Opinion - Scorsese and Coppola Vs. the MCU: Are we focusing on the wrong argument?
October 25, 2019
Nuking The Cat
Last Refuge of the Sensible Nerd
Movie Review - Transformers: Dark of the Moon
July 14, 2016
It was about a year ago when I started to review the Transformers series of films with the intent of doing something similar to what I did with the Superman film series. Needless to say, I got a little sidetracked. Anyway, you can check out those reviewsHEREandHERE. With news starting to come forth about the currently in production Transformers 5: The Last Knight, I figured I’d better get off my ass and finish off the series and put forth a State of The Franchise address. First things first, though, let’s take a look at Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
For me to say that this film is the best of the series…and not get laughed off the internet…you do have to accept a couple of conceits that I very willingly make when I defend my stance. First, that by no means says that this is a perfect film. Not at all. There are very definitely some flaws, which leads us to conceit numero two-o: you have to consider the source…and by that, I mean the Emir of Explosions himself, Michael Bay. As I stated in discussing the second film, Revenge of the Fallen, and becomes very obvious when watching most of Michael Bay’s films, it’s very clear that Bay has his fingerprints all over every aspect of the film. Most easily detectable is the predominantly juvenile humor that usually feels forced into the script or characters that are created specifically for the film as opposed to drawing from the vast already present and available Transformers that could just as easily fill the role. But I’ll rant more about that later.
Let’s look at the core story here. The Ark, piloted by Sentinel Prime and carrying the materials to create a Space Bridge crashes on the dark side of the moon (yes, yes, of course I know the science and there is no real “dark side” but, again, consider the source, turn off your brain, and let’s move on) which in turn triggers the Space Race of the 1960’s. [And if you’re one of those idiots that believes that the Moon Landing was faked, there’s the door…we’ll wait as you leave. – Ed.] I have to admit, I like it when, as with the first film, the plot or main thrust of the story ties in with something from NASA. We come to find later on in the film (spoiler warning for a 5 year old movie) that Sentinel escaping with the Space Bridge was a plan orchestrated with Megatron in an effort to use humans as slave labor to restore Cybertron…by transporting it to Earth. But what about the fact that in the first movie Megatron’s presence on Earth was due to the fact that he’d detected that the Allspark was here? Yeah, remember what I said earlier, about turning your damn brain off? That. Sure, there are ways to make it work in your head if you think about it, but come on. First, the original Transformers cartoon played it fast and loose with continuity…hell, I think Megatron had at least 3 distinct separate origins…so get off your high-horse. Second, hello, Michael Bay film. The only thing thinking is going to do here is either give you a headache or an aneurysm…or both. Likely both. So do yourself a favor and turn back from that dark abyss while you still can. Still there? No, no, it’s just a nosebleed, you’ll be fine. Hope there wasn’t anything you wanted to remember prior to 2nd grade though. [Get on with it. – Ed.] Now, props to the screenwriter, Ehren Kruger, for grabbing the seed for this story from the G1 multi-parter from Season 1, “The Ultimate Doom”…and now, like then, let’s just ignore the sheer gravitational forces that would be at play if two planets were brought in such proximity to one another, because, again, your brain isn’t welcome here. [Credit to the G1 writers though…at least they had some impacts in their cartoon…active weather, earthquakes and such. – Ed.] Another plot point taken from old G1 is the Autobots being exiled from Earth but returning just in time to stop the Decepticons’ plan. Again, at its core, the story works well…going from the Ark’s journey from Cybertron to the moon, the Autobots’ recovery of Sentinel Prime, Sentinel’s betrayal, the revelation that a cabal of humans have been working with the Decepticons and all of this culminating in the epic battle for Chicago.
