I’m a sucker for big blockbusters and they don’t come much bigger or louder than Michael Bay’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon (let’s just call it Transformers 3). And even after telling anyone who would listen that 3D is a complete waste of money, I inexplicably forked out the extra dough for the 3D experience. (Why am I such a tool? Is it because Transformers 3 was allegedly filmed with the same 3D cameras as Avatar, the only worthy 3D film I’ve seen?)
Anyway, I had heard some good things about the film (apparently ‘the best of the series so far’) and I knew Steven Spielberg was an executive producer, so I had reasonably high hopes. But ultimately, while it was visually spectacular, full of star power and contained some fairly good action sequences and clever ideas, Transformers 3 was one insanely overlong, unnecessarily convoluted and uncompelling disappointment.
Transformers 3 takes off not long after Transformers 2 finished. Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) has just graduated college and is looking for a job, while his Autobot friends have all but abandoned him for top secret government missions. Megan Fox’s Mikaela is of course gone after that very public dismissal, replaced by British lingerie model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (horrible replacement in my opinion, and it’s not just because she has a Cameron Diaz-ish face), who plays Carly, his new girlfriend. A bunch of stuff happens and as it turns out it was all related to the original Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969 (hence ‘Dark of the Moon‘). Autobots and Decepticons fight, humans get in the way, things get blown up.
The good thing about Transformers 3 is that visually, it is another step above the previous two films, which were already amazing. I’m not sure if it was the 3D (I highly doubt it), but from memory the robots from the first two films were not this finely animated, to the point where you could see each scratch mark on the outer shells and every little piece of machinery moving inside. And as I recall, the robot fight scenes in the previous films (especially the first one) were criticised for not being very clear — there are no such issues in this one. Every move, every thrust of the sword, every blast of the gun is crystal clear in Transformers 3 (complete with crafty slow motion shots for emphasis), creating by far the best robot-on-robot battles in the series yet.
Speaking of battle scenes, there were some whoppers. Sure they were improbable and ridiculous, but man they were fun. Without giving away too much, there was one particular sequence inside a building that ranks as the best in the franchise.
Having said that, we’re accustomed to expecting wild, crazy action from Transformers, so to some it might not be anything special. I guess that’s also true to some extent because, to be honest, we’ve seen most of these action sequences before (there’s only so much robots can do), just not with such great execution.
Another thing I liked about Transformers 3 was the clever intermeshing of real-life people and events, something I enjoyed immensely in the recent X-Men: First Class. In this case, it was the Apollo moon landing (amongst others) but I was appalled by the atrocious ‘lookalikes’ they got for famous figures. Even with the intentional blurring and angling it was embarrassingly unlike the real-life counterparts.
The Transformers films have always had star-studded ensemble casts, and this one is no different. In addition to the regulars such as LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro and Tyrese Gibson, Michael Bay brought out the big acting guns this time with John Malkovich, Patrick Dempsey and Francis McDormand. While it’s always good to see these three on screen, it was sad to see how poor their roles were. They played important roles but terribly lean characters with horrible dialogue that was unworthy of actors of their calibre. And I think it showed. None of them looked like they were there for anything other than the money.
The highlight of all the additions was actually Ken Jeong, the Asian guy from The Hangover movies. Unfortunately he didn’t have a meatier role.
As for Shia LaBeouf — I do like him, even though I think he has been over-exposed the last few years — but by now Sam Witwicky’s in-your-face personality was wearing a little thin. LaBeouf isn’t afraid to make fun of himself, but at times he treads a fine line between being funny and being obnoxious, and I think this third time around he fell to the obnoxious side more often than he should have.
The big replacement — Huntington-Whiteley — was better than I expected as an actress, but I still don’t think she was right for the role. And it’s not just because I don’t like her face. Her chemistry with LaBeouf was almost non-existent. Not even the 3D could bring her character to life. On the other hand, it just shows how thankless the female lead role is in the Transformers franchise.
Now that I’ve ventured into the negatives, I might as well keep going. I’ll admit I didn’t entirely understand what was going on with the robots and their business, and it was because I didn’t care enough to put in the effort. I have no idea why they had to make things so convoluted but it was totally unnecessary. Was it so they could throw in some plot twists? I don’t know, but what I do know is that I didn’t go to see a Transformers movie for the brilliant plot, that’s for sure.
Far Too Long
Another thing I didn’t understand was why the movie had to be 155 minutes long (and it felt that long too), which was 5 minutes longer than the already overlong Transformers 2. And like that film, it didn’t have to be. This was at the very most a 2 hour movie. So much of the fluff at the start of the movie could have been condensed.
The staggering length of the film was not helped by the strangely uneven tone, which made it feel like several different movies. Transformers 3 started off as kind of a teen comedy, then morphed into a serious historical re-envisioning before becoming an all-out alien invasion action movie for the final hour or so. It didn’t quite fit together.
While we’re on the subject of far too long, so is this review. So I’m going to wrap it up. For me, Transformers 3 was better than Transformers 2, but not as good as the original. There were parts I found enjoyable, but despite being bigger, louder, and with better special effects and being in 3D, it just didn’t have that freshness and spark it once had.
2.5 stars out of 5
PS: Was the 3D worth it? I can’t be conclusive as I haven’t seen the 2D version, but I can’t honestly say I noticed that much of a difference.
PPS: I heard in an interview with Patrick Dempsey that Michael Bay goes off at people who cross his line of vision. What a nut. Maybe Fox wasn’t exaggerating after all.