If it's crap ... We'll tell you
I have to say that I've never had a viewing experience quite like seeing the Transformers trilogy unfold before my eyes. Four years ago, I saw a teaser for a movie that seemed to look like a big space movie about astronauts on Mars but then I saw that it was for Transformers. I immediately scratched my head but unlike most film fans out there, when "A Michael Bay Film" appeared underneath, I quickly switched my judgment about the movie and got curiosity and excitement stirring in me because Armageddon was just a fun, action-packed ride and the battle scenes of Pearl Harbor were just mind-blowing to me and it was some of the best damned action I'd ever seen by that point (now if we were talking about the rest of Pearl Harbor then that's a whole different story)! Shia LaBeouf was actually the actor that fully convinced me to see it because I had been a fan of his since his Even Stevens days back on the Disney Channel. So when I saw the first movie, I was completely blown away because as far as the last hour of that movie goes (despite enjoying myself the hour and a half before), it's one of the best action movies that I've ever seen mainly because of the groundbreaking CGI which made me believe that these robots existed and also for the sheer destruction of Mission City which got me wrapped up in the anarchy of Michael Bay which I love so much. It was the ultimate summer movie then and especially for the 12 year old version of myself and I'll probably look back on that movie with much love. I'll probably show my children that movie as an example of what action in an action movie should be! Two years later, I would suffer for two and a half hours in a dark theatre where I showed up late to meet some friends, couldn't find them, had to stand for two hours and then sit in a hard ass fold-out chair through the last nonsensical and migraine-inducing half hour of the excruciating torture test that was Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (despite the fact that all of my friends loved it which made me even angrier). However with Transformers: Dark of the Moon, it wasn't ecstasy or misery that left with me when I made my way out of the theatre, oddly enough for me (a big Michael Bay fan) it was utter indifference.
When it started, I started to get into it because it had the cool traditional narration by Peter Cullen's Optimus Prime describing portions of Cybertron's history of the war which I tend to like and although it was farfetched, the tying in of the Space Race and the Chernobyl incident was somewhat interesting. Then we get introduced in a really sexy fashion to Rosie Huntington-Whiteley who actually turned out much better than I thought she would and I got over the fact that Megan Fox was missing very quickly. That lent a fresh new spin which gave me hope. By the point where Sam Witwicky started to complain about not being somebody while applying for a job at a mailroom along with the annoying Mini-Bots he had around his apartment, I started to get worried and actually annoyed with Shia LaBeouf even though I think for what he was given especially early on, he did very well carrying himself and the other actors around him. Next came the wave of insane characters who started to pool in like Ken Jeong, John Malkovich, and even bringing back John Turturro who just seem really forced to be in this movie because they serve no real kind of purpose to everything else that's going on (at least for the former two). It just seems like Michael Bay saw The Hangover and like everybody else really dug into Mr. Chow and somehow had to crowbar him into this movie even if he served no purpose other than to kick start the action-oriented part of the plot. Now it's not Jeong's fault because for what creepy and crazy part he was given, he managed to run with it pretty well. But John Malkovich was pretty wasted in this movie because he was given literally nothing to do and having him out would actually make it better. When it comes to John Turturro, they should've ditched him a long time ago. I was fine with him for the first movie but they've really kicked a dead horse with this character. On the other hand, I think that for what they worth, Josh Duhamel and Tyrese's characters still made the military side of the plot very cool and I actually liked Frances McDormand, Alan Tudyk, and Patrick Dempsey's characters mainly because they actually played a role in this whole thing (despite the fact that Patrick Dempsey played a real dick). However Leonard Nimoy being the voice of Sentinel Prime actually made up for the fact of some of the human characters who started to get on my nerve for a while. Thankfully the characters this time around weren't all that annoying especially since Michael Bay was right in that Mudflap and Skids were nowhere to be found. What was even best about those guys not being in this movie was that they weren't even mentioned in this movie which automatically makes him better than George Lucas in that department because that hack kept Jar Jar in every one of those goddamned prequels!
