Bay For Night!
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (aka Transformers 3D) US 2011
Directed by Michael Bay
Playing at cinemas now.
Warning: Yeah, there’s going to be some big, twisty, Rubik cube-like spoilerage on this one... but, frankly, how spoilery can it get on a movie like this?
Okay, I had my reservations when I took my long suffering cinema companion Orange Monkey to see the new Transformers movie. This took on more of an edge when I got in the car and she drove me down to my local as I was soon made aware that she hadn’t seen the first two movies in the series. Ignoring my own initial concerns as to why you would want to see the third movie in a series first (okay, so I like to watch things in order, no big deal) I then gave her a brief rundown of my personal experiences of the first two Transformer movies which I will repeat and elaborate on here so anyone reading can get a handle on where I’m coming from on my review of the third one and which goes a little something like this...
I was dragged kicking and screaming to the cinema to see the first Transformers movie back in 2007. I really did not want to go and the toys were something I’d missed out on as they arrived just past the point where I had stopped playing with kiddie toys (don’t worry, I’m happy to play with them now... I just don’t have any Transformers) and I’d not bothered with the old cartoon show or the comics back in the 80s and... well I just didn’t get it and wasn’t interested okay? But then an odd thing happened... a friend of mine, who is a mother of two, wanted to go and see it because she remembered buying the toys for her boys when they were kids. She didn’t get out to the movies much and... well I’m never one to intentionally disappoint the ladies (unless dancing or weddings are involved). And so we went to see it...
I was blown away by that first one big time.
It was a really great movie in all the right ways a summer blockbuster should be (for once) and everything just seemed to work on it. You had some cool visual effects, which are always the last thing on my mind but they were quite visually striking in that first one. Then you had the amazing opening sequences of total balls-to-the-wall, 21st Century cinema, state of the art action flick Bayhem... and then something really strange happened because the "other" storyline, which was set up to run simultaneously with the action heavy sequences, was an absolute throwback, but done really well, to those old mid-80s family movies which I remember living through when I was a teenager. The sequences with Shia LaBeouf and his Transformer pals were written, performed and shot with all the sensibilities of those much loved romps like Back To The Future and Gremlins. So already we had that strange juxtaposition going on.
And where it really worked was where director Bay pushed those storylines together and merged them for the final act... it was incredible that he managed to pull off that massive juggling act without the two different genre-types cancelling each other out. It was entertaining as hell and it had, from composer Steve Jablonsky, one of the most well crafted and best movie scores of the entire decade. The original score release, which is now quite hard to find as it was deleted very quickly (for some bizarre reason) was not out of my player for very long for a couple of years.
But then Bay ruined it with a sequel... Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen which, frankly, was one of the worst movies I’ve ever had to sit through in my life. I was so looking forward to it on the strength of the first film but instead I had to bite back on my disappointment that Bay had dropped the ball quite this badly and just find a way of moving on. Surprisingly though, even Jablonsky’s follow up score was not a patch on his first one... what could have been the second movie’s one saving grace felt kind of thrown away and lazy and I think it would be true to say that the best musical moments of the second movie were the parts which were just tracked in from the first.
And so I had really mixed feeling when I went to see the third... especially now I’d found out that my friend Orange Monkey had not realised fully what she was letting herself in for when she’d accepted my invitation to see Michael Bay blow things up in 3D. Still, not to worry... I told her that whatever happened, it was impossible to make a movie worse than the second one... so we armed ourselves with chocolate raisins and Cadbury’s mini-eggs and settled down to the watch the film.
Okay, now I have to say that while I wasn’t particularly entertained by the third movie... I was impressed by a few things. First up was the plotting which started off in the space-race of the sixties which turned out to be a response to discovering footage of an Autobot ship which had crashed on the darkside of the moon. It then went on to show us what “really” happened when Neil Armstrong and co went to check out the crashed ship. It then catches up to present day and we are back with Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky character and we meet his new girlfriend... with barely a reference to what happened to the Megan Fox character from the first two films (Hitler insults and dumb Lohan-like publicity aside... they should have stayed with the continuity and kept her in the movie).
