05 July 2011

First Impressions: Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Part I

I don't understand why people hate Michael Bay. Hating Michael Bay for making incoherent explosion-filled action films is like hating Chris Rock for being Black. It's like hating Harry Potter for being a witch. You know what you're getting into here, if you're not down with it at the start, stop griping. Michael Bay's immeasurable skills are vastly underrated. There are those that acknowledge him correctly as a genuine auteur. There are those debating his maturity and psychological development, and there are of course those that just tear him down with unnecessary negativity and harshness. Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) deserves more than that. There is much more to say about this movie rather than dismissing it as juvenile fetishism and over-the-top action that obfuscates plot and character development. This is one of the Greatest Summer Movies Ever Made. It's long-range analysis time, folks, SPOILERS everywhere.


Context Through the Oeuvre of Michael Bay:

I'd rather not approach a few issues in this post. There are some issues with plot and characterisation, obviously not everything lines up perfectly, but inarguably this is the most coherent Transformers film to date. Things are big and noisy but generally shit follows a logical and interesting path. It's not all that bad. In comparison to some of what we have expected from Mike over the years, things are sailing pretty smooth here.

Revenge of the Fallen (2009) was a mess. It really was an absolute disaster. It's so continuously obnoxious and crude that even the spectacular action set pieces suffer. I saw the thing twice in 2009, once in 2-D, once more in IMAX. Dark of the Moon rectifies all these mistakes I whined about in that Second Post. The irritating parents are minimalised, there's no loopy sidekicks, no racist caricatures (Tho the Italian-Speaking Ferrari is a nice touch) and no vastly immature jokes. At least none as bad as Enemy Scrotum. As for cameos, this flick is full of them. Ken Jeong, Alan Tudyk, McDreamy, Frances McDormand and John Fucking Malkovich all make pretty great appearances.

Bay is always fast and mean. There are tons of points in Dark of the Moon where he does slow the action down and allow some painful emotion to creep in. He gives plenty of time to develop Rosie and Shia's relationship as well as some really tender moments in the wake of a complete Decepticon Takeover and Autobot Exile. They may seem hokey but the film is dark enough and treats its material more seriously than Revenge of the Fallen. He sells the pace, which really is often too slow rather than too fast. The Wingsuit scene goes on for far too long, as does Starscream's death. There is some room for emotional development here and Shia goes beyond what he's shown himself capable of in previous terrible movies. Rosie is also a much welcome addition over Megan Fox, she is so much less bitchier and gives the film a much sweeter attitude. Although did Shia somehow get her huge mutt in the custody agreement? It works here.

Everything is bigger. Somehow everything is bigger than any other Transformers movie, really bigger than anything Bay has ever done. The scale is enormous. The villains help this quite a bit. While Devastator and The Fallen were certainly threatening, neither are as interesting as Sentinel Prime or as wicked as Shockwave. Megatron's turn here is also a cool development but more on that a bit later.

Context Through Comparable Summer Movies:

Dark of the Moon is an immensely entertaining movie. There's romance, incredible action and sets, and a huge amount of technical achievement. This could become a legitimate multiple-Oscar winning film for its sound and effects. The CGI in this is insane, definitively superior to anything that has come before it. The thing about Bay is that he doesn't do the whole thing CGI. He perfectly integrates an incredibly complex robot model crashing into a real-life car and sells it to an eager audience. There has never been CGI on such a grand scale like this.

Most of this is during the final hour, which is basically a non-stop city-wide giant robot war, the effects of all are intricate while suspenseful and outrageous. They Decepticons sucessfully take over an entire city and Bay does this far better than comparable flicks like Skyline (2010), Battle: Los Angeles (2011) or Falling Skies, both in visual effects, tone and stakes. The Decepticons live up to their name, they're very evil and sneaky, tho it's more through human agents this time around rather than hacking into Government Networks this time around. Some of the shots are brutal, human skulls rolling around, everyone dying (why the hell do Alien Death Rays always leave clothes behind?) There's been this escalation in their tactics in every film and here they have abandoned any kind of subtly in their takeover of Earth. There is a feeling of dread and hopelessness in this film like few before it, there is what feels like a good twenty minutes of unbelievably bad things happening that seems like it'll never have a happy ending.

This is all above and beyond a typical summer flick. Dark of the Moon is less of a fun ride than a desperate thrill ride. It succeeds in entertainment though, which reminds me of how this is how The A-Team (2010) was one of the funner, exciting flicks of last Summer. That and Inception (2010). Speaking of which, Steve Jablonsky has completely ripped off Hans Zimmer's Inception score. It's blatant. But it works...because it's a really good score. I hope that becomes the trend for all serious action flicks from now on.

There are tons of movies that attempt to emulate Bay but none can really pull it off. He's holding back a lot here. There aren't little kids running around screaming about how it's "better than Armageddon" or little robots dry humping Megan Fox's legs. There is a tone here that is not necessarily realist and brooding like Batman but it's certainly got a bit of gravity. It's not like Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007) either, which could be considered comparable in budget, expectations of ridiculousness and position in its Franchise. At World's End couldn't match the tragic, overbearing tone however and its attempts at adequately digesting its plot came off tortured rather than efficient. Parts of Dark of the Moon's plot doesn't make sense but it's able to quickly skip over these parts and instead fill itself with truly impressive effects sequences and emotional peaks and valleys that it never really matters. Dark of the Moon is the King of all Blockbusters. It's the target every other Summer Film should be aiming for. It's the Apex.

Coming shortly I'll get into some of what makes Dark of the Moon tick, it's characters, Autobots vs. Decepticons, the Evolution of Megatron, Rosie's lips, all that juicy stuff. Stay tuned, folks!

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