proper "movie perspective", where we were able to clearly see the fight choreography. The shot after Optimus is knocked away and all the smaller Autobots are attacking Sentinal simultaneously completely rocks my socks. Bumblebee attacks low, turns to car-mode to avoid being hit and re-transforms and opens fire again while simultaneously Sideswipe attacks from above, being carried over and away from Sentinel by the raised shield, while other bots I didn't have the capacity to pay attention to are also attacking as well. Excellent shot. My only major change to this film would be to remove the parents' scenes entirely. They do crack me up, but in this movie they do nothing but slow the first half down by basically nagging to Sam about things we already know. It's such a random, needless appearance that you could cut at the shots right before they show up each time, connect the bookending shots on either side and the movie still flows just fine. Shia's interview with Malkovich could be the only one and the movie would be okay. We don't need to see the job hunt, or them driving him around to it. Sorry, parents. You're great, but you're just making the whole thing too busy, just like last time. Anyway, I could go on and on, but to summarize, the human plot gets us through the movie, I liked the new girl fine, the robots looked absolutely amazing, in graphics and in 3D and the almost-too-dramatic style of the cinematography really does it's best to show them off as much as possible. This movie was a whole lot of fun. Fanboy note: Megatron's wideshot for his first transformation is fuckin' beautiful. I also love that each of the main transformers are given a transforming glory shot, usually before their last scene. And Bumblebee, the final transformation of the trilogy, does exactly what the first of the trilogy does: it includes the original G1 sound effect. Perfect.

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