It's a comedy in disguise! ~ That Movie Blogger Fella

Thursday, July 21, 2011

It's a comedy in disguise!

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
My rating:

I am dissatisfied with my review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Not just with the rating I gave it, which is probably too generous, but also with the review proper. There's a lot more about the movie that I could and should have talked about, and my only excuse is that two years ago, my film-reviewing skills were not yet at the awe-inspiring heights they are now. I watched the first two in the series again, and even considered doing a Retro Review of them; I thought the whole trilogy deserved a good comprehensive evaluation, if for no other reason than all the billions of box-office moolah they've made. (No, they're not good, but they are significant.) In the end I chickened out of doing a redux of an older review. Once I set that precedent, I'd never get any work done.

But having watched this latest one, I think my Transformers 2 review got it right more than I'd thought.

In 1961, a Cybertronian spacecraft called the Ark crash-landed on our moon, spurring the U.S.-Soviet space race that culminates in the Apollo 11 moon landing whose secret objective was to examine the crash site. In the present, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) has graduated college and is looking for a job, without much success; he resents the fact that his having helped save the world twice over has been covered up, and it doesn't help matters that he's living off his new and extremely hawt girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whitely) who is working for rich and handsome douchebag Dylan Gould (Patrick Dempsey). When Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), leader of the Autobots, learns about the Ark, he investigates the wreckage and recovers the body of Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy), an ancient Autobot who was Optimus' mentor and former leader. Meanwhile, the Decepticons are plotting something new, and it involves murdering people connected to the American and Russian space missions to the Ark. It soon becomes clear that Megatron (Hugo Weaving) is after a devastating weapon the Ark was carrying that could end the war between the Autobots and Decepticons.

Michael Bay has missed his calling. He thinks himself a director of action movies, but Transformers: Dark of the Moon proves that he sucks at action. Seriously, he does, and I'll get to that in a bit. You know what he is good at? Comedy. Seriously, he is. What I enjoyed most about Transformers 2 is that I "got" its broad comedic tone, and it's present here as well. In fact, it probably works even better here due to the presence of ringers such as Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Ken Jeong and Alan Tudyk, plus the return of John Turturro - all of whom are having a blast playing as goofy and over-the-top as Bay allows. And Bay gives them completely free reign. Tudyk playing Simmons' gay German bodyguard Dutch is hilarious, as is every scrap of info about Simmons' and CIA Director Mearing's (McDormand) ill-fated love affair. This stuff is funny.

And probably no other critic in the world thinks the same. Nor does probably any other critic in the world think highly of Shia LaBeouf's performance, but I do - somewhat. All his nervous tics, high-strung babbling, spastic flailing-about and "nonononono!"s fit right in to Bay's comic sensibility and the tone he's going for. (The tone of the first half anyway, about which more later.) It's never gonna happen, but I think Bay really should direct a comedy - a good, broad, balls-out silly farce of a comedy. That way he'd actually have a comedy screenplay, that contains actual jokes. I don't know how much of what's in here is by Ehren Krueger (subbing in for Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman), how much is improvised by the cast, and how much is something Bay threw in 'cos he thought it'd be funny. I suspect the last accounts for the comedy bits that aren't very funny.

Still, the comedy worked better for me than the action - which, yes, sucks. Bay's talent is in crafting individually awesome shots or moments - f'rinstance, this one at 0:19 - but there's more to a good action scene than just that. The final hour is just one tediously long action sequence in which Our Heroes venture into a Decepticon-captured Chicago, and you know why it's tedious? Because it goes like this: they spot the Macguffin that they need to blow up to defeat the Bad Guys. They get within sight of it, they're about to shoot a rocket at it, but Oh No! The Decepticons are attacking! And they spend the next 20 minutes running and trying to save themselves. Then they regroup, and we're reminded that, yeah, the Macguffin is still out there and they're still trying to get to it, so off they go and Oh No! The Decepticons are attacking! And for the next 20 minutes they fight the Decepticons and completely forget about the Macguffin. And then (SPOILER ALERT) Optimus Prime shows up out of nowhere and destroys it with. One. Shot.

Bad enough the action is padded out to a shameless degree, but what's worse is a staggering abundance of action beats that make zero sense. At one point, Sam and Lennox are about to literally fall to their deaths, then Bumblebee shows up and saves them. Where did he come from? What was he doing before this? Didn't they go in to Chicago together? And then barely five minutes later, Sam finds out Bumblebee and a few other Autobots have gotten themselves captured. How? What were they doing before this? Wasn't Bumblebee with them just a moment ago? None of this is explained. There's an infuriating arbitrariness to everything that happens here that makes it impossible to enjoy the metal-on-metal skyscraper-collapsin' huge-ass-splosion action; you keep getting knocked out of the movie by things that don't make sense. And you sure as hell don't buy the supposedly-serious drama of it all; Sam's endless anguished screaming of "Optimuuuus!" and "Bumblebeeeee!!" just makes you afraid he'll pop a blood vessel.

The fact is, Michael Bay was and is the absolute wrong choice of director to helm a Transformers live-action movie, much less three of 'em. He doesn't even understand the basic appeal of the property, which is why he has a Decepticon (Shockwave) that possesses giant mechanical hentai tentacles but doesn't transform into anything in particular. And he has robots that transform morph into any damn thing they want, case in point Laserbeak who can turn into both a PC monitor and a copier machine. And when the army of Decepticons invade Chicago, he has them piloting aircraft. I said before that the Transformers in this series aren't characters, they're plot devices. I was mistaken; they're not characters, they're props. They have no personality, you can barely tell them apart, and when they die no one gives a shit - not even a named one that has survived from the first film. Megatron, the Decepticon leader who is almost as iconic as Optimus Prime, pretty much sits out the entire movie.

Bay doesn't even bother to maintain continuity between three movies; after a broad-daylight Autobot-vs-Decepticon battle between giant robots in downtown L.A. in the first film, and a planetwide broadcast from the Fallen in the second film, this is a world that still isn't aware there are giant transformin' robots walking around. Replacing Megan Fox (with the dishwater-dull Rosie Huntington-Whitely) is yet another spit in the face of fans; Mikaela Banes wasn't much more than eye candy, but at least she was invested in the overall storyline. She knows Optimus Prime, she knows and loves Bumblebee as much as Sam, she even knows Megatron; even if Fox is little better an actor than her replacement, she should've been here. But speaking of spitting in fans' faces, worst of all is the movie's ending. It is ungraciously, unforgivably abrupt - and considering Bay has already announced that this is his last Transformers, it's pretty frickin' disrespectful.

So, Transformers fans, can you finally admit that you've collectively forked out US$2.3 billion on three shitty movies? Maybe they can; I'm actually surprised to see loads of negative comments on, whom I seem to remember were creaming their pants over the second one two years ago. I ain't down with the conventional wisdom that says the first was the best; they're all equally dumb to me, comprised of scant moments of awesome in a vast sea of stupidity. Though I was definitely too generous with Transformers 2, which probably is the worst due to its dull action. This one is at least an improvement, in that Bay finally shot the action at a wider angle due to his use of 3D cameras. (Oh, and no, I didn't watch it in 3D.) But I meant what I said about the comedy, that I found most of it funny - yes, even Sam's parents - and that Bay is actually a decent comedy director. Unfortunately, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and its two predecessors, are not comedies. They're supposed to be action movies, and they fail at that.

NEXT REVIEW: Tolong! Awek Aku Pontianak
Expectations: James Lee eff-tee-dabeliuuu!