Sunday, July 03, 2011

Making light of Dark of the Moon

The first thing you need to know about Transformers: Dark of the Moon is that it's long, and needlessly so. At 2 hours and 34 minutes (and given that I caught a 10PM screening), the third Transformers movie feels interminable, especially considering there's not much of a plot. The Decepticons attempt to take over Earth, the Autobots try to stop them. Almost 2 hours into the movie, I turned to my viewing companion and muttered, "For an intelligent, technologically advanced alien race, it sure is taking them a long time to destroy Earth."

However, the upside is that DOTM does not suck as much as its predecessor, ROTF (Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen). With big, loud action blockbusters like the Transformers movies, lack of a substantial plot is not only expected, but is sometimes preferable over TOO much plot, which ROTF suffered from.
At times, DOTM plays out like a haphazard sequence of events, disjointed much like Green Lantern was. But to its credit, DOTM is more of a crowd-pleaser than GL (although maybe it's because it requires less IQ points to appreciate). Moreover, mercifully, compared to ROTF, Sam Witwicky's lameass loopy parents get far less screentime (really, they shouldn't even have been in this one).

I must give credit to Shia LeBeouf, whose third turn as Sam Witwicky is more animated and engaging than ever. The guy is definitely a character-- take note, I don't mean he HAS character, I'm saying he IS one. But I'm not knocking him for it; in fact, I admire how his expressiveness and natural comic talent are strong enough to anchor such a large-scale production as Transformers (he's like a white Will Smith). Also, LeBeouf's onscreen chemistry with new leading lady/substitute sexpot Rosie Huntington-Whitely is an improvement over his strained rapport with Megan Fox in ROTF, although at the start it's a bit hard to swallow that someone who looks like Huntington-Whitely would ever go for an unemployed loser like Sam.

Huntington-Whitely reminds me of a poutier Cameron Diaz, with an English accent. Playing Sam's girlfriend Carly, the Victoria's Secret supermodel is not as awful as critics have panned, and is marginally less annoying than Megan Fox, but is definitely not winning any Oscars in her lifetime. However, she fulfills the primary purpose of looking smokin' in skin-tight, cleavage-baring outfits. And I have
mad respect for a girl who can run through armageddon in stilettos. As always, Michael Bay doesn't bother to tone down his sexist treatment of women; he's so unapologetic and in-your-face about it that it's almost too ridiculous to be offensive. In one scene, Carly, clad in a very short, very tight dress, unfolds her mile-long legs and climbs out of a car, and there is a tabloid-worthy upskirt shot that is so brazen, for a split-second I forgot to be scandalized.

I think I was more scandalized by the colossal waste of John Malkovich's talent. Playing Sam's eventual employer, Malkovich gets some cheap laughs treading that fine line between crazy and creepy. But it's sad how someone as awesome as Malkovich seems to be content being relegated to the role of lovable loon, just like the last role I saw him take on in the spy caper RED.

The other members of the supporting cast play their parts adequately, with few standouts. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson, reprising their roles as military men Lennox and Epps bring more testosterone to an already overly macho movie.
Patrick Dempsey is serviceable but pretty bland as Carly's dashing, wealthy boss. Frances McDormand gives an effortless performance as the shrewish (Michael Bay's a sexist AND a misogynist) "National Intelligence Director". And John Turturro easily slips back into the character of kooky Agent Simmons (I don't even recall what happened to Simmons in ROTF so I was puzzled as to why he is depicted as ridiculously rich in DOTM). Oddly enough, the most engaging of the secondary characters is Simmons' right-hand man Dutch, brought to life by an enthusiastic Alan Tudyk. Dutch earned the most titters from the audience, and I enjoyed his comic presence more than any of the other supporting players'. But the most special human participation comes from a cameo by Buzz Aldrin (yes, the real astronaut Buzz Aldrin). It's a pleasantly surprising, classy touch in a movie that harbors no pretensions of having any class.

But as in the first 2 Transformers movies, the Autobots are the real stars, and rightfully so. The best action sequences of the movie are those involving Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Ironhide, et al. There's also a goosebump-inducing moment where the Autobots, in vehicle form, dramatically roll down a road, single-file, and it's the one instance that evoked fond childhood memories of the cartoon series.
Sadly though, poor Megatron (not as menacing with half his face falling off) doesn't get sufficient screentime, in my opinion. You'd think the chief baddie who's masterminding the diabolical plan to take over the planet would get more exposure (and Hugo Weaving would get more lines). Thankfully, it's made up for with the introduction of Autobot Sentinel Prime, voiced by none other than Leonard Nimoy. As soon as I recognized the distinct voice, I decided there was no way I'd hate this movie no matter how flawed it is. The Nimoy factor will surely send Trekkers (like yours truly) into paroxysms of geek delight, and there's even the cheeky use of a famous Star Trek line that true Trekkers would catch at once, plus a quick glimpse of a Star Trek episode "where Spock goes nuts".

Aside from banking heavily on star power, special effects and (literally) explosive scenes, DOTM relies on obvious, occasionally cheap comedy to move things along (Ken Jeong of The Hangover fame contributes to this). But if you were to scrutinize the screenplay, the writing is what's truly laughable. I couldn't help but be amused by the unintentional hilarity of the implausible plot points and wannabe-witty one-liners. My favorite bit in the entire movie is when Lennox (Duhamel) commands his men to set their sights on the "cupola" housing the enemy's key weapon. The word "cupola" just seems absurdly incongruous in a film with more shrapnel than sense; I half-expected Lennox's troops to give him blank looks and ask what the hell a cupola is.

All things considered, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is entertaining in spite of the lengthy running time, and if you go in maintaining a sense of humor and willing suspension of disbelief (seriously, suspend it), AND bearing in mind this is a Michael Bay film, it can be a fun, brainless wild ride. With a really hot chick.

P.S. Was it just me, or is DOTM's o
pening sequence either an homage to or a rip-off of the climactic scene in the Battle of Yavin from Star Wars?


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