Friday, July 8, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon - why all the hate?

Ok, so I saw Transformers: Dark of the Moon last Saturday, but I didn't want to rush out a hasty review of it for a couple of reasons.  One, sometimes I need a day or two to think about everything I saw and really decide if it was as good, or bad, as I originally thought when I left the theater and two, because I wanted to see how the critics and moviegoers reacted to it and decide if I agreed with them or not.

Well,  now that it's been almost a week and I've had plenty of time to process my opinions and read up on what Rotten Tomatoes has to say about it, I've decided to put in my two cents on the deal, and my two cents is this:  It's a good movie.

Now, understand that when I say Transformers 3 is a "good movie", I don't mean that it's necessarily good as compared to the entirety of great movies in existence.  What I mean is, it's better than the panning it's receiving critically, it's better than a lot of other Michael Bay movies - including and especially Transformers 2 - and it's good as an entertaining, 3D, summer blockbuster.  It's not the Godfather, but it's not the Godfather 3 either.

As a child of the 80's, of course it almost goes without saying that I loved the Transformers, almost as much as I loved GI Joes.  For this reason, I was stoked when I first heard the plans to make a live-action Transformers movie.  When I heard Michael Bay was behind it, that was actually a plus for me, because I figured "Hey, Armageddon with Autobots, what's not to love?"  I mean, seriously, we're talking about a movie franchise based on a cartoon based on toys, we don't need Citizen Kane, we need mad special effects, robot-on-robot ass whippings and good, mindless eye candy, and that is Michael Bay's milieu.  I went into the theater to see the first Transformers, fully expecting exactly what I got, and I was not disappointed.  In fact, if I had any complaints about the first Transformers movie at all, it was that the CGI was so chaotic and screen-filling that it made it hard to tell where one transformer ended and the other began, so I couldn't really tell who was getting their ass kicked until I saw one fall over and the other walk away.  There was a lot going on, on screen, and it was a little much in places.  Other than that, though, it was everything you come to expect from a Michael Bay film - dramatic, slow-motion pans, ridiculous over the top action, CGI coming out your ass, a hot chick and one metric ass ton of right-wing, pro-military populism crowbarred in harder than corporate product placements.

Bash it all you want, but criticizing Michael Bay movies for their stupid plots, bad acting and use of special effects as a crutch is like going to Taco Bell and bitching about getting the shits afterwards.  I mean, really, what did you expect?

That being said, Transformers 2 sucked, even for a Michael Bay movie.  The plot was extra dumb, the action was even more jumbled, chaotic and a confusing mass of over-used CGI, Megan Fox was officially more annoying than hot, which is never a good thing, and overall everything just felt thrown together, like "Hey, let's get this out there while people still give a shit and cash in while our stock is still high."  I mean, throwing in the "Jar-Jar bots" for added steppen fetchit neo-racism, thinly disguised as kid-friendly humor is pretty much always a recipe for disaster.  With Transformers 2, it seemed like well, that was a good run, they made some money and provided some entertainment, but let's go ahead and call the time of death and put this baby to rest.

Thus, as you can imagine, I was much less optimistic about Transformers 3 than I was about Transformers 2.  I figured, if 2 sucked, 3 was going to be like watching someone have sex with the dead horse after they beat it.  However, I'm a sucker for cheap, mindless action movies, especially when they're in 3D.  Talk all the shit you want, I love these new 3D movies.  They're fun to watch, I get caught up in the action and I enjoy it because it's something I can't see on my TV at home - because spending a Honda Civic on a TV that I need to wear special glasses to see just doesn't appeal to me right now, maybe when I win the lottery or get my blog bought out by Time Warner for $300 million or something, but otherwise, I'll just stick to paying the extra few bucks per ticket.

So, I went in to Transformers 3 expecting disappointment and I left pleasantly surprised, for a number of reasons, and not all of them were positives about the movie, but ironically they ended up being positives anyway.  I will proceed to explain with "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly" of Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

The Good

Rosie Huntington-Whiteley

Megan who?