Things, however, start to fall apart as we get further away from that…and, perhaps not surprisingly, it’s mostly human-related stuff. The whole Sam and Carly thing doesn’t work (we’ll get to that more in a bit), we get yet another round of Seymour Simmons, Frances McDormand’s Director Mearing character needed to be squashed in the worst way…hell, if it wasn’t for Josh Duhamel’s Lennox and Tyrese Gibson’s Epps, you really could argue against most of the human involvement in this film. The Transformers themselves do contribute to some weaknesses in the film too. Megatron really is more of a third wheel…at best…in this picture. Given what Hugo Weaving has said about his experience working on the films, perhaps this was a conceit to balm his displeasure…or as payback for speaking out against the films. Speaking of Decepticons, the protoforms and their Igor-like caretaker were completely unnecessary. The same really could be said for Wheelie and Brains…actually, if we could just remove Bay from the bot creation…I think that’d be for the best. You see, Wheeljack and Mirage were slated to be in the film. Instead, apparently Mike had Bond on the brain and turned Wheeljack into Que…who I’m guessing turned into a Rolls-Royce and, naturally, was excessively British. Yes, Wheeljack is known for inventing gadgets that help the Autobots on their various missions…but that’s about all the two characters have in common. In G1 lore, Wheeljack had more of a grease monkey’s disposition. Sure, he was brilliant, but his inventions were sometimes a bit slapdash…and as such were just as prone to malfunctioning as they were to working. Mirage ended up becoming Dino…um…because? You see, Mirage was slated to turn into a Ferrari 458 Italia…so Bay’s first thought was to name him Enzo…after Ferrari’s founder. But maybe that was too subtle for Bay? I dunno, all that matters is that on screen, we got a ‘Dino’ that played up as many Italian stereotypes as possible falling just short of having his energon cubes shredded up into a pasta-like confection. And honestly, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if that was on the table at some point. Lastly, I really can’t think of a single reason that the Wreckers exist in this film…they turn into NASCAR racers, one has a ball cap, one has the closest thing to a Cybertronian mullet and the other is, well, fat. Oh, and let’s not forget our Michael Bay diversity training…where one of the Wreckers speaks with a Cockney accent and another with a Scottish because…fuck it, why not?
So let’s talk about one of the big elephants in the room when it comes to this movie; the missing Mikaela Banes. In Transformers 3, we’re told that the character dumped Sam and moved on…all the while leaving him with Wheelie and her dog, Bones. Who does that? Who leaves a relationship and says “You know what? Here, take my dog.” Sure, if I were her, I’d be more than happy to get rid of Wheelie…but the dog? That’s mean, man…just outright cold. No…we have to chalk this one up to some behind the scenes shenanigans. From what I can piece together, it all stems from Megan Fox comparing Michael Bay to Hitler, maybe not the best analogy…especially when your executive producer is Jewish and one of the most powerful forces in Hollywood. The thing is though…having watched the special features for all the Transformers films…is she kinda has a point. Michael Bay seems to run a very tight ship…and at a fast pace to boot. But on top of that, it doesn’t seem like she was too serious in the analogy. At no point did she suggest that Bay was setting up camps or gassing uncooperative actors. Anyway, Spielberg got wind of the comment and Megan got the ax…to be replaced by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Look, I get it, any woman that’s cast for a Michael Bay film is not there due to her acting ability, she’s there to look hot…and maybe act. Maybe. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of taste, but given that I tend to prefer brunettes over blondes…I’m more Team Mikaela, not Team Carly. If you watch the special features on the disc…when the topic comes up, Bay does his best to not step on his boss’s toes, but to say that she just “didn’t look the part anymore” is just pure weak-sauce, especially when the two would work together again on the Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Nope, you can definitely tell that this was a decision made over Bay’s head. Now, aside from the point I made about the dog, this substitution doesn’t really seem to fit story-wise either. You’ve got Sam proposing to Carly by the end of the film and…wait, what? Just…rewind a second. Mikaela breaks up with Sam…then Sam meets and starts seeing Carly. Given that Dark of the Moon doesn’t happen too far removed from Revenge of the Fallen…which closes with Sam in college and Mikaela moving in order to be closer to him…well, Carly’s essentially the rebound girl, isn’t she? And if Sam’s proposing…plus the general fate of rebound relationships…well…this isn’t going to end well, is it?
There’s a lot here to like in the film…believe it or not…so long as you don’t let the usual Michael Bay failed attempts at humor distract you. Yes, Shia LeBeouf overdoes the buffoonery, his parents are there to be inappropriate…so on and so forth. But this is all stuff that you’ve seen in the previous films. Hopefully, you’ve either become numb to it or you’ve learned how to brace yourself against it. The main story is probably the most coherent of the series and definitely the top-notch action and explosions that one associates with a Michael Bay film. Also, the film feels like the conclusion of the trilogy, with plenty of significant deaths and most story threads wrapped up in a neat little bow.
But that was not to be…as the Age of Extinction looms…