Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Posted in Uncategorized by H on July 18, 2011

There are movies that plumb the depths of humanity. Then there are movies that exhibit the depths humanity will go to make some money. Unfortunately, Transformers: Dark of the Moon falls under the latter.

Following in the footsteps of Transformers 2, the third installment can be described as nothing else but ‘crap’. Yet for the second movie, Michael Bay had excuses:  “The writers’ strike was coming hard and fast. It was just terrible to do a movie where you’ve got to have a story in three weeks. I was prepping a movie for months where I only had 14 pages of some idea of what the movie was.” Well, okay Michael. You were apparently forced to make a movie with no script and fill in the story line afterwards. Perhaps that’s why Transformers 2 swept the awards season for worst movie of 2009.

Unfortunately, Mr. Bay seems to have tried the same method for Transformers 3. And why not, when Transformers 2 made over $800 million on its way to becoming the highest grossing movie of the year. Or perhaps it wasn’t from sheer laziness and greed; perhaps there was a secret writers’ strike that no one knew of. However which way you cut it, Transformers 3 is flat out terrible.

If by some happenstance you don’t know what the Transformers movies are about, here’s a quick summary: good alien robots and bad alien robots descend on Earth, lots of explosions happen, and Shia LaBeouf somehow saves the world and gets impossibly attractive women to fall in love with him even though he’s a sickeningly entitled underachiever who isn’t terribly brave, smart, strong, or charismatic. It would be hardly a spoiler to say that the third installment follows this formula, and with a budget rumors swirling between $200 and a ludicrous $400 million dollars, Dark of the Moon provides all the whizzes and bangs one would expect.

Yet, it also serves up a healthy platter of all the faults we’ve come to expect from the franchise: terrible writing, a nonsensical plot, and stale characters. Michael Bay even surprised us with the introduction of a new flaw for series: god-awful pacing. A large part of this movie was, to be honest, brutally boring. And that’s something I never expected from Mr. Bay.

Transformers 3 has perhaps the most simplified plot of the whole series: a bunch of alien ‘pillars’ landed on the moon, the pillars can teleport entire worlds, if the bad guys get their hands on them the entirety of human civilization will be turned into slaves. There’s not really any more detail or intricacy than that. Sounds, if not trite, at least a decent plot for a mindless action movie, right?

Well, it would be, but that doesn’t seem to be what the movie wants to be about. For the first half of the movie (and it is an exceedingly long 155 minute movie), the plot proceeds with less order and direction than a headless chicken. Thirty minutes in, all we’ve really seem is Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) running between various yet equally pointless job interviews. Oh, and a bunch of extremely sexist shots of the new eye candy, Carly Spencer (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). Sam then lands a job, which seems even more pointless, save for the fact that it introduces John Malkovich as Sam’s boss, Bruce. Malkovich, who never entirely hits full stride, nonetheless steals every scene he’s in. Had the whole movie simply been Malkovich running around, it would have been infinitely more watchable. Alas, right at this point, everyone involved seems to remember that this is a movie about giant alien robots battling for world domination.

After some conspiracy theories about the Apollo moon missions, an appearance by Buzz Aldrin himself, an inexplicably pointless 15 minute tangent to Chernobyl, and the assassination of some random henchmen (including Ken Jeong, who banally plays the same character in every show/movie he does), things start blowing up. First, Washington D.C. (which is actually Chicago, someone having failed to inform Mr. Bay that D.C. doesn’t really have skyscrapers) gets attacked by some robots. At some point around here, Optimus Prime (the leader of the good robots) gives a speech so pathetically contrite that one can only assume the writers were being ironic in summoning every clichéd expression known to man. Then, rather inexplicably, Chicago (actually Chicago this time) blows up in about a minute. I guess we’re supposed to care. Except the only things in Chicago are the bad aliens, an evil Patrick Dempsey, and Sam’s girlfriend, whose face kind of looks like an alien anyways. And it happens so fast and on such a large scale that the CG graphics somehow look less impressive. So, no, we don’t care about Chicago blowing up. But apparently it does anyways.

At this point, the people we do actually care about arrive in Chicago. Except everything is already blown up. And the evil robots have magically become all powerful (one of them is apparently the size of a skyscraper). The good robots come, but for about half an hour of mindless action, they just kind of listlessly stroll around. Optimus Prime accidentally falls into some cable wires and doesn’t come back for a good 15 minutes, at which point he’s still stuck there are awaiting help. Bumblebee (another good robot) surrenders, hears that the bad robots are going to kill him and his other good robot friend, and just stands there even more impersonal than the giant pile of metal that he is. The bad guys almost teleport their home planet to Earth. A building with all the human characters in it gets eaten up by a giant robot.