 The great behind-the-scenes side story to the making of Transformers 3 was the falling out between Megan Fox and Michael Bay.  Apparently, publicly shit-talking your boss is a bad career move, who knew?  So, in a wonderfully entertaining display of sink-below-your-level pettiness, not only did Michael Bay can Fox, not only did he replace her with a girl so hot that she answers the question "Can you upgrade from Megan Fox?" with a resounding "POP", which is the sound your dick head makes as it explodes from the sudden, powerful rush of blood to your shaft at the first sight of her, but then he peppers the script with little digs at Fox all over the place.  From Shia's comment "She dumped me, I found someone better, the end." to completely over-exaggerating the guys falling all over themselves around her, to basically strutting her around in the hottest, sexiest outfits possible, daring some poor perv not to just pull his dick out and butter his popcorn right there in his seat.  In every way and at every opportunity possible, Bay rubs Rosie's hotness right in Fox's face, and as an innocent bystander, every guy and about 3/4ths of the girls watching it go down are all the winners in this one.

I mean, seriously, Megan who??

Filming the movie in 3D

Another good thing about this movie.  Remember how I said that one of my complaints with the first two Transformer movies was the chaotic, screen-filling CGI action that made it hard to follow what was going on and came across more as a mess of twisting metal and explosions than a fight scene I could really follow?  Well, I don't know if it was the addition of 3D technology, a scaling back on the CGI, or a combination of both, but being able to see the action play out in 3D made a noticeable difference for me and greatly improved my enjoyment of the action sequences.  Having that illusion of depth perception helped keep the chaos separated, made the huge, screen-filling fight scenes easier to follow and added some pretty cool extra eye candy to the whole deal.  I like the little touches that filming a movie with good 3D effects give you, like seeing burning embers from an explosion falling in the foreground, or watching flying shrapnel come right at you, or feeling like you're actually falling into tunnels and shit when the camera chases something.  All that stuff lends to a more enjoyable experience when watching an action movie, and especially for a Michael Bay action movie, where 90% of the film is in those kinds of scenes, it's a huge positive for me.


When he was a VW Bug, he wasn't exactly my favorite transformer.  However, when he became a kick ass Camaro and a freaking master of beating ass, he quickly shot to the top of my favorite autobots list.  He's sensitive, he cares about Sam and protects him with his life, he turns into a pussy magnet of a car and when he gets pissed he destroys anything that gets in his way with an efficiency that is completely unmatched in all 3 transformers movies.  Think about it, even Optimus Prime either almost dies or loses a limb or something in every movie, but bumblebee snaps, kills everything around him and barely gets a scratch.  Dude is a sleeper badass on the highest level.  Also, he doesn't "talk" in the traditional sense, instead he replays recorded samples from radio broadcasts and stuff, so he's kind of got a Snake Eyes thing going on, where not only is he a total stud, but he doesn't have a cheesy voice over or something to completely suck the air out of it.

The Bad

The Plot

The plots of pretty much every Michael Bay film have never been their strong points, so again, I temper my criticism here with the context of the body of work I'm dealing with.  That being said, The Transformers cartoon series had a better, more cohesive and developing storyline than the 3 Transformers movies.  Each movie is a different version of the same thing - not unlike each episode of the cartoon series being a different version of the ongoing battle between the Autobots and Decepticons.  However, there's really not a lot of difference between the basic plot synopsis of any of the 3 Transformer movies.  Other than the character introductions in the first movie and the additions of new good and bad guys to the following two movies, it's basically the exact some movie over and over.

However, Transformers 3 does take a risk, plot-wise, that I suppose either hits or misses depending on your personal opinion.  That risk being the title's namesake - Dark of the Moon.  In Transformers 3, the idea is that an autobot ship landed on the moon, was detected by astronomers on Earth, and the entire moon race was an effort by the US and USSR to get to that ship and find out what was on it.  This inspired an opening sequence where actual footage from the Apollo moon landing and the NASA control room, news footage and shots of the crowds watching the rocket launch were spliced with re-created scenes, original footage with new stuff added into it and so on, to sort of give an authentic, archival footage feel to the premise of this movie.  To me, it got to be a little much with all the different spliced and edited scenes, the incredibly sloppy "JFK" footage and the jumping around from new, "vintage" footage that was in 3D to old, archival footage that, obviously, wasn't.  Sure, it made it easy to tell what was actual footage and what was created just for the movie, but it was a rather long sequence and to me it was too much.  I mean, we get it, the idea of this movie is that Transformers landed on the dark side of the moon back in the 60's and the American and Russian governments covered it up, blah blah blah, let's just get to Rosie in a miniskirt now, ok?

