If Transformers: Dark of the Moon seems a little too long for viewers, it’s because director Michael Bay tried to do two things: silence his critics and give people what they paid for. The latter comes in the form of the film’s second half, a senses-shattering Baysplosion fest filled with flying bullets and gloriously twisted metal. The former comes in the surprising first half – a well-written, character-establishing dramedy with an intriguing story. It delivers far beyond what most fans clamored for after the debacle of a second installment (they just wanted a coherent plot for a change), and comes off, in my opinion, as the movie’s best part.
Without giving too much away (spoilers will come after you hit “Read More”), the film begins by filling us in on the background for the film’s plot. Instead of using a dull voiceover narrative like could-have-been-great fellow summer blockbuster Green Lantern, Bay does the smart thing and illustrates the movie’s premise through a montage of real-world and crafted clips, creating a clever new conspiracy theory revolving around the 1969 lunar landing.
We’re then fast-forwarded decades into the present, where we encounter hero Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBouf) in the throes of a brand-new chapter in life: adulthood. While most fresh graduates struggle with the search for meaning by getting their first job, Sam’s frustration is compounded by the fact that he’s nobody again – the Transformers have been removed from his life (save for two less combat-reliable characters) to aid the government in tactical operations – and his hot new girlfriend, Carly Spencer (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), is infinitely more successful than he. His parents come crashing in for a visit to his new apartment (owned by the aforementioned successful hot girlfriend) and rub in the fact that he hasn’t gotten a job yet. There’s a very real problem presented in this portion where the father complains, “Three months out of college and he hasn’t got a job? What did I pay for?” while good ol’ mom rationalizes “He’s a millennial, they’ve got it tough these days.” It’s a scene young adults these days are all too familiar with, especially in these times of recession, and makes the Boy Who Befriends Giant Alien Robots someone with whom the audience can identify for a change.
Sam eventually settles for a mailroom job because it’s all that’s available, even for someone who’s saved the world TWICE. A visit to Carly’s glamorous office and her incredibly sexy boss adds fuel to the fire burning inside Sam, and he explodes. That’s when shit goes down with the Transformers, an impending crisis saving Sam from the drudgery of the normal world.
If that seems like a convenient escape for Sam’s character, it’s because that’s what this movie ultimately is for – a much-needed departure from reality. We’re all Sam here, discontent with what little life seems to offer and frustrated with the all-too-real possibility of there being something more. Once in a while, we want to run away into something fantastic, maybe even harrowing, just so we don’t feel trapped in mediocrity and the mundane.
That’s exactly what the second part of the movie delivers, with the battle going into full swing. Sam, Carly, and a ton of recurring characters are taken along for the ride, reveling in awe at a war of giant robots. If at the beginning the Sam we are introduced to is embittered and angry, the Sam in the midst of the action scenes is bursting with life and purpose. Sure, watching his exploits in a devastated Chicago can be exhausting for the viewer (they go through so much!), but it’s a feast for the eyes, and a welcome break from reality.
In terms of performances, Shia LeBouf is as good as ever, cementing his role as one of Hollywood’s most promising young leading men. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is a major upgrade over Megan Fox, both in terms of beauty (debatable for some) and acting ability (no argument possible, ever). John Turturro absolutely owns Agent Simmons, and new characters introduced into the film are portrayed by can’t-go-wrong actors John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, and (surprise surprise!) Ken-fucking-Jeong. Patrick Dempsey was another surprise casting that I appreciated. In fact, the only roles I didn’t like were those reprised by Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson, who are as cardboard as always.
One annoying flaw in the movie is its pogi rock soundtrack, which only served to make key moments really cheesy. The ending in particular was absolutely ruined by poor song choice, which is a shame since Linkin Park did well in the first film.
All in all, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is a fine popcorn flick in which Michael Bay disproves popular allegations of being a director lacking in substance. The delivery wasn’t perfect, since the first and second half can actually be taken as two different treatments of the same movie, but each half taken alone shows the scope of Bay’s expertise. I personally preferred the first half, since it actually made you care about the characters, both human and robotic. The second half is what everyone came to expect – big explosions, over-the-top action scenes, and hot ladies. It’s not perfect, but it’s good. If I were to rate it, I’d give it a 4/5 (and a 4.5 for the amazing first half).
Read on for some things the fanboy in me needs to get off his chest, which involve MAJOR spoilers.
I personally cannot get over the first part of the movie, which has one of the cleverest uses of foreshadowing I’ve seen in recent films. It rewards the dorks among us who were excited at the prospect of Leonard Nimoy lending his voice to another Transformers movie (he was Galvatron in the 1986 animated flick) – in the scene introducing Sam for the first time, two tiny Autobots are seen watching Star Trek, where one proclaims something to the effect of “I’ve seen this one before; it’s where Spock goes nuts.” The gag is twofold – it reminds us of Nimoy (legendary for playing Spock) being the chief baddy in the 1986 film, and portends his treacherous turn as Sentinel Prime in Dark of the Moon. That intelligent bit of writing was something I totally did not expect from a Bay flick. The same scene included a snark at Megan Fox, too.
Heck, Sentinel Prime’s defection was a very complex concept itself. While it could’ve been handled more in-depth, the groundwork was there: a leader sacrificing his honor for the survival of the planet by submitting to his nemesis’ will. That is an extremely complicated dilemma that shows a lot of thought was put into writing this film.
Ken Jeong’s bathroom stall scene was some of the most inspired comedy writing I’ve seen this year. I’m going to be repeating his frenzied rambling in my head for a while. “Deep Wang! Deep Wang! DEEP. WANG. ” And Malkovich’s reaction at the end? Priceless.
There was also a bit of a cute moment for me at the opening montage. Anyone who’s watched Even Stevens will spot Tom Virtue among the NASA staff; Virtue, of course, played LeBouf’s father in the career-launching series. By the way, if you’re a fan of the show, look up Margo Harshman (she played Tawny) on IMDB. She’s really pretty these days.
It seems that Bay was intent on making us feel the impact of this being his final Transformers film, having killed off Ironhide, Laserbeak, Megatron, Starscream, and Shockwave. I honestly don’t see how a sequel is possible in this continuity, save for the appearance of the Dinobots (which I REALLY want to see). Random leftover Decepticons from the invasion sound boring to me. Soundwave still had a minor role in this one, so maybe next movie?
I also love how Bay made us feel for the Autobots. The relationship between Sam and Bumblebee is surprisingly real, despite being between a boy and an invisible robot. Props to LeBouf, Bay, and the animators for making us worry about Bumblebee dying in front of Sam. I was also impressed with the way Bay made us feel sad for the Autobots’ wacky inventor dying (didn’t catch his name), even if he got paltry screen time. The only thing I didn’t like was that no one cared for Ironhide. WHY. IRONHIDE IS AUTOBOT ROYALTY.
Erm, that’s all for now. Go see the movie? I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.