Transformers: Dark Of The Moon Review
Some films are said to be critic-proof, and Michael Bay's incredibly successful series of Transformers movies are the very embodiment of that viewpoint. After a decent enough start with the first film and the mind-numbingly awful sequel Revenge Of The Fallen (ROTF), we were promised that the latest movie would eschew the crass comedy, ill-judged racial stereotyping and nonsensical plotting of its forebears. They lied.
Dark Of The Moon (DOTM) begins with the Ark, a spaceship that's escaping from Cybertron (the Transformers' home planet) during the last days of the Autobot/Decepticon war, and an ominous voice-over from Autobot leader Optimus Prime tells us that the ship was carrying a powerful device intended to win the conflict for the good guys. It was apparently lost after being shot down by the evil Decepticons, and ended up crash-landing on Earth's Moon in the early 1960's. This, the movie posits, was the real reason for the American/Russian race to be the first to land on our planet's lifeless satellite. Once Neil and Buzz have done their thing we cut to the present day and join young Sam Witwicky, the goofy teenage hero of the first two films, as he goes job-hunting, prompted by his impossibly good-looking girlfriend Carly.
So, instead of investigating this incredible discovery of giant alien robots, NASA shuts down the moon landing program and the secret is covered up. But after the seemingly chance discovery of an engine part from the Ark here on present-day Earth, the Autobots head up to the Moon and find their former leader Sentinel Prime still aboard the crippled ship, the robot lying in a dormant state but still in possession of the device intended to end the Cybertronian war: a space bridge, capable of transporting vast amounts of troops or weapons across time and space. Instead of intervening, the Decepticons (led by Megatron) lay low and let the Autobots revive Sentinel, while killing off those humans who are aware of the Moon's secret. Sam gets caught up in the mystery thanks to Dylan, Carly's shady boss, and he enlists the help of Seymour Simmons, the kooky Sector 7 agent from the previous films. Together they discover that the Decepticons' motive isn't about stopping the weapon from falling into Autobot or human hands, but to revive Sentinel Prime for their own ends. Cue an orgy of action which lasts for nearly one-and-a-half hours and is the greatest example of Bayos ever committed to the screen.
Michael Bay really has pulled out all the stops when it comes to the action sequences, there's no denying that. Some people argue that the 3D has meant that Bay has had to slow down his cutting and camera movement, but I don't really buy that. The action is still as fast-paced as ever and the frame is crammed to the hilt with exploding/transforming nonsense; this stuff will ravage your eyeballs and leave them whimpering on the floor, not least when the city of Chicago is besieged by the evil Decepticons, leaving a few brave/psychotic Autobots and humans to fight them. For some reason the humans constantly need to wingsuit or parachute into the city, which obviously means tons of VERY COOL shots as the camera tracks these human equivalents of flying squirrels. Little things like continuity & geography are dispensed with, so long as the end result looks VERY COOL. The set-piece which sees a skyscraper cut in half and destroyed by a giant robot sandworm with our heroes still inside the tilting building is unquestionably exciting, and by that point I'd been pummelled so relentlessly by the batshit insanity of these scenes that I relented and let the craziness wash over me. The CG work is as impressive as ever, Lucasfilm's ILM and Bay's own Digital Domain delivering sequences of startling detail and complexity.
For the incredible action alone DOTM will get a pass from plenty of people who love to proclaim that "it's a popcorn movie!", along with the classic "Were you expecting Citizen Kane?" riposte, and the old chestnut of "Turn your brain off and quit complaining!". Now, I'm no pretentious cinephile but I do like movies to make a modicum of sense, to have just enough connective tissue to get from A to B without making me think that it was written by a drunken orangutan. DOTM's story is, at first glance, straightforward enough, yet the stupidity begins to pile up and not only brings down this movie but manages to undermine the other two TF flicks as well. I'd love to eviscerate this dire film in minute detail, but I don't want this review to turn into an extended fanboy rant so I'll let the folks at Topless Robot do it for me; their Transformers 3 FAQ is a handy step-by-step guide to how utterly terrible this film is.
One thing I will mention that's always bothered me is the depiction of the Autobots, chiefly how cruel and brutal they are when dealing with the Decepticons. The cartoons & comics were always at pains to make it clear how noble the Autobots were, and that they were only fighting because they had to. Sure, enemy lives had to be taken - such is the nature of war. But the Autobots of Bay's Transformerverse take a perverse pleasure in killing their opponents in the most graphic ways possible, gouging out eyes, tearing off limbs, ripping off heads with 'spinal' cords still attached etc. Optimus seems to love a good execution too, having coldly blown away one baddie at the beginning of ROTF and drilling another in the head as they beg for their life at the end of DOTM. Prime isn't quite the stone-cold psycho that he was in the prior film, plunging through the heavens as a literal angel of death and gleefully fighting four Decepticons at once ("Give me your FACE"), but he still delights in dispatching his enemies. Yes, he decapitated Bonecrusher in the original movie yet there was still some dignity in the character, especially the moment when he lamented Megatron's death. That Prime is gone, replaced with an amoral killing machine who, in DOTM, lets several thousand humans get killed to teach us a lesson. All of his sermonising about fighting for freedom rings very hollow indeed. It's sad that Peter Cullen, the original voice-over artist for Prime, is still voicing the character because every successive frame of these films is ruining Prime's heroic legacy, as this bastardised version grunts, growls, hacks and slashes like he's in a horror movie.
