06 July 2011

First Impressions: Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Part II; Blood and Precious Metal

Alright folks, it's time to really get into this flick. Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) had one of the hugest worldwide box office weekends of all time (actually recently American movies are doing very well overseas, it's clear that just like everything else we will soon be completely outsourcing our Film Audiences) with a plot that is very comprehensible for a Transformers flick. I am really into a lot of the characters here, mostly the mechanical ones and they're worthy of discussion. Also check out my more contextual impressions. We'll go through this toilet bowl style, talking about the ancillary characters before twirling down to the center core. Let's Roll!

Perfect Emulation: Re-Colours

The original Transformers television series was infamous for killing off characters only to replace them with marginally different ones. The toy lines would follow suit coming up with basic re-colourations of the same figure. Thus Starscream becomes Thundercracker and so on. So we've got retreads of Brawl and Long Haul and Scrapper and all these guys that just appear for no reason. Dark of the Moon generally does a better job with introducing a few of the Transformers than Revenge of the Fallen (2009) did, but there's still these very general Decepticon Armies and random Autobots that show up for no reason.

I find it interesting how the Decepticons always have the hugest armies and the coolest shit. Tyrese even agrees. The only thing really standing in their way is Optimus. Not the Autobots, Optimus. I feel like it would be easy to recruit for the Decepticons - World Domination is an easy sell, especially over humans who continually hate them and restrict their freedom (wtf Frances McDormand?). There has been this Decepticon Escalation throughout the three films. In Transformers (2007) they had much greater reliance on stealth and sneaking around the humand and Autobots present (more on how Megatron relates to this later). You still see this a little bit in Dark of the Moon with Soundwave disguising himself as Rosie's car and Laserbeak transforming and hiding just about anywhere. They're Decepticons - they're deceivers!

New Arrivals to the Party:

In Revenge of the Fallen though the Decepticons decided to unleash themselves onto the world but their greatest fighting force still ended up in an Egyptian desert. Here they've claimed Chi-Town with no prisoners. They brought their spaceships and guns and everything mean and nasty they have left. This includes Shockwave and his Driller, who is really one of the more Badass Transformers present. Shockwave was always this emotionless dude, he was the only one who actually acted like a robot. He's a cold killer and his presence here just emits that. He actually killed Jolt off-screen, apparently. So that's what happened to that useless character. Driller is the closest thing that could top Devastator, it's big and hungry but fast as well, unleashing city-killing power in a way that's hard to believe Devastator could. All Devastator can do is punch and eat Pyramids, after all.

There are some other weird-ass Decepticons running around here. Igor is supposedly a formerly severed head, what the hell is this thing doing running around Megatron's Secret Shitty African Base? Is he just for creepy pathetic effect? Then there are the Dreads, who are actually pretty cool, there's Crankcase the Predator, Hatchet the Dog Thing and Crowbar the...Other One. They actually get their asses handed to them by Ironhide and Sideswipe, who are by far the two coolest Autobots to never get good screen time, I was pumped.

NASCAR and Transformers: Perfect Advertising Brothers.
I feel like some Target suddenly...
As for the other Autobots we've mostly got the Italian Dino (or is he Mirage? Why the hell can't the production team ever pick names?) and the weird Scientist dude Que. Or is it Wheeljack? C'mon guys. Que wins the creepiest Autobot Face Ever Award and also one of the sadder (more pathetic) deaths via execution squad. After that there are The Wreckers, which should have been cool additions but they tend to just drive around firing their machine guns while the Decepticons have giant drilling worms, spaceships and huge missile launchers. Also Leadfoot is like Fatbot why would you make a fat robot? Anyway, who knew Jimmie Johnson had been driving a Transformer?

I should mention Sentinel Prime here. He's the most complex and dignified Villain in a Transformers Film to date and his prestigious Nimoy voice speaks to that. There are so many Spock references in this flick, it's clear that Bay was excited to get the dude who once voiced Galvatron. Now if they had Maurice LaMarche doing an Orson impression, that would make things really come full circle. Sentinel Prime is supremely powerful, only he and Megatron have been able to take down Optimus Prime and I'd say he would have devastated Megatron if he was expecting it. You can see he retains much of his Autobot ideology tho through despair and defeat he had switched sides. More on that later.


Bumblebee does his schtick again, getting his big kill with Soundwave, one of the more bigger villains in the film. He also has probably the coolest stunt, the jump/launch Sam/fight/transform back with Sam in the passenger seat which is amazing. Like I mentioned earlier, I was very happy to see Ironhide finally relevant...then die immediately afterwards. Ratchet though is yet again useless. They really mostly retained the cool Autobots - Sideswipe returns but the Arcees and Volt are gone. I think that Skids and Mudflap should have been in the movie had this happened to them. If you remember, that was almost the death I wanted them to have in Revenge of the Fallen.

