Third time’s the charm they say – and when it comes to TRANSFORMERS movies, the saying is right.
This is a strange series that I am mostly not a fan of. I love TRANSFORMERS – the toy line and the animated show – but never quite have been able to count myself as a fan of any of the films, until now. TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON is simply the best film of the franchise – by a great deal.
How this came to be, many of us will speculate, but I’m pretty sure it is a combination of Michael Bay fully embracing and shooting this outing in full 3D – using the amazing camera set-ups innovated by James Cameron – with Cameron’s tech folks – and even some advice from James Cameron himself. Shooting in 3D requires you to slow down – especially if you’re Michael Bay. I’m told that it takes 3 seconds for your brain to properly process a shot in 3D, 3 seconds is an eternity in Bay-speak – but in this film – you’re going to see a dynamic to his action that is nothing short of jaw-dropping. I say “Jaw-Dropping” not with any sense of hyperbole – in the last hour of this film you’re going to see shit go down that will physically cause your jaw to drop. Hang open and perhaps end with a smile.
Before I jump into that final hour of the film, let’s talk about the movie as if it was about more than the action scenes. There’s the rest of the movie to dig in with.
TRANSFORMERS as Michael Bay has come to define it is made up of a few crucial elements. For a while, I was convinced that this was the ultimate juvenile porn, but porn isn’t right. Michael Bay is a fetishist, just like Russ Meyer – the king of his brand of exploitation – and I don’t think anyone would deny that Bay is about exploitation. Exploitation of women, men, cars, patriotism, the Military, Nasa and in these films… ROBOTS. In the last outing, Bay was so brazen that he even gave a giant robot – a giant pair of clinking metal balls and then clanked them before our raped eyeballs.
In TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON – he still has some of that silly shit that I don’t like. You know – like Shia’s parents, like John Turturro’s character… and to the ultimate in silly, they add a character by John Malkovich and Frances McDormand – and it is like Bay was saying, “I want Academy Award level actors, but I’m going to make them act like the silly characters in a Russ Meyer flick.” Because that’s how Turturro, Malkovich and McDormand come across. Those 3 characters & the parents are just terrible. I might be so abused by John Turturro in the overall series, but I did think his character dialed it back quite a bit from the last film. But still… Why can’t the three best actors in the movie be the three best actors in the movie?
I find it fascinating that the better respected an actor you are – the more silly you will be required to perform in a Michael Bay film. Perhaps Copernicus will work up the actual science behind the formula. But I’m convinced my hypothesis will be proven valid.
Meanwhile, for the very first time Shia LaBeouf finally wrestles a bit of respect for his character. And for the name of Sam Witwicky. You see – here’s a character that has saved the world twice from the nightmare of Decepticon rule – but has never been given any real world respect. You’ll see Obama give him a medal – but he can’t explain what it is for. Saving the world curiously doesn’t have any real world applications, beyond prepping you for future world ending robotic plans.
In the previous two films, in a way, Sam Witwicky was getting harangued into action. Here – here he sniffs it out. He pursues it. He is fully initiated and seeking to save the world and in particular his new – HOLY FUCK HOT GIRLFRIEND!
Ok – so who plays the HOLY FUCK HOT GIRLFRIEND?
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is the HOLY FUCK HOT GIRLFRIEND. Rosie is apparently in a relationship with Jason Statham, but in the Michael Bay rules of the universe, she would be Shia LaBeouf’s gal. This reinforces my Russ Meyer theory, though Shia by no means look like the typical garbage man, no – Shia is a very handsome young man, but I do wonder… What this film would be if his real girlfriend, Carey Mulligan was cast opposite him. Because Carey Mulligan is a holy wow actress of the highest possible caliber… wait, that would totally not work, because by her talent level, it would mean using BAY-acting-physics that Carey Mulligan would be required to be nothing more than be an incredibly silly & grating character… whereas Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who’s vaunted acting experience is limited to modeling Victoria Secret fashions… which I’m positive she is brilliant at. As great as her runway prowesses are – she’s kinda perfect for Michael Bay. Her opening following shot is what 3D was invented for. Trust me. It is easily the new gold standard of PG13 softcore wank material. In 3D – men & boys will verbally react to the shot I’m talking about.
Rosie’s character of Carly is Shia’s new girlfriend. She has a job working for Patrick Dempsey’s Dylan. Dempsey seems to be intended to create a love triangle and make Shia incredibly threatened.
Sam Witwicky is essentially a Rodney Dangerfield character. He doesn’t get respect from anyone but Optimus Prime. His parents do not respect him. His girlfriend, treats him like a poodle. He saved the world and can’t get a job. It’s a genuine – real likable plot entanglement for the young Sam. The best “situation” he’s been in, of the three movies.
But what sets this apart from the other two is that the TRANSFORMERS story is genuinely a really dire and powerful problem. There’s old school betrayal going on. Then there’s SPOCK-BOT! I love SPOCK-BOT! I love that SPOCK-BOT friggin looks like Nimoy – and I love that the film heads in directions that look pretty damn bad for the Autobots. I love that this isn’t just a story where Sam might die, but everyone is in danger. I love the Government soldiers in the last hour. I love the flying squirrel suits. I love the 3D. Love it.
If the film didn’t have any actor or actress that has won or been nominated for an Oscar – and Sam’s parents were gone, this would most likely be a pretty damn near perfectly awesome TRANSFORMERS movie. With those performances, this is just a really fun Transformers movie with an hour of holy fuck that can blow your mind.
After I saw the film, my brain felt tired. Not from great thoughts, but from the experience of the film. It wore my brain out watching it. I found myself thinking about the set-ups Bay made to physically make this movie. The sheer volume of wow shots is spectacular. I still find myself longing for a Transformers film where the Transformers are themselves the central characters. Where there is no need for goofy humor and we can tell the story completely straight, with an occasional light moment here or there… But applying Russ Meyer dynamics to giant summer toy inspired filmmaking… How can I not quite enjoy that? I can’t. Bay finally won me over with this one. Same with Moriarty.
At this point, Bay can leave the series on a triumphant note I feel – but given the sort of money this franchise has made – I’d love to see producer Steven Spielberg to give a shot telling a TRANSFORMERS story of his own.
The action in this film is truly amazing work. Bay’s talent for designing these shots is nothing short of amazing to watch. The physical look of everything is amazing. That I really kinda loved Shia’s Sam in this film – and he has a moment when he’s going after a pillar in this film, where I’ll be damned, but I stopped thinking of Sam as some idiot kid, and saw an incredibly brave soul that was putting his life on the line against incredibly terrible odds – and he acted quickly, decisively and with a true sense of heroism that I found quite powerful.
Oh – and if you love Chicago – you’re gonna see it get all kinds of fucked up in the best ways. But honestly – the big chunk of my love for this movie comes from a single scene between Buzz Aldrin and Optimus Prime. Watching this scene, fried my geek brain. It was just one of those things, where I’m sitting there and I’m watching Buzz Aldrin talking to Optimus about the first Moon mission and it’s secret purpose – and I just fell in love. That’s awesome sci-fi geek fantasy shit – and it totally owned me.