One of the things that was quite odd about this movie was that Michael Bay shot this movie in ways that really reminded me of The Dark Knight (which is strange since Christopher Nolan has been known to be a fan of Michael Bay). Lots of people died in this movie even including some of the bigger supporting characters, there's an aerial shot of Hong Kong at night in the same area where we saw the big kidnapping scene, the final battle is shown in Chicago which has famously been recognized in film as where they shot Dark Knight in recent years, it seems to be trying to be very dark, serious, and brooding despite the attempts at comic relief, and it even ends with a philosophical monologue by Optimus Prime. Even when it came to the scene where the soldiers fall and glide out of the plane down into the city with "flying squirrel" suits, it reminded me of The Dark Knight simply because it was that particular suit that the army has which inspired the memory cloth cape for the Nolan Batsuit. However one of the biggest benefits of this movie was that everything that was written for the Autobots and the Decepticons, in my mind at least, was so damned cool and appealing that I wondered why we couldn't actually just get an entire movie about them (I guess we'll just have to wait for the reboot which will be very interesting to see develop). The actual dynamic that involved Megatron, Sentinel Prime, and Optimus was actually much more engaging than anything else in the entire movie and their conflict was really the one where it really gets emotionally investing. That's another thing that Bay gets really right but really wrong at the same time. When the Decepticons start to invade Washington and causing death and destruction, you really feel a sense of dread and later when we see the city of Chicago wreaked of death and destruction as we enter with Shia and Tyrese, we feel as though we have failed and that humanity is doomed. However the biggest problem with Bay in this case is that he doesn't know how to sustain that sense of dread and despair. There's just something about how the movie's shot that just breaks the emotional connection when it really starts to build up in the scene.
When asked about the nature of the film, they said that it would almost be presented in a way that it would be sort of like a "Shakespearean tragedy" which I should have questioned much more than I initially did because there are feelings of despair that are quite effective but like it was pointed out earlier, the fact that those feelings weren't sustained really hurt the film and it really undercuts that statement because I personally felt only one or two deaths through this whole thing. Though to be fair, if the writers didn't commit the Sin of Moses in the last film by killing off Optimus Prime in the middle only to bring him back to life at the end, I think they could've really accentuated this film's "Shakespearean tragedy" aspect by ending the film and therefore the trilogy with Optimus Prime dying while protecting humanity from the Decepticons in Earth's last stand. I think that would've been a great and almost fitting end to these particular movies. But with what they could do with Optimus's character that came close to dying was enough to make me forgive that part (if just barely anyway). The one thing that carried on from Revenge of the Fallen was actually used very effectively and that was the Matrix object that was used to resurrect Optimus and that was actually the key to executing the entire plot of this film with Sentinel Prime and the full-out Decepticon invasion. In a way it doesn't make me feel that that last movie was a total waste of time and money.
When it comes to action, this movie has tons of it but it's almost to a point of too much action which is quite strange to say about Michael Bay but it's true this time. The set pieces like the snapping of the glass skyscraper, the Decepticons attacking Bumblebee on the freeway, the flashbacks to the war on Cybertron, all the early prologue stuff on the Moon, and even parts of the Chernobyl visit literally had my jaw on the floor because the way it looked in 3-D was incredible but it seems like the rest of the movie's action is unnecessarily drawn out and just so underwhelming compared to the other stuff that it sort of cancels out everything else. That's one of the biggest problems which this movie. One incredible set piece, cool moment between certain characters, or feeling of gloom is oftened cancelled out by a failed attempt at comic relief, a few typical action shots, or just an odd character moment. It's like the movie is having a tug-of-war with itself and it gets kind of frustrating to the point to where I just didn't really care by the end. That's mainly the reason I came out indifferent to seeing this movie (which should never happen). It's almost like Michael Bay was too restrained to really do anything that he could to get back to the pure awesomeness that makes Michael Bay who he is. If he's too restrained, he can't really be allowed to do anything that special. If he's allowed too much freedom, the stuff that makes him such a great action director gets so amped up to the point where he totally butchers everything since he can't tell a story to save his life. I guess in a way, this is the Michael Bay movie that's most tolerant for people who don't like Michael Bay.