Starscream is back to being a badass, tho his death here is actually fitting for how much of a bitch he really is. He's the only Transformer ever to be killed by Shia LeBeouf. That scene went on way too long though. Soundwave is back on the ground and doing what he should be although the Decepticons seem to have abandoned their hacking prowress. Soundwave has a new pet, Laserbeak who is just brutal, he really gives the film a good edge and consequence. And finally Barricade is back and a badass, unflinchingly executing Que as he begs for his life. It's all part of Dark of the Moon's heightened stakes and precarious tone - it manages a great "anyone can die" mode after a while.

Megatron and Optimus:

Megatron's arc through the Trilogy is the most interesting of all the characters. In the first film the Decepticons were really pretty scared, they ran from the Autobots, they hid and snuck around all the humans who had aligned with Optimus. This is all until they free their Lord High Protector Megatron. Megatron doesn't acquire an earthly alt-mode, he keeps his Cybertronian Jet because he doesn't give a fuck. He's Megatron, dammit! He's not hiding. Only Death from a power overload from the AllSpark stops him.

Nice to have on your side during a Zombie Outbreak
In Revenge of the Fallen he's revived with an even more Badass Flying Cybertronian Tank Alt-Mode but he's still subservient to The Fallen for the entire film. As the film ends he's severely wounded by Optimus and witnesses him killing his master. Megatron could only do the next best thing - instead of killing Optimus' mentor, he corrupts Sentinel Prime and makes him into an ally.

Throughout Dark of the Moon Megatron is forced into what he had rejected - hiding. He's got one of the worst alt modes in the Trilogy, a beaten down rusty Mack Truck. He's unable to prove the leadership he commanded with ease in the first two films and instead forced to stand around and watch Sentinel Prime assume control of his Armies. Somehow Rosie Huntington-Whitely brings this to his attention and he finally has a little badass moment when he saves Optimus from the assault of his Former Mentor and then offers Optimus a truce.

This is actually a complicated moment. Optimus sees that if he were to ever align himself with Megatron he would turn into Sentinel Prime. After all, with Sentinel's ass whooped and Megatron still injured, Optimus at this point would be the undisputed Autobot and Decepticon Leader. It's almost like the way it was back on Cybertron when this was the case prior to Civil War. Optimus isn't a punk though. He knows it's too late to reconcile. The Decepticons are deceivers and Megatron is the most deceptive of all - he already corrupted Sentinel regardless of what Sentinel says (Megatron claims him his "Greatest Victory"). Perhaps Optimus realises that his power would too corrupt if he allied with Megatron. Optimus uses this moment to kill Megatron and then Sentinel, knowing that the Sentinel he once trusted already died long ago when he forsook his honour to work with the Decepticons. This is why it's really a tragic ending for Optimus. He kills two Transformers who were once his closest confidants with the knowledge that he's an earthling now.

So Optimus is still mostly awesome. He's finally got his trailer in action and uses it for access to a ton of badass weapons. Why doesn't he ever let his fellow Autobots get some of those jetpacks and guns? Ratchet could have used something more than his useless Medigun at Chernobyl. The only problem is when Optimus gets tangled up in those wires for half the Chi-Town battle. What the hell, Optimus? You're going to get eaten by Tarantulas that way, buddy. I suppose it's the only way to give a little more tension in the final battle before Optimus Deux Ex Machinas his way through the Decepticon Front Lines. I mean, when there's all this devastation and you're thinking "How will the Autobots ever survive? The only thing I can think of is Optimus!" and it turns out that the only way for them to survive IS Optimus, it's necessary to literally tie him up for a bit in between Fantastic Action Set Pieces.

Puny Humans and Random Final Thoughts:

I mentioned before that in movies previous the Decepticons always had to tip toe around the occasional powerful human because they were all working with the Autobots. Not here, baby! This time the Decepticons are fully immersed in corrupt Humans and they got McDreamy. Way cuter than Jon Voight, man.

Is Josh Duhamel an action star yet? Cuz he's trying really hard! Tyrese might be. They need a Fast Five (2011) / Transformers crossover, that'd be perfect.

Linkin Park's new track, "Iridescent" is a much wimpier song than prior Transformers songs but it actually works more for some of the more introspective scenes and tone set by Dark of the Moon. by the way, how the hell has Linkin Park gotten this song deal? How is it reliable that Linkin Park will come out with a new song for each Transformers movie? Actually the franchise is one of the few movies that have signature songs any more, which is kind of neat..

I needed to say this somewhere, I do take issue with the Autobots "covert" Iranian mission - what the hell? Isn't it obvious that the government is working with the Autobots and the Autobots are blatantly attacking Iran? Wouldn't that be cause for a huge war? What the hell? I only take solace that this brief scene was the most racist part of a Transformers film for once.

The most exciting thing about Dark of the Moon is that there is room in Transformers Mythos for a yet bigger 4th film. Transformers: Boogaloo of Lightning (2013), if it's ever made, and that growing Overseas Market may be just tempting enough, it would have to feature Megatron remade as Galvatron and a Maurice LaMarche-voiced Unicron. That actually makes me excited. That or Beast Wars, obviously.

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