The actors do what they can to move the film along. Shia LaBeouf doles out his regulation bumbling everyman schtick as Sam, but he's become more unlikeable as the films have progressed and his whining starts to grate, although there are some funny moments in the job interview montage. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley replaces Megan Fox as the love interest, playing the two-dimensional Carly in a fitting manner, all fish-lipped pouts and flowing blonde hair and not much else in the way of proper acting. Still, she is a model after all and I wasn't expecting too much from her, if anything she deserves a bit of credit for comparing favourably with Megan Fox's dire 'performances'. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson return as Bland Military Guys #1 and #2. Frances McDormand and John Malkovich are both slumming it here, generating characters that are cardboard cut-out clichés. Ken Jeong runs through his zany repertoire in a buttock-clenchingly bad performance, mercifully he's not in it for long.
John Turturro I have a soft spot for, as his particular brand of lunacy as Agent Simmons seems to fit these movies well, although we don't get a gigantic close-up of his jockstrap-clad junk this time around. Alan Tudyk has a very small role as Simmons' PA, playing him as a camp German, and I'd be lying if I said I didn't laugh at his antics. His line about the Russian Cyrillic alphabet resembling "all the little buttons you never use on the calculator" cracks me up. Kevin Dunn and Julie White return as Sam's parents, and they're just as foul-mouthed and inappropriate for the kiddies as they were in the last two films. Bay's penchant for filming his leading lady as lasciviously as possible is also disconcerting, treating her like a piece of meat as a sop to horny teenage boys and the put-upon Dads who take their little ones to see the film.
That said, the strongly sexualised content from the last film has actually been toned down for DOTM. The prior fascination with testicles has run its course, so there are no examples of giant robot testes and the characters don't have their nether regions crushed every few minutes. There are no humping dogs - or robots for that matter - and while the language is still quite salty it doesn't push it quite as far as ROTF did, especially the bickering Twins who are thankfully absent for this instalment. Wheelie and his little mate do much the same job on DOTM as the Twins did before, i.e. they get into all sorts of scrapes and curse a lot, but they're not full-blown black caricatures. Instead we have other insulting stereotypes, such as the Scottish robot who threatens to 'bottle' someone while calling them a 'nancy wanker'. Nice.
DOTM is not as bad as the cinematic aberration which preceded it, but that's merely damning it with faint praise. The action scenes are staged with astonishing chutzpah, however they are not enough to rescue this self-indulgent, childish (not childlike, there's a difference), overlong mess of a film that manages to get worse every time I see it. Heck, ROTF had the legitimate excuse of a writer's strike, so that film's relentless tide of awfulness is almost endearing because they were literally cobbling it together as they went along. To think that DOTM was actually planned out and still ended up as crappy as this is testament to the wilful incompetence shown by the filmmakers. But it looks VERY COOL.
Dark Of The Moon comes to 2D Blu-ray with a 2.40 widescreen AVC encode that ticks all the boxes, with vibrant colour, deep blacks, no visible edge enhancement and healthy contrast, but it looks a little too soft for such a new production. Sure, there's still loads of fine detail and the close-ups - both human and transformer alike - look terrific, but on anything more than a medium shot it loses that last scintilla of definition which would propel it to perfection. Is this some sort of side-effect of the 3D conversion process, as much of the movie was shot in regular anamorphic? Probably not, because the movie had seperate 2D and 3D Digital Intermediates. I love to waffle on about the anamorphic format and how it can distort & soften the image, but this doesn't look like typical Panavision softness to me - even though other visual signatures are present like the classic horizontal lens flares.
With that in mind, do I dare mention those three little letters which get us nerdy reviewer types in such a spin? No, not SEX (chance would be a fine thing) but rather DNR. I think that theory can be discounted however, because the relevant stock footage of the Apollo missions is awash with authentic grain, as are some of the historial mockups which occur in that same sequence. I can't even point to compression concerns being the cause of this slightly softened look, because the disc is deliberately barren and doesn't carry so much as a trailer, and at just over two-and-a-half hours the running time shouldn't be a problem for any competent encoder.
In any case, the Blu-ray still looks fabulous and my niggle is a minor one. But if the eventual 3D Blu-ray version does feature a smidgen more detail than its 2D stablemate, it wouldn't be the first time...
There are no quibbles about the lossless Dolby TrueHD 7.1 audio, because it's magnificent from start to finish. The sound stage is richly detailed, the mix as adept at bringing a quiet office to life as it is smashing skyscrapers together. The dialogue is smooth and clear so you'll hear every 'hilarious' line without impediment. Steve Jablonsky's Zimmer-lite score does what it needs to do, chuntering away in the background but it rarely comes to the fore. The LFE is simply outstanding because it's nicely nuanced, going deep when necessary but never delivering noise for the sake of it. It's that aspect which sets all the TF movies apart from their contemporaries in terms of sound; things like machine guns would sound like cannons on other shows, but there's an aural hierarchy at play here and so the human weapons sound like pop-guns compared to the noise which the big (robot) boys make. Utterly superb.
Michael Bay strikes again with a loud, dumb action extravaganza that isn't quite as astonishingly stupid as its predecessor, but which still manages to insult your intelligence at every turn. The Blu-ray picture quality stops short of greatness for this reviewer, yet most people will rightly find it very easy on the eye. There's no dispute about the 7.1 TrueHD audio which is exceptional, and it'll be a demo favourite for years to come. Folks who aren't concerned about 3D or extra features will be well served by this barebones edition, but those who do want such things are going to have to wait a little longer.