Artificial Continuum

Monday, July 11, 2011

(A bit late, but bare with me)

In 2007, famous action director Michael Bay did what seemed like a Hollywood impossibility. He took a dated toy property and turned it into a multi-million dollar franchise. Sure he had some help, primarily from teenage boys wishing to catch their glimpse at a certain actress, but the original Transformers film will forever remain as a great summer blockbuster.

In 2009, the same director, cast, and writers did the exact opposite. They created a spectacular failure of a film. A nonsensical plot, soulless human characters, and absolutely horrific humor made Transformers Revenge of the Fallen an exercise in just how bad sequels can get. A movie Rolling Stone labeled as one of the worst films of the entire decade.

Bay has labeled this latest, and probably final, installment his apology for the second film. Transformers: Dark of the Moon certainly does improve upon its predecessor, but is not without its own pratfalls.

Dark of the Moon opens up two years following the previous film. The Autobots continue to fight the remnants of their Decepticon foes. Meanwhile, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) attempts to move on with his life with his new girlfriend, Carly (Rosie Huntington Whiteley). However, Sam despite having saved the world twice finds it difficult to find a career. Sam's search does last long. The Decepticons have returned and this time become involved in a conspiracy that stretches back to the space race.

When it comes to the scale of its story, Dark of the Moon is easily the strongest of the three films. The conspiracy, which is shown spectacularly in the first ten minutes of the film, proves to be an interesting backdrop to the robot action. The plot also features some unexpected twists that make the film more engaging in some ways than both its predecessors.

What Dark of the Moon lacks is a compelling human story. While the overarching plot and the robot centered segments are engaging and filled with spectacle, the human storyline has none of this. This is unfortunate seeing as a good hour of the film follows Sam Witwicky's attempt to find a career. It is just difficult to care for any of the characters Bay presents to us.

This is made even worse by the absolutely awful humor. Although not racist or as crude as the previous film, the script is packed with some of the least affective and brainless humor seen in years. The Hangover 's Ken Jeung is the worst offender of this. He appears in a brief stint that borders on unwatchable. What makes matters worse is that this idiotic humor takes up a solid hour of the film.

However, Michael Bay takes his billion dollar franchise to a new level of intensity. When it comes to delivering spectacle, the famed master of explosions does not disappoint. The visual effects are easily some of the most impressive ever seen. Each of the machines glittering and shifting parts is rendered beautifully. The same goes for the 3D effects, which rank as the best since James Cameron's Avatar.

When the humor has died down and the plot finally reaches its head, the action begins. And what a sight it is. Visceral, grand in scale, and unmatched in scope, Dark of the Moon delivers fantastic action set piece after set piece. One moment, robots are locked in a Western style standstill. Next, characters are sliding and diving through a collapsing skyscraper. Then, Optimus Prime, who reaches levels of unbelievable cool in this film, jetpacks through a crowd of enemies slicing and dicing. Once it gets started, the action never lets up, which for a Michael Bay movie is not a bad thing.

When it comes to performances, there are few to truly write home about. LaBeouf is on par with his previous roles in the franchise. Huntington-Whiteley fares better than Megan Fox but never exceeds mediocrity. However, Leonard Nemoy does provide an interesting voice role for Optimus's new mentor Sentinel Prime.

Perhaps the unsung hero of the film is Steve Jablonksy's heroic score. Jablonsky originally wowed in the original 2007 film with tracks that have become staples to the franchise. He expands upon these beautifully here, creating an audio treat amidst the bullets and explosions.

Ultimately, as a summer blockbuster Transformers Dark of the Moon does deliver. It may be a tad too long and lack a soul, but when it comes to flat out action and spectacle you are unlikely to do better this season. Just make sure to brain bleach out those jokes.

Score: -B