One thing that really bothered me was that while the 3-D was probably the best I'd seen since Avatar, it got in the way of Michael Bay's style which took the effect away from what I think Michael Bay does at his best. Sure the action is pulled back and slowed down but what makes Michael Bay's action so great is that his really fast and frenetic style (although it does have its limits) really adds a sense of chaos and euphoria during these action scenes. The whole point is to basically know what's happening, who's who beforehand, and then watch as we get tiny glimpses of the big action going on as we see our characters react in a big way. That's what adds excitement, thrill, and tension in a Michael Bay film (to keep the monster in the shadows so to speak). This movie while we see what's happening, the whole thing feels very contrived and looking through the eyes of Michael Bay this time makes it feel like he's very uncomfortable in this new skin he's shown when it comes to action. The only reason he made the film this way is probably because when he made Revenge of the Fallen, vanity project way, the response on the Internet was so violently hateful that the studio realized that if they wanted to keep that audience they've had (despite the fact that it was Bay's highest grossing film of his career), Spielberg and the other producers had to rein him in and say to Bay that if he didn't desperately change what he was doing then he would be fired and that would probably hurt his next film somehow. Even so, the box office intake for this movie has been hurt deeply by the last film anyway because of how Bay has alienated so many people from the last film. That's probably a big reason as to why he's going back to a $20 million budget which he hasn't used since Bad Boys (his film debut in 1995) with his next film Pain & Gain. That way he won't be backed into a corner by the studio because there's less money on the line, he won't be forced to use 3-D because why would anyone use 3-D on a $20 million movie, and the fact that since it's supposed to be a dark comedy in the vein of Pulp Fiction (which would be like combining Bad Boys with The Rock which was uncreditedly co-written by Quentin Tarantino), it would be a good movie to somehow make a comeback of his career to a lot of people.
Ultimately this movie is such a total balancing act that the whole movie internally self-destructs and makes people like me feel indifferent at the end and I can't decide whether to tell people whether to see it or not. There's stuff in this movie that certainly is incredible and is worthy to see on the big screen but then there's factors of this movie that just make it annoying and rough to get through (although it's not almost unbearable like in Revenge of the Fallen). The story and back story involving the Autobots and Decepticons is enthralling but the story of the majority of the humans is tiresome. The epic catastrophes make the film somewhat heavy but the movie's inability to sustain it and the extremely flat attempts at comic relief prevent you from taking anything seriously and therefore any care that was felt for the characters is sent out to sea. Half of the human characters are sympathetic and what acting the actors are allowed to do makes you root for them in the best way however the other half of the human characters are either so annoying or so repugnant that you want to see them die in a full-out alien invasion. Some of the robots are fascinating, charismatic, cool, and do great or terrible things to make this war on Earth seem pivotal while others are just aggravating to watch and therefore make the war on Earth seem inconsequential. The 3-D makes the key scenes extraordinary to see unfold but it prevents Michael Bay from doing what he really does best. It tries to make up for the sins of the last movie which is a well-intentioned and bold task yet the last movie's blunders were so detrimental and irreversible in context that it's almost impossible to completely make up for it. So ultimately it's a movie that I'm completely split on and if anything, it's a movie where I have to tell people who go to see it that they'll have to make up their own minds about it. Transformers was a movie so awesome as far as an action movie was concerned that I left the movie theatre totally pumped up to go fight giant robots myself with some military guys and a hot girl and a sweet car that could change into a robot right beside me. It was a huge Better Than Sex! as far as just a pure, machismo-driven action movie. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was an unfathomable attempt at trying to be either an intense action movie or just a straightforward film that made you care about what happened to the point of even offending and angering many people including myself. For me, it was almost the biggest Fuck You! I could give to any film and not just for Michael Bay. This time with Dark of the Moon, I feel so mixed up of its contradictiveness by nature that the movie almost kills itself dead by the end and it makes me struggle on whether I should really care that it really has. I want to love it because there's so much stuff in this movie that so makes up for plenty of things that just went utterly wrong with the last one but whatever flaws that are left (although less severe) stick out like a sore thumb and therefore cause me to kill the excitement down to a purely neutral and lifeless feel about the whole thing. So when it comes to this movie, you'll just have to make up your mind about it. Even when the first one ended, I never thought there would be a snowball's chance in Hell that anything could top it and would actually be worth following up to it and I guess in a certain sense, I wasn't wrong.
Rating: Halfway Between Matinée! and Rental (depending on how much you really want and/or need to see it)