Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon (2011) – Review

4 Stars

Michael Bay perfects the Transformer movie with Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Easily the best in the series with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen writer Ehren Kruger in top form (proving that the lack of comedy in the second installment was nowhere near his fault). Bay pulls out all his standard stops including quick cuts, lots of camera movements and plenty of extreme slow motion.

Gone are the extreme transformations introduced in the second film (remember the razor thin Transformer made up of smaller ball robots, or the Voltron style pyramid eater at the end?), the most regrettable bot missing is the human Transformer. They could have put that ability to great use, instead, and perhaps rightly so, they went back to the basics of giant robots fighting giant robots. This allowed the humans to have a little tiff all their own. Also absent this round (and for the foreseeable future) is Megan Fox. Unfortunate as her chemistry with Shia LaBeouf was way better than her replacement Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s. Luckily for Fox one good thing comes out of her firing – she is no longer the worst actor in the franchise (Jason Statham please don’t kill me). Whiteley sounds like an English actress trying to pull off an American accent (I know she is English both in real life and in the movie, but that’s what she sounds like). It’s off-putting to say the least. Bay doesn’t give her much to do though, except look good, but she doesn’t get the full Fox treatment (no hot shots of looking under the hood or on motorcycles, although Bay does introduce her ass first).

The first half of the film is incredibly comedy heavy. LaBeouf’s antics as Sam Witwicky had me rolling with laughter, add John Malkovich as his insane boss, Alan Tudyk as John Turturro’s chauffeur, Kevin Dunn and Julie White as Witwicky’s parents and you get a non-stop laugh fest. The scenes of Sam trying to land a job make me wish Bay had directed some sort of Wall Street-esque film (ok I’ll admit that has a lot to due with Shia being in Wall Street 2). The first act flies by making the film seem much shorter than its two and a half hour running time. As the bots become more featured in the second act the comedy is toned down, but still present enough to bring the enjoyment level up a notch.

The plot is simplistic, which makes the few twists more surprising and effective. The issues with quick cuts and not establishing the surroundings and whereabouts in fight sequences of the first two films are solved here. The cuts are still quick, but there are several full wide shots that show where the bots are relative to everything else, and then back into quick close-up shots. The sound is amazing on this film, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see another Oscar win for Bay’s team. As in the past, Industrial Light and Magic’s robots are incredibly realistic, although still somewhat lifeless as far as the audience’s investment in their survival. The Decepticons do deliver on their evil motives this time, gunning down many innocent bystanders in their wake of destruction (honestly it’s about time). And all the unrealistic but completely awesome and gratuitous explosions are included. Only the Transformers can make concrete explode in a fireball on contact.

The action sequences are stunning. Bay tones down many of the camera moves he started using in Bad Boys 2 and went way too far with in the second Transformers (around and around through keyholes and holes in the walls, *dizzy* now) to deliver some of the most majestic shots of metal on metal I’ve ever seen. Taking it one step further Bay spins the Terminator‘s post apocalyptic machine horrors by mashing it with a Spielbergian War of the Worlds type invasion all while maintaining his classic high drama emphasis. Look for a great little freeway battle (what Bay film would be complete without one?) and the last twenty minutes or more of the film is nothing but blood and guts (or is that oil and bolts?). One thing I could do without is the video game inspired first person shots, although the first (when the black-ops are investigating Chernobyl) is used fairly effectively, they pulled me out of the action rather than into it. Composer Steve Jablonsky seems to be channelling Hans Zimmer using low, loud and sustained notes a la Inception. His score accents the film brilliantly.

The most glaring problems are the video game level dialogue given to the Transformers, even though Leonard Nimoy’s Sentinel Prime does have some decent lines, and Bay’s mistake of not reigning in LaBeouf, who sometimes goes way over the top (look for a scene in which Sam Witwicky gets so angry at some guards that he goes into a screaming fit). I get that Sam has a mouth on him, and that he thinks he’s pretty bad ass, and yes it’s funny, but there’s a pretty thin line between being a hot head and a whiney little girl. Sam does get over this after awhile, and it does make his job search and feelings of ‘uselessness’ ring a little more true. (Let’s not forget that this kid keeps landing smoking hotties, it’s not really a problem with the film, it’s just far more likely that an advanced robotic alien race invades the Earth.)

My favorite lines from the film are in a ridiculous exchange between Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s Carly and Hugo Weaving’s Megatron. It’s almost as if Bay is responding to nay-sayers.

Carly: Was it worth it?
Megatron: (Motions to surroundings) Obviously.

Overall this is probably the most entertaining movie of the summer. If you didn’t fully enjoy Tranformers 2 this more than makes up for it. Definitely catch this on the big screen. I saw it in 2D, but the film looks to truly amaze in 3D (I’ll be seeing it later next week in 3D and update this review then).

3D UPDATE: I just watched this film in 3D, three days after having caught a 2D showing. Let me just put this bluntly – filmmakers, stop listening to James Cameron! The 3D in this movie ruins it. It exacerbates the already bad framing and makes the detail in the intricate CGI robots hard to see. You may recall Michael Bay saying that they have used new “technologies” to make this the best looking and brightest 3D print out there, which is true, but at the cost of washing out the picture. Also the movie does not use 3D in any way that makes it worth while. This is a perfect film to create a ride out of with the 3D illusion and instead they once again simply added depth to the frame. 3D hides the artwork of the director, making it difficult to judge the frame, which is why I think I didn’t notice how tight the shots were in 2D, but in 3D it looks like amateur hour. Believe me, the 2D version of this film is far more immersive than the 3D version could ever hope to be.

Director: Michael Bay
Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, John Malkovich, Alan Tudyk, John Turturro, Leonard Nimoy

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