Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon
July 25, 2011
“Years from now they’ll ask us, ‘where where you when they took over the planet?'”
Synopsis: When NASA landed on the moon in 1969 they discovered a mysterious alien ship from the Transformer’s home-planet, Cybertron. In present day, an army of Decepticons threaten to use its technology to enslave all of humanity.
Dark of the Moon is Michael Bay’s conclusion to his big-budgeted, gratuitous, and explosive Transformers trilogy. Thankfully, Transformers 3 learned from the glaring mistakes of Transformers 2 and corrected them somewhat. It still features some annoying Autobot sidekicks but their Jar-Jar Binks effect is lessened. The ‘secret history’ of the NASA missions is much more interesting than ancient ‘Fallen’ transformers building the Pyramids in Egypt (gag). Rosie Huntington-Whiteley replaces Megan Fox as the leading lady; and though she’s nothing more than playing ‘Miss Fanservice‘, her character is somewhat less of a dead-end. Dark Moon’s extensive cameo list (Leonard Nemoy, Alan Tudyk, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Ken Jeong, and a villanous Patrick Dempsey) add layers of quirky humor to the film. But sadly, director Michael Bay can’t help from bloating the scale to global devastation and forcing the film to take itself far too seriously.
There was just too much action. (I never thought I’d say that before!) Now before you think I’m crazy, let me explain. I like action movies with loads of explosions and special effects. I relish ridiculously epic, action packed, high stakes, crazy intense movies with totally untenable situations. I loved the climactic battle in Avatar and thought it was an incredible cinematic achievement. So you’d think Michael Bay would be a shoo-in, right?
Michael Bay is not a bad director. He’s very good at what he does: excessive explosions, slow-motion battles, ridiculously contrived heroics, and camera ogling the leading lady. But Michael Bay took this to a new level with a 2.5 hour long Dark of the Moon. The result had me shrugging “what’s the point?” The action is so meaningless and repetitive that I began wondering “holy-armageddon-batman, why is the end of the world taking so long? Seriously, Decepticons! Get it over with and kill the humans already! Or enslave them! Or whatever you’re trying to do!”
For example, there’s a particular action scene with a falling skyscraper that lasts for over 7 minutes (it feels more like 15). Not to spoil anything, the humans decide to ascend this glass skyscraper instead of sneaking through the streets. The explosions keep coming, the people tumble around, and the tension drags on, and on, and on. Finally, at the end of this lengthy building toppling; nothing has changed, the humans simply resume sneaking through the streets. Not one character has died (good or evil), not one person did something heroic, and no circumstances have changed! You could LITERALLY cut this 10 minute sequence out of the film and the audience would have NO IDEA it was missing! This otherwise ambitious and visually stunning scene would’ve stood out as jaw-dropping-amazing had it not been squeezed between an hour of pretty much the same thing.
Once upon a time, action was used to progress the story. Remember the lightsaber duels in the original Star Wars trilogy? Ben Kenobi is killed, Luke’s hand gets chopped off, Darth Vader reveals that he’s Luke’s dad… Some serious crap hit the fan during those fights! They’re more than special effects, they were the catalyst for the most intense, plot-altering, and emotionally gripping scenes of the entire saga! After watching Transformers 3, this concept of ‘action with a purpose’ appears completely lost to this generation, and dead to director Michael Bay.
Themes: War, Betrayal, Purpose
Picking up on our current economic crisis, Sam Witwicky’s fruitless job search opens the door for conversations about purpose, “Do you know how demoralizing it is to have saved the world twice and still be groveling for a job?” When the nature of the Autobot and Decepticon civil war is revealed, it raises the issue of compromise vs. betrayal. There’s some good food for thought here, “when are you willing to compromise your values, even if it means betrayal?” but its never explored in depth.
Transformers 3 is a great example of “sometimes, less is more. Way, way more.”
I kept wondering what made the first Transformers so fun and endearing, and its sequels so bloated and unsympathetic. I believe the answer lies in simplicity. The original Transformers had a simple climax: a handful of Autobots fight a few Decepticons while trying to protect Sam and the AllSpark. It was fun, easy to follow, and tightly knit enough to work. Transformers 3, however, declares war on the entire planet. The final hour depicts hundreds of Decepticons taking over Chicago, our heroes fighting their way to its center, and an intergalactic teleporter. The scale is simply too large to be taken seriously. Its like blowing bubbles: Blow a tiny bubble and you can hold it in your hand. Go for a beachball size bubble, and it’ll splatter in your face.