Friday, February 3, 2012

Transformers: Dark of the Moon Movie Review

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is one of the great movie mysteries. It poses seemingly impossible conundrums and then refuses to solve them. Some of them include such questions as: Why is it called “Dark of the Moon?” What happened to the word “side?” Was it too long for the movie posters? Other riddles to behold are whether or not action screenwriters actually know what the word “triangulate” means and how can a screenplay so irreparably dumb know how to use “whom” correctly? Also, is there a book of action movie dialogue clichés from which Ehren Kruger took about 33 percent of the lines? Is it possible to release a Hollywood mega-budget film that isn’t overflowing with expository dialogue? Did director Michael Bay and his visual effects teams understand the action sequences? Did they actually try to make them coherent and fail miserably or is it just pure laziness. This movie is wondrous to behold. I’ve never seen its equal.

My recollection of the first two Transformers films is quite hazy and I’m sure given enough distance (about two hours is my guess) this one will fade from memory as well. The reason for this is not only the complete absence of memorable story, characters or dialogue, but also because the action sequences are an incoherent mess. It’s absolute chaos and disorder. I found myself several times asking my wife next to me if she had any clue what was happening. She was as lost as I was. It is so bad at times we didn’t even know who were the good guys and bad.

This movie is a perfect example of Hollywood, and Michael Bay more pointedly, run amok. Here is a filmmaker so enamored with his ability to make movies that generate countless dollars at the worldwide box office that he’ll just turn in whatever garbage he can pick out of the trash heap of the editing room, submit it to the studio and reap the returns. At least The Rock was a halfway decent action film that had some semblance of visual coherence. There’s no doubt in my mind now he’s one of two things: inept or inexcusably lazy. His action sequences in this film lack any kind of discernible visual grammar. They are a melee of CGI-enhanced shots featuring character pummeling each other with bullets, rockets and metal arms. The writing is so bad I laughed out loud more than a few times. It’s so bad some of it sounds identical to the writing for the original animated series on which it is based. Those cartoons were basically just half hour commercials to sell toys to boys under the age of 12. That’s the level of screenwriting Kruger has achieved.

Since story and plot are secondary or even tertiary to these filmmakers, I will provide only the tersest of summaries – and only because the whole premise is so absurd it can’t go unmentioned. The basic premise is that the NASA moon landing was not staged, as some idiot conspiracy theorists believe (sorry, can’t help the dig), but was in fact a cover for a conspiracy of a different sort – namely to investigate an alien ship that crash landed there in 1962. The Americans knew the Russians were aware of its existence and so it was a race to be the first to reach it. This ship, it turns out, came from the planet Cybertron in the din and chaos of a war that left the planet destroyed. Sentinel Prime (voiced by Leonard Nimoy), the Autobots leader before Optimus (the heroic leader of the 1980s animated series and of the first two films), contains some kind of important pillars that can open up a teleport device. The Decepticons plan to use this device to transport their entire planet and park it right next door to earth, saving themselves the cost of transporting the human species as slave labor across galaxies I guess. It seems no one told the Decepticons (or Ehren Kruger for that matter) anything about the physics of a solar system and what might happen if another planet suddenly appeared immediately next to earth. They should have consulted Lars von Trier on this.

So basically it will inexplicably come down to Sam Witwicky, the hero of the first two films. I’m not sure why it’s necessary for him to play an active role in saving the world. It seems to me the Autobots and the Navy guys led by Josh Duhamel as Lennox and Tyrese Gibson as Epps could have done it themselves. But the movie needs a human hero and the middling star power of Shia Lebeouf, refusing to hit the road like Megan Fox, who is replaced by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, an equally non-descript character and just a pretty face to fill in as Sam’s girlfriend.

John Turturro returns for a third go-round, turning it up to 11 once again to play Simmons, the former government agent who knows what’s really going on. Joining him are fellow actors Frances McDormand as the Director of Intelligence and John Malkovich as Sam’s rather eccentric new boss. Why would actors of such stature and talent agree to appear in a movie that should be relegated to the trash heap and set on fire? I suppose the money was a pretty good motivating incentive. More importantly, why was it important for the filmmakers to get real actors for supporting roles? Do they believe that we will be fooled into thinking that their presence lends it some credibility? Admittedly, their performances are quite simply the best aspects in the movie. Well, the visual effects and sound design are remarkable technical feats. They quite obviously don’t take themselves too seriously – Malkovich in particular has a blast hamming it up with his lines. How could they? The dialogue is atrocious. It’s so bad that Sam’s father (Kevin Dunn) comments that a line he used on Sam’s mother years earlier sounds like it came from a bad sci-fi movie, as if being ironically self-referential about your clichéd writing absolves you of your crimes.

My biggest complaint overall is that, to be perfectly frank, I was bored. I was just plain bored especially as the film droned into its third hour. The big climactic action spectacular rages on endlessly for well over a half hour. During this time every character faces mortal danger from which they can’t possibly escape about three times. And they escape every time even as the Chicago skyscraper they’re in tilts, threatening to topple over, hinging on its heavily damaged midsection. Then a Decepticon that is a kind of mechanical version of the creatures from Tremors tears ass through the thing, shredding the whole building to pieces. All the major human characters inside escape virtually unscathed. I was not only bored, I just didn’t care. Was that because my willing suspension of disbelief had long since been abandoned or because the characters are so thin they can’t even qualify as stock action movie types? Probably a little of both.

I’ve now spent 7.5 hours watching this trilogy of films. I find it important to remind myself every now and then just how bad movies can be. It helps put things in perspective. As bad as I thought The Iron Lady was, it looks like a masterpiece by comparison.

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