After this, though, as the plot about the resurrection of the Einstein of the Autobot world in the form of a character called Sentinel Prime continued on... I was getting more and more impressed about the actors and celebrities appearing in this movie, often for large chunks of screen time.
John Malkovich as the bizarre managing director of a company where Sam gets a job, for example, is an amazing thing to watch. And then we had Dutch, played by Firefly/Serenity’s Alan Tudyk and Frances McCormand as a CIA (or is it FBI?) director ... not too mention Mr. Buzz Aldrin playing himself (in a small cameo really) and looking quite chipper. And to really top things off you had the voice of Leonard Nimoy playing Sentinel Prime... and there were some very blatant Star Trek references to be found in his lines (The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few) and a fair few little Star Trek moments scattered throughout the movie as it happens. Now I won’t give away too much about Sentinel Prime’s character here (although if you’re a Star Trek fan I might mention that perhaps he should have had a beard... if you know what I mean) but I do have to say... for someone who is supposed to be, as I said earlier, the "Einstein of the Autobot World"... well I don’t remember Einstein punching and kicking people and wielding big hot-metal swords when he wanted to push a point about his brand new spanking Theory of Relativity... and that’s all I’m saying about that particular character right there.
The acting in this movie is all solid (as I would expect from the very professional cast and crew assembled to make this movie) but it was with some of the returning characters from the first movie with whom I was mostly disappointed... and then, in terms of the scripting of them, not their performances. Josh Duhamel, for example, had very little to do in this movie and he’s almost entirely absent in terms of screen presence here until the second half of the final “Explosions R Us” third act set piece of the movie. John Turturro was also badly scripted in this one and in some ways he was very much treated as an add-on (we gotta get him in because he was so good in the first two movies) to the rest of the cast... most of his scenes focussing on his personal assistant Dutch. This is a great shame because Turturro kinda stole his scenes in the first movie and had pretty much the only funny lines in the second movie. A real waste of this actor this time around but... let’s be fair... I’d be moaning even more if he didn’t turn up in it at all.
This movie was pretty much an okay piece of popcorn fodder which, I think I would be reporting in a far better light if, unlike Orange Monkey, I didn’t have the fantastic first movie to compare it to. The action is spectacular and doesn’t feel too truncated as it did in the second movie... seriously people, that "Optimus Prime is back from the dead" one-on-one fight at the end of the second one needed to be way longer than the minute or two it ended up being. Such an anti-climax to something that almost the entire running time of the movie had been building up to.
Similarly with Jablonsky’s third score for the series... nice enough and not the disaster that underscored the second movie... just nowhere near as good as the first. He did remember to write in some riffs from the first and revisit the leitmotif he had established in the original... but the main melodies did seem a little delayed or slowed down and lacked the emotional punch of that initial work of musical genius. It may, however, play a lot better as a stand alone listen if the studio decide not to delay or cancel the score release CD scheduled (and rescheduled) for later on in the year. I’ll give it a go anyway.
All this added up to a not too terrible time at the cinema... and certainly not as disappointing as the last time around with the franchise. Orange Monkey actually seemed to have enjoyed it a lot more than me... which holds up to my theory that if you don’t have the better movie to compare it to, Transformers: Dark of the Moon can be a pulse-pounding thrill ride of a cinema outing. I’ve urged her to seek out the first movie if she really wants to see a well made piece of hokum.
And that’s about it for this one. If you loved the first movie and was let down as much as I was by the sequel... and are planning to see this one too... you won’t come out of the cinema feeling as angry as last time. On the other hand... if you didn’t get anything out of the first one... this movie has “Stay Away... Move Along... Nothing to see here” written on it’s armour-plated, metalmorphosising forehead. You have been warned!