Sunday, August 14, 2011

Let's just say I'm trying to get a gig as a film critic...

... and this was my sample review. Enjoy.

Much like it's two predecessors, Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon is heavy on computer generated effects and violence, light on plot and common sensibility. And yet it's viewers will not feel unfulfilled at it's end as they've probably come to expect nothing less from the franchise built by Michael Bay. Of course, he will deliver what common entertainment fans are probably after. But they may even be presently surprised this time around by the film's sometimes clever and engaging, though ultimately incoherent plot that carries the effects and expensive action set-pieces to their ultimate climax, a final, hour long battle sequence set in Chicago. So there is slightly more to enjoy in this film than robots slamming into each other at high speeds and buildings crashing over, particularly in its first half, including some grandiose historical fiction and whimsical comedy delivered by some familiar faces. But there is also more to dislike, including too many extraneous characters and a simply bad romantic sub-plot. Essentially, the film is not as mind-numbingly stupid as the previous second installment in the now trilogy of Transformers films, but certainly not smart either.

Retelling some 20th Century history to make room for the Autobots and Decepticons, the film begins with a montage retracing memorable steps in NASA's race with the Soviet Union to reach the moon. According to the film, it turns out this race wasn't so much for political bragging rights, but rather an attempt to reach The Ark first, the Autobot spaceship that crash-landed on the Moon. These scenes feature Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin (who appears as himself later in the film), and even John F. Kennedy look-a-likes acting. Some may find these images out of place in the Transformers franchise, but I liked them; it was an earnest and fun revisiting of a golden age in American history, reminding us that the drama of reality can be more enjoyable than that of fiction. Though I would urge you to cherish this early attention-worthy content while you have the chance; the plot of the film will soon become to chuck-full of unaligned events and characters to grab your attention in a serious way again, at least not without the help of the complex action in 3D.

After revisiting the Moon with Apollo 11, we are returned to the present day, where we find the Autobots at work for the US government, working on secret missions with the aid of a special task force lead by handsome-faced Lt. Colonel William Lennox (Josh DuHamel), and our central protagonist, Sam Witwicky, played by the seemingly always over-stressed Shia LaBeouf. Sam is feeling a touch forlorn and anxious these days, as he is separated from his Autobot friends, and dealing with the stress of not having a job while living with a new girlfriend, Carly Spencer (Victoria Secret Model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, replacing previous franchise starlet Megan Fox, who was dismissed from the cast after a row with Bay). With help from Carly and her boss, Dylan Gould (Patrick Dempsey), a wealthy tycoon and car collector, Sam manages to get one at a highly competitive firm where he encounters some zany co-workers in Ken Jeong and even the great John Malkovich as a despotic, yet clueless boss. Malkovich always displays a strong screen presence despite not having the best dialog here, and his few, short moments on screen are somewhat enjoyable. However, he, like many other of the other menial characters in the film, is quickly thrown onto the scrap heap for other brief and under-developed sub-plots. Namely that Sam is jealous of the obvious attraction that Carly's boss has for her, and the two have some very meaningless romantic banter. If you haven't already, by this point you will have probably stop caring about Sam and Carly altogether, and wonder what happened to the Autobots and the real plot of the movie.

Luckily for us, Sam does indeed quickly scrap his new found responsibilities to rejoin the Autobots, much to the dismay of Carly, to find intrigue with his old pal, Seymour Simmons, played by the always likeable John Turturro, and film returns to a somewhat recognizable location. By now, the Autobots have revisited The Ark and awakened their ancient leader Sentinel Prime (voiced by Leonard Nimoy), who controls the Pillars, a way of transporting the transformer home world Cybertron to earth. Some plot twists ensue, which you may appreciate, or may see coming a mile away, building the film up to the final battle for the Pillars, where the Autobots, allied with some sparse human assistance (Colonel Lennox and friends), take on the usual Decepticon baddies, plus a new addition to their ranks, Shockwave, a Decepticon with a giant, metallic, worm-like extremity, that eats through the Chicago skyline without missing any fine detail of twisted metal or broken glass.

By this point, the film has taken us through historical narrative, pithy romantic mellow-drama, whimsey office comedy, an attempt at international intrigue, and of course some intense computer generated action sequences. As you can see there is way too much packed into this long, two and half hour film, as its initial fun becomes bogged down with far too many scenes that should have ended up on the cutting room floor. If you're like me, who like most fans of the Transformers franchise, can appreciate the entertainment of the detail that went into creating the Transformers and their battles, you may say to yourself at some point "just get back to the robots fighting already!" It seems that Bay realized this at some point, or perhaps all along had in mind to save it all for the end. But until you get there, you may be somewhat beneficially occupied with some performances from a curiously strong cast, including Malkovich, Turturro, and Frances McDormand, playing a bureaucratic, high-ranking government official to some comic affect. Unfortunately, I cannot include LaBeouf or Huntington-Whiteley as equally enjoyable. LaBeouf cannot help but seem flustered at all times, always overdoing it. And meanwhile, Huntington-Whitely is as stiff as cardboard, but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt, as she's just a pretty face who has never acted before.

But as I say, in the end, the violence that we've anticipated comes in droves, over-the-top as always. With quotes from Optimus such as "Kill them all" and unflinching scenes of Transformers being executed and beheaded with their spines ripped-out, some will no doubt feel that it's all too much, and others will simply feel that the movie finally delivered on all cylinders they had expected. Whether it's a venerable thing that the world over, such mindless violence is usually a top-selling attractor for moviegoers is another discussion, but at least it does seem to be the case that we prefer robot blood (or should I say 'oil'?) to our own.

But as for Bay, and let's not forget his screenwriter, Ehren Kruger, how are we to judge? If their only intention was to make money, than with each installment of the Transformers franchise they've laughed themselves all the way to the bank. But I do earnestly believe Bay would like some credit for the achievements in movie-making technology he and his staffs have produced. And to his credit, with this film he has found some good use for the often gimmicky 3D genre, as it seems often enough during his extensive set-pieces he had 3D in mind all along, and the extra dimension lends itself more to Bay's craft than other filmmakers. But can this computer technology alone take the place of decent plot, acting, or dialog in movies nowadays? Thankfully, with what I hear from most moviegoers regarding Transformers, the answer is no. But nonetheless, the allure of the effects and action is worth the price of admission for millions and millions worldwide. And though I too enjoy being entertained as much as the next man, this film in the end was not quite worth it for me.

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