29 June 2011

Movie Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon


C-

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
2011, 157mins, 12
Director: Michael Bay
Writer: Ehren Kruger
Cast includes: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Frances McDormand, Patrick Dempsey, Peter Cullen, Ken Jeong, John Malkovich, Leonard Nimoy
UK Release Date: 29th June 2011

In 2007 audiences were pleasantly surprised by Michael Bay’s “Transformers”, a fun blockbuster that turned an aged toyline into a viable cinematic enterprise. Its sequel however was a ruinous affair, 2009’s “Revenge of the Fallen” a showcase for all of Bay’s worst directorial habits, a shoddily assembled piece more interested in flashy pyrotechnics and Megan Fox’s midriff than any semblance of storytelling cohesion. “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is the second sequel in this unlikely saga, the filmmakers having promised a return to the barnstorming form of the original picture, aiming to jettison the misguided comedic beats, abysmal scripting and general aura of laziness that so fatally hampered its immediate predecessor. They’ve halfway lived up to their word. “Dark of the Moon” is a far superior outing than “Revenge of the Fallen”, but it still lands victim to several of the flaws which plagued that picture, namely incomprehensible writing and an unnecessarily bloated runtime. Bay and his crew have evidently put more thought into the spectacle on this occasion, but it isn’t enough to elevate the movie above blatant mediocrity.

Sam (Shia LaBeouf) is now a jobless college graduate, suffering from feelings of professional inadequacy around his successful girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). His previous acts of heroism have been disregarded by the world around him, the Autobots now working directly with the government in order to maintain world peace. Through sheer coincidence Sam becomes aware of a growing Decepticon threat, reporting back to Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) and the Autobots’ human handlers (led by a stern but enjoyable Frances McDormand). Optimus chooses to revive previous Autobot chief Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy), hoping that the newly invigorated machine can deploy his ingenuity to counteract enemy plans, Sentinel having constructed a selection of teleporting devices which could be critical for attaining victory. However the Decepticons soon come into possession of these limitless inventions, planning to recreate Cybertron (their now barren home world) on earth and enslave the human population in the process.

“Dark of the Moon” at least allows Michael Bay to rediscover his action mojo, the filmmaker having fluffed most of the set-pieces in “Revenge of the Fallen” thanks to shaky camerawork and a lack of innovation. Bay stages several excellent sequences here, from a technical and FX standpoint “Dark of the Moon” is flawless. The action scenes are edited far more coherently, with notable characters much easier to track through the carnage than before. The lack of relatable or even engaging characterization reduces the possibility of tension, but at least Bay takes the film down some darker avenues, the violence in “Dark of the Moon” achieving a much harsher and aggressively pitched tone than before. There’s a slickness here that can’t be overlooked, the much maligned director returning to what he does best admirably with “Dark of the Moon”. However, the facets of filmmaking he’s struggled with in the past still prove problematic.

The story is jumbled and overstuffed, screenwriter Ehren Kruger polluting his tale with too many characters and not enough heart. Like the 2007 film “Dark of the Moon” uses reality to add a little spice, revising the space race of the 1960s to bolster the Transformers mythology. The movie’s tone vacillates wildly; Kruger apparently didn’t get all of the unfunny goofiness out of his system with “Revenge of the Fallen”. The final third of “Dark of the Moon” opts for a gritty, apocalyptic atmosphere, but that just doesn’t sit comfortably alongside Ken Jeong screeching (in a ridiculous role) or two goofy robots (a less offensive but no more amusing pair than those featured in “Revenge of the Fallen”) bantering between themselves about Huntington-Whiteley’s sex appeal. Granted, nobody gets their legs humped, and there’s a pleasing lack of mechanical testicles, but the urge to do something a little bleaker doesn’t contrast well with Kruger’s poor line in comedy. His storytelling instincts are similarly distorted, the writer barely managing to maintain a central narrative, instead becoming embroiled within stupid subplots that serve no purpose. Sam’s parents are doing what? John Malkovich knows Kung-Fu? Patrick Dempsey wants to jump Huntington-Whiteley’s bones? Who needs this stuff? Ehren Kruger clearly thinks the answer to that question is every multiplex customer in the land.

LaBeouf does solid work throughout, upping his game slightly for this third waltz with the material. There are a couple of moments between him and Bumblebee (his car from the first outing) that are actually kind of touching, the filmmakers bucking the production’s generally vacant disposition by imbuing these two with a soulful bond. The same can’t be said for LaBeouf’s chemistry with a disastrously miscast Huntington-Whiteley, the Victoria’s Secret model giving a ridiculously amateurish turn. Replacing Megan Fox, Whitely is a hollow, stiff and thoroughly insincere screen presence, a wet blanket from start to finish. The film’s nadir is probably a sequence in which the woeful starlet attempts to motivate a sneering antagonist by labeling him a “bitch”. It’s a case of awful writing for sure, but Whiteley’s monotone delivery renders the moment unintentionally hysterical.

The finale is overstretched but visually breathtaking. Bay lays waste to a vast metropolis, depicting destruction on a mighty yet believable scale. By the time the film wraps up viewers won’t care, this section being just as emotionally void as the rest of the production. However, judged purely on aesthetics it’s a gem, providing eye candy and razzmatazz of the upmost standard. The use of 3D in “Dark of the Moon” is also above average, especially during the bombastic conclusion.

Michael Bay’s token jingoism is always around the corner, surfacing more than a few times during the movie’s perplexing 157 minute runtime. Roughly a third of the content featured here could easily have been lost in the edit, Kruger’s indulgent writing style eating up far more screen time than it is actually worth. “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is an improvement over the previous installment, but that’s about the nicest thing you can say about it. Whilst the film will almost certainly turn huge coin, its legacy beyond this summer will be nothing more than idiotic thrills and reduced to clear action figures.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011

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