Other than that, though, I have to say it's far and away a better movie than Transformers 2 in terms of overall plot quality.  I liked that, with Transformers 3, it was officially all-out war on humanity.  I liked that they brought in more original Transformers characters, and made them badasses, like Soundwave and Lazerbeak, for example.  I didn't even mind the casting of Ken Jeong - who's fast on his way to being way too overexposed for his own good - to add the trademark yuks that are just as much as part of Michal Bay movies as gratuitous shots of the American flag and slow motion, upward and to the left panning shots of people standing up slowly to look at something off in the distance.

Which brings me to...

The Ugly

Why, oh why, does every Michal Bay movie have to be a 2 1/2 hour long infomercial on pro-military, right-wing conservative populism?  You can't swing a dead cat on the set of a Michael Bay movie without hitting an American flag, and the dialogs have more lifted lines from Bush-era pro-war speeches than a Rudy Giuliani campaign speech.  During this movie, I heard the lines "Sometimes we have to act first and take the fight to the enemy before they can strike us here!" and "Freedom is the right of every person on this planet!"  I felt like I was watching Bush debate John Kerry all over again, only this time he was a 40ft tall robot that turns into a big rig.  Also, there was a nice little gratuitous dig at Obama in the beginning when Sam (LaBeouf) is interviewing for a job and mentions that he received a medal from the president and his interviewer says "From Obama?  Yeah, we're mostly all Republicans here, so..."  Yeah, no shit you're Republicans, the whole movie was draped with more flags and cheap patriotic imagery than a Tea Party rally.

Also, this is what Megatron looks like in this movie:

Hmm... a sickly, seemingly ineffective figurehead leader, draped in an old blanket with a big hole above his right eye where apparently half of his head was blown off and never fixed the entire movie... who does he remind me of...

Damn you, Optimus Prime, as soon as I finish watching this gay porn, I'm coming to get my revenge!

I thought it was kind of a funny joke when I posted this picture, back in my blog post that I made right after Bin Laden was killed:

I didn't think it would actually be the plot of the 3rd movie!

Yeah, not only is Megatron a terrible caricature of Bin Laden, and the efforts by the autobots to defeat him a completely obvious simile to the Bush-doctrine war on terror and mission from God to bring freedom to everyone on Earth, but they even crowbarred in a SEAL team, something that apparently was only added to the movie after the death of Bin Laden.  I mean, come on.  I've read about a half-dozen different articles from people who are furious because Cars 2 is apparently left-wing propaganda aimed at children, where "big oil" is portrayed as the villain and "leftist" ideology about things like global warming and clean, alternative fuels being a good thing is forced down their young, impressionable throats.  To those people, I say, go watch any of the 3 Transformers movies, or anything else Michael Bay has ever put out, and kindly shut the fuck up.  Great, so trying to teach kids that ending our dependence on polluting, foreign oil and switching to cleaner, renewable energy is a good thing is "Left-wing propaganda", but watching a 2 1/2 hour movie about blowing the shit out of everyone who doesn't think America is the greatest country on Earth is perfectly fine?  Yep, sounds about right.

So, in conclusion...

Overall, in spite of all the negatives, when I left the theater after watching Transformers: Dark of the Moon, I was pleased with the experience.  It was, in my opinion, at least tied with the first movie in terms of overall quality, and maybe even a little better in some ways, namely because this is a movie franchise made for 3D, and also because Rosie Huntington-Whitely is so fucking hot that it actually makes me physically angry to look at her.  You know what I mean?  Like when you see a chick and she's so hot that you're like mad that your penis isn't inside her?  Like "Ugh, you fucking hot bitch, why am I not impregnating you right now?!  LIFE IS SO UNFAIR!"  I don't think it deserves the critical panning that it's receiving.  It's kind of funny too, it's getting shit on by the critics on Rotten Tomatoes, but has a really high approval rating from people who've seen it, which kind of makes my point.  It's not a masterpiece of film making, just like basically every other movie Michael Bay ever has, or will, make, but it's a good popcorn movie.  It's a fun, entertaining, action-packed, visually-pleasing way to kill 2 1/2 hours in a nice, air-conditioned theater when it's stupid hot outside.  I personally think that you get your money's worth on this one.  Sure, it's not going to win any awards, but who gives a shit, I could look at Rosie's nipples in 3D all Goddamn day long, and plus Bumblebee is awesome, and Julie White as Sam's mom is as funny as ever.  Go watch it, it's gotta be better than that Green Lantern shit fest...

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