Friday, July 8, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon Review

Transformers: Dark of the Moon released over a week ago. If you plan on seeing it, chances are you have done so already. If you haven’t, you might be wondering if it’s worth your money and time after the abyssal previous movie, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

A few months ago I wrote about how I came to the conclusion that movies are more about their visual appeal rather than their narrative. If you want a good story, books are the better option. They aren’t constrained by time limitations or an actor’s portrayal of a character. If you want both great visuals and a great story, videogames are the best avenue. Videogames can present a great story that feels driven by you with visual that can rival the cinematic feel of movies.

My point to all of this is that Transformers: Dark of the Moon is first and foremost a visual feast. The Autobots and Decepticons are crisper and sharper than ever. One of the things I noticed in Dark of the Moon is the use of slow-motion. It’s used in situations through-out the movie, but for good reason. I remember watching a feature when the first Transformers movie released, showing some of the designs and architecture the robots would use when actually transforming. One of the key aspects was that every part of the car went somewhere when they transformed. In the first two movies, transformations were fast and quick, with not much time to savor the details. The use of slow-motion in Dark of the Moon gives the audience a chance to see exactly what happens when a transformation occurs. Where does the head pop out from? Which set of wheels are used as arm sockets? Transformers: Dark of the Moon is also a movie I would recommend seeing in 3D. It’s only the third movie I can legitimately say adds something to the movie, rather than gets in the way (Avatar and Tron: Legacy are the other two I would say benefit from 3D).

The movie opens by explaining that the 1969 moon landing of Apollo 11 was actually a cover-up to study an alien ship called the Ark that landed on the far side of the moon. The Ark carried a prototype technology that could sway the war on Cybertron. I like this trend in movies where past historic events are interlaced with something fantastic twist. A similar twist on historic events occurred in X-Men: First Class, where the Cuban-Missile Crisis was the end result of a planned devised by leader of the Hellfire Club, Sebastian Shaw. The Autobots, who are now working with the US government in human conflicts, search the Ark and find a dead Sentinel Prime, the former leader of the Autobots before Optimus Prime, and five pillars of the space bridge, a device that uses teleportation to transport matter.

Using the Matrix of Leadership, Optimus revives Sentinel Prime, who is escorted back to their base by the rest of the Autobots. On the way, Sam, the main human character, realizes that Sentinel Prime and the five pillars were a trap left by the Decepticons, who needed Sentinel Prime to be revived by the Matrix of Leadership to control the pillars of the space bridge. Sentinel Prime reveals that he made a deal with Megatron to end the war and save Cybertron, thusly betraying the Autobots. Sentinel Prime uses the space bridge to transport hundreds of Decepticons to Earth from the moon. Overrun, the Autobots are exiled from Earth by demand of the Decepticons to avoid another war. As their ship leaves Earth’s atmosphere, Starscream destroys it. The Decepticons, now led by Megatron and Sentinel Prime, use Chicago as their base as they place pillars all over the world to transport Cybertron to Earth’s solar system and use the human race as slaves to help rebuild it.

It's revealed the Autobots are alive; the destroyed ship was empty and they had to make the Decepticons believe they were dead. A 60 minute battle for Chicago ensues, where the Autobots and humans work together to destroy Soundwave, Barricade, Starscream and Shockwave. Optimus Prime uses Shockwave’s arm-cannon to blast the control pillar, temporarily disabling the space bridge from bringing Cybertron into Earth’s solar system. Ratchet and Bumblebee finish it off while Optimus and Sentinel battle. Optimus loses an arm and looks to be defeated, but Megatron, fearing he will be replaced as leader of the Decepticons by Sentinel Prime, intervenes and cripples Sentinel. Optimus and Megatron fight, with Optimus decapitating and killing Megatron. Sentinel pleads for his life, but Optimus has no mercy and destroys his former mentor. The Autobots finally accept that Cybertron is lost and Earth is their new home.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is a fun movie, but it’s not going to win any awards (except for maybe special effects). There are plot holes, pacing problems, and still too much focus on humans rather than big, giant robots. I don’t use the work relentless much, but that is exactly what the last 60 minutes of this movie is. The battle for Chicago does not stop for anything, and though a majority of the battle focuses on the human soldiers and Navy SEALs, it feels like a victorious struggle for the Autobots. Dark of the Moon, however, is a lot better than Revenge of the Fallen. The scale is grander than before; the movie does a good job of encapsulating what is happening outside of Earth in space, where as Revenge of the Fallen merely showed Soundwave humping a satellite and war-torn shots of a Cybertron that was never properly introduced. The depth is deeper; a large amount of the generation one Transformers and mythos are present in Dark of the Moon including Sentinel Prime, Mirage, Wheeljack, Laserbeak, and the Space Bridge.

Going in, the absence of Megan Fox was near the bottom of my list of concerns. So it surprises me that her exit in the trilogy became my biggest issue. Megan Fox was not the best actress in the world, but she got the job done for a movie franchise filled with explosions and alien robots. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is not a suitable replacement. Her expressions are wooden and she delivers lines like she’s reading them off the page. The switch from Mikaela Banes to Carly Spencer is jarring and feels like the biggest subplot hole.

What I’m trying to drive home is that Transformers: Dark of the Moon does exactly what it sets out to do: be a big summer movie with explosions, car chases, and giant robots. It’s not the best film of the trilogy, but it’s close.

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