TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (2011)
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Ken Jeong, Patrick Dempsey, Alan Tudyk, John Turturro, Leonard Nimoy
RunTime: 2 hrs 34 mins
Released By: UIP
Rating: PG (Action Violence)
Official Website: http://www.transformersmovie.com/
Opening Day: 30 June 2011
Synopsis: "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" features Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) taking his first tenuous steps into adulthood while remaining a reluctant human ally of Optimus Prime. The film centers around the space race between the U.S.S.R. and the USA, suggesting there was a hidden Transformers role in it all that remains one of the planet's most dangerous secrets. The villain of the third film will be Shockwave.
You should know by now what to expect out of a Michael Bay film, and concomitantly what to expect out of a Michael Bay ‘Transformers’ film. Yes in spite of the obvious flaws in the critically panned “Revenge of the Fallen”, it’s clear that no one does big-budget action spectacle the way Bay does. And indeed, there’s certainly no shortage of that in what is reportedly his last outing as helmer in the Hasbro action-figure franchise, as Bay in the film’s final hour pushes himself to the limit with an all-out cataclysm in downtown Chicago.
But more on that later- for now, we are happy to announce that “Dark of the Moon” is our vote for the best film in the trilogy. It isn’t just the bombast that puts it ahead of its predecessors; rather, this third movie boasts a stronger plot and well-developed characters- human and machine alike. For the latter aspects, we have writer Ehren Kruger to thank, who has taken over scribing duties from Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman for the betterment of the franchise.
Like this summer’s “X Men: First Class”, Kruger legitimises the sci-fi premise in a real-world context by taking a revisionist view to past events. Through the extended prologue, we learn that the space race of the 1960s was really a cover-up to investigate the remains of an alien spaceship crash on the far side of the moon. Bay injects this alternate history with gravitas by using both archival footage of JFK and Richard Nixon and re-enactments of what went on inside NASA as well as the White House, and this terrific opening portends a darker film than what we have previously seen in the past two movies.
Bay and Kruger makes good on this tantalising promise with the new human and machine character additions. Chief among these is Sentinel Prime, once the leader of the Autobots during their war with the Decepticons on their home planet Cybertron and a father figure to Optimus Prime. Sentinel’s allegiance and subsequent actions blur the line between good and evil amongst the Autobots and the Decepticons, and for lack of a better description, make the machines more human and also more interesting. In particular, Sentinel’s exchanges with Optimus lend the backdrop of their alien civil war and its symbol as a fight for freedom more weight than Peter Cullen’s gravelly narrated exposition does.
On the side of the humans, it is Patrick Dempsey’s Dylan, boss of leading man Sam Witwicky’s new and equally Megan Fox-hot girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) who turns out to be unexpectedly intriguing. At first no more than a romantic rival to the recently graduated Sam still struggling to find a job, Dylan turns out to be- pardon the pun- more than meets the eye once the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons unfolds proper on our planet. Suffice to say that it’s refreshing to see that humans are not just either the heroes or the hapless when caught in this indefensible war.
While there is significantly more depth to some of the characters and the story compared to the earlier films, Bay still resorts to the kind of easy humour characteristic in the first two ‘Transformers’ movies. Yes, despite his promise to tone down the goofy humour, there’s still plenty of it on display whenever Sam appears on screen without some sort of battle raging around him- and if you never really liked Shia LaBeouf’s hyperactive acting in the first two films, you’re not going to like it here either.
It’s a pity too that Bay also uses acting veterans John Malkovich and Frances McDormand only for cheap laughs- Malkovich as Sam’s tyrannical boss with little to do except scream “It is a visual and therefore a visceral betrayal” when he sees an employee bring a red coffee mug onto an office floor decorated entirely in yellow; and McDormand in an essentially one-note character as the no-nonsense national intelligence director Charlotte Mearing acting snappy, curt and sarcastic to everyone around her. Also unfortunate is Bay’s frenetic handling of even these made-for-laughs scenes, which would have worked better with a lot more subtlety and finesse.
But of course, the above two qualities are not what Bay is known for- despite the benefits a more varied change in rhythm could have done for the film- and sure enough, it is this brazen attitude that serves him well in the plentiful action bombast that follows in the last hour. Bay begins his non-stop trail of destruction from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C., but he reserves the bulk of his firepower for Chicago, where the Decepticons have set up their base from which to launch their weapon to revive their planet and colonise ours.
By the time Bay is done, little of Chicago’s skyline is left- none of the iconic buildings whether Hotel 71, the Tribune Tower, Marina City or even the Trump Tower manage to escape unscathed. But this Bay-hem is also utterly, absolutely thrilling, and features quite possibly some of the most intense action sequences you’ll see on the big screen this year. Indeed, Bay has learnt from the criticism of “Revenge of the Fallen” to hold his shots for longer so that his audience can get a sense of the awesome scale of the unfolding action, and my goodness does it totally rock!
The highlight of this colossal climactic sequence takes place inside a toppling skyscraper as Sam, Carly and returning face Epps (Tyrese Gibson) are hunted by a serpentine Decepticon known as Shockwave and forced to slide down the glass exterior of the toppling building. Other breathtakingly exciting extended setpieces include one where Sam and series regular Lennox (Josh Duhamel) are dangling off a metal rod whose sharp end is lodged inside a Decepticon, and another where Optimus Prime faces off against a group of Decepticons led by wounded leader Megatron who makes a return from the previous film. These are especially awe-inspiring when viewed in 3D, and Bay, who was convinced of the format by James Cameron, grasps the additional dimension to amazing effect.
Never mind that only 60 percent of the film was in fact shot in 3D (with the rest, especially the closeups, shot in anamorphic and then post-converted), this is probably one of the few films since “Avatar” to thoroughly make use of the format. Nowhere is this more evident than in an aerial sequence where a group of paratroopers led by Lennox infiltrate the Decepticon-infested Chicago city, all the while pursued by flying enemy robots. Shot composition by d.p. Amir Mokri is excellent, and there is excellent use of foreground and background to create depth in every scene. The added dimension also helps illuminate the other technical achievements of the film- the mix of physical staging, live-action stunt work, location shooting, and visual effects just seamless and simply remarkable.
On pure visual spectacle alone, “Dark of the Moon” beats both of the earlier ‘Transformers’ movie and in fact probably anything you’ll see this summer- so kudos to Michael Bay, who has clearly outdone himself by creating his most exhilarating work to date. Yet this third film in the franchise also emerges its strongest entry not just by visuals, but also by a well-grounded plot and rich character additions. Sure it’s pure summer popcorn entertainment, but on that level alone, it succeeds immeasurably and on sheer entertainment value, this is the must-see blockbuster of the season.
(Hands-down the most visually awesome action spectacle you’ll see this summer- this third entry is easily the best ‘Transformers’ movie to date)
Review by Gabriel Chong
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