Then, somehow, inexplicably, all the good guys realize that they shouldn’t suck as much. Optimus, upon being freed by some other robots, all of a sudden realizes that he carries an unstoppable giant sword that he promptly uses to cut through half a dozen bad robots. From this, I can only assume that either A) the bad robots are actually made out of delicate china, or B) those standard looking wires that had previously trapped him were actually made out of some futuristic super strong space age metal. Likewise, Bumblebee realizes, precisely a half second before he is shot, that he actually has a giant cannon attached to his forearm and proceeds to kill half a dozen bad robots with it.

Oh, and apparently the rest of the bad robots can be killed simply by running up to them with bombs and sticking them on their legs. Dammit, Shia. Why didn’t you think of that two hours ago? Then this movie would have only wasted half an hour of my time, rather than an appalling two and a half hours.

To reveal that the good guys win in the end is hardly a shocking spoiler. To reveal that this travesty of a movie has made nearly $800 million dollars worldwide is. So, there will likely be a Transformers 4, another half-assed movie to swindle your money, another boring impersonal movie featuring misogynistic/racist commentary by its director. You’d have to think that at this rate, either Transformers movies will become too dumb for humanity, or humanity will become too dumb for movies. I think it’s a 50-50 tossup.

**** I should note that I saw this not in 3D, but the standard 2D. I should also say that if you are relying on 3D to turn your movie from absolutely abysmal to watchable, you probably shouldn’t be making movies in the first place (see Clash of the Titans).




‘Up’ and Away

Posted in Uncategorized by H on October 22, 2009

While we now call Pixar’s productions ‘animated films’, I had always interpreted that as a euphemism for ‘extremely impressive cartoons’. Pixar arose out of Disney, and no matter how high it soared, it was always standing on the shoulders of works like The Lion King, Aladdin, and The Little Mermaid. Every time I discussed the ‘Best Pixar Movie’, something in the back of my mind always crept up and said “but it just isn’t as good Lion King.” Every movie, that is, until Up came out this year.

I’m not saying that Up is better than The Lion King. What I am saying is that, unlike every other Pixar movie, it doesn’t even cross my mind to judge Up in the same category. Every other Pixar movie follows the fantasy, mysticism, and wonder of Disney: toys that are alive, monsters, insects that talk, fish that talk, superheroes, rats that talk and cook, cars that talk, and robots that oddly enough, don’t talk. Yet, amazingly, Up arrives with human characters, and not even ones that are super strong or invisible or can bend like rubber bands. In fact, Up’s main protagonists are an elderly man named Carl Fredrickson, and a boy scout named Russell. Furthermore, the only things I found wildly unbelievable were the talking dog collars (which isn’t even that unrealistic) and how strong and agile the antagonist is given that he should be almost a centenarian.

The opening scene to Up was the best opening scene to any movie I have ever seen. I’ve yet to see a life portrayed so thoroughly, so intimately, so movingly and so fully in the entirety of any movie as I have in the first few minutes of Up. If it had been a short film that ended right there, Up would still probably be my favorite Pixar production. The film doesn’t use extravagant metaphors or talking animals to present themes of death, mortality, loneliness, and regret; rather, it hits the audience bluntly with them. In these first few minutes, I was genuinely startled to be confronted by completely ‘grown-up’ fears. And for the first time ever during a Pixar movie, the fact that I was watching animation didn’t even cross my mind.

The rest of the movie is just as masterful as the intro. Up is a story about life itself, not just some adventure. Unlike any other Pixar protagonist, Fredrickson is complicated, multi-faceted, and lost. While the plot is superficially driven by a flying house and a flamboyant bird, it’s really towed along by a lack of purpose. Fredrickson has no idea just what it is he really wants, or even that there’s anything left on this Earth for him to want. Yet, amazingly, what’s left by the emptiness is not a void, but an massive realm of possibility.

I’m not saying that I don’t love the other Pixar movies, or that they in any way aren’t great films. But Up is in a league of its own. Every other Pixar movie has ultimately been targeted at kids, with a few innuendos thrown in to equally entertain the adults. Yet, coming out of Up, it didn’t even cross my mind that I had seen a kids’ movie. The most I’ve ever left another Pixar movie with was a cheerful story and a few hours of incredible entertainment. After seeing Up, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for days, and I can count the number of other movies that’s true for on one hand.