Earth’s last stand…until the sequel.
After Revenge of the Fallen…Michael Bay took a moment to take a nice, deep, introspective breath to reflect on the flaws of his previous effort, and then almost immediately launched into production on Dark of the Moon. Now with something to prove, Bay set out to make his most insane Transformers film yet while correcting at least some of the misdeeds of the previous film’s so called story. Did he succeed?
We pick up a few years after Revenge of the Fallen. Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is fresh out of college, and despite having saved the world twice can’t seem to find himself a job. However, he has found himself a new hottie by the name of Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) because although we spent a solid 25 hours in the last movie establishing that Sam and Mikaela were in love, apparently she didn’t “love him for him.” Whatever. Anyway, the Transformers (oh yeah, they’re in this movie) and NEST discover a piece of a spacecraft that was lost in the war on Cybertron, or so they thought. You see, when Neil Armstrong and company went on the moon, they actually discovered an Autobot ship manned by Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy) that was crashed there. As Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) uncovers Sentinel, the Decepticons wage their biggest attack on Earth yet, taking over Chicago as they plan to open a portal that will rebuild Cybertron on Earth, meaning the Autobots must band together once again to defeat them.
Once again, I must say…who cares? ROBOTS!!!
Although this is far from a great piece of cinema, I must give Michael Bay this, he kept his promise. Dark of the Moon is not only a radical improvement from Revenge of the Fallen, but it’s also the most enjoyable Transformers film so far. Although some of the annoying aspects of the previous entries certainly make an appearance here, they are heavily subdued as Bay unleashes a visual spectacle so spectacular that it almost makes any criticism irrelevant. However, seeing how this is a review after all, I shall do my best to try and contain my inner five year old who was just jumping up and down throwing popcorn while making ‘pew pew’ noises at the screen for the last hour of this thing.
The plot structure here is almost identical to Revenge of the Fallen, and although some aspects of it are handled much better then before, there are still more then a few weak links in the storytelling department. We spend a solid hour with Sam as we watch him traverse the employment world, and ultimately unravel the conspiracy. The former half of that equation leads to some of the worst material in the series. LaBeouf seems genuinely exhausted here, dropping the eccentricity that made Sam so enjoyable before and reducing him to his most basic parts. Whining, and yelling. While he does get a couple moments to genuinely emote, they’re trampled over by a couple of awful supporting players (in typical Transformers fashion). John Malkovich overacts for a while as Sam’s boss, and Ken Jeong…my god. Why is Ken Jeong in things? He is literally never of merit (not even in the Hangover) and here he is at his most annoying as an odd Asian stereotype who jumps and humps around to mind numbing effect.
However, once the mystery kicks in, the story becomes fun and we focus on the more tolerable characters. Sure, John Turturro comes back into the picture, but his character is more subdued and actually does something. Also, although she’s certainly not going to be doing Shakespeare any time soon, Huntington-Whitely is actually pretty decent here. She’s certainly a hell of a lot more emotive and proactive then Megan Fox ever was. The criminally underrated Patrick Dempsey turns up as a slimy industrialist who chews all the scenery in his path. We even get a couple of enjoyable turns from Frances McDormand and Alan Tudyk. Sure, they’re playing stereotypes, but entertaining ones. The grating humor, while most certainly present, is significantly scaled back. We don’t have a bunch of irritating characters talking over each other so much as just a bad joke here and there. The Transformers themselves also get a little more to do, with Peter Cullen and Leonard Nimoy in particular having some nice moments as the reunited primes. We really get to see how bad-ass each individual one here is, with all of the fan favorites getting at least one moment to shine.
Then…the action kicks in.
Oh…my…word. Michael Bay outdid himself ten times over with the final, hour long battle of this film. All of the action in here was conceived for 3D, and it really shows. The rushed, shaky images filled with random pieces of metal clanging into each other are long gone. Everything is shot nice and wide, with some beautiful slow motion to highlight the cooler moments. There’s a genuine feeling of weight here. We get to see some of the devastation the Decepticons have caused, and people actually die in some pretty damn brutal ways. Also, there’s a lot more verity of action. We’ve got melee fights, people clinging to the inside of a building as it capsizes, and in the most impressive scene of the entire series, a group of air troopers in wing suits descending into the city while dodging enemy ships on all sides. All of this combines to create some of the most visually stunning and exciting action sequences ever put on film.
This is a very clunky film, no doubt about it. There are some major pacing issues, and some segments that are flat out bad. However, it is also such an upgrade from the previous film that it’s hard to notice. The story is tolerable, the action is thrilling, and there’s actually an attempt to make the proceedings matter. While the first film is certainly a more complete vision, this is definitely my favorite of the trilogy. With some new blood in the veins of the franchise with the upcoming Age of Extinction (can’t go wrong with Mark Whalberg), I’m fairly confident that Bay will again deliver another fun, brain-be-damned thrill ride.
Only time will tell…