Thanks to my friends at the Silver Snail in Ottawa, I was graciously given the opportunity to attend the debut of Transformers: Dark of the Moon at a special Monday night preview at Gloucester Coliseum, in Ottawa, Canada.
Against my better judgment and in vain hope against hope, I took it.
What Came Before
It’s an odd way to start a review of a movie based on a beloved touchstone of one’s childhood, but it should come as no surprise to anyone who talks to me about my feelings on the first two live action films. Readers of fairplaythings.com are well familiar with my initial reactions to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and multitude of issues with the film. My reaction was clearly blasphemous in the robot collecting community, which lead to a separate lament on how I could call myself a fan and still want a movie worth my time and attention.
Plot holes, offensive (and generally unfunny, low brow) humour, and mischaracterization of Optimus Prime and Megatron, Revenge of the Fallen was not a movie to be proud of. And yet to my surprise it went on to become the second highest grossing film of 2009 (surpassed only by Avatar).
But a curious thing happened along the way to the bank. Director Michael Bay, who came out so fanatically against his critics, eventually admitted that the second “was crap.” For a guy who has long maintained he never wanted to go near the project at all, and who talked the second movie that had made him so much money, it was a startling admission. And from it, the kernel of hope. If Bay actually thought the second movie was garbage, and pledging to do better with the third, maybe, just maybe, there was the possibility it might live up to or exceed the appeal of the first movie.
Certainly, this was a possibility when 15 minutes were screened at the recent Botcon Transformers Convention. The effects looked really cool. The new characters - Sentinel Prime, Shockwave - looked like they had promise. But a memorable movie tends to have memorable performances, and the only notable human was Rose Huntington Whitely as new love-interest, Carly, and she was only notable for being able to look daft and take me out of the film. But still I hoped.
At 7:03 p.m. the movie began. At 8:20, I left to go to the washroom. I had already given up.
Dark of the Fallen
Honestly, the desire to leave was pretty strong at the 45 minute mark. I sat out the entire two-and-a-half hours to see all the wrinkles, uncover the full story, and make my impressions known. Though I really did give it an honest chance, once I turned against the film, there was no going back.
I am loathed to give away plot points for those who want to measure this rotten fish for itself, so I will try my best to stay away from any significant twists and turns. The basic plot is that the Autobots, realizing they are going to lose the war, commission a ship to flee Cybertron with the means to win the war. The ship is shot down in Cybertron’s atmosphere and falls out of control through the stars, only to crash on the dark of the moon in 1961 starting the space race. In the ensuing 50 years, the Decepticons have infiltrated human society to acquire and use this wonder device. Again, not to give too much away, the film culminates with humanity itself threatened by the full force of an invading Decepticon army, in an epic battle for control staged in downtown Chicago.
There are twists and turns of course, specifically involving the role of Sentinel Prime and the mysterious mcguffin in question. And with them come tremendous plot holes which I unfortunately cannot reveal without giving away the surprises, but suffice to say they are not overlooked. If you read below the full post, I’ve listen at least seven that pop out at me. I will say that it makes no conceivable sense that a ship shot down within Cybertron’s atmosphere would tumble through millions of light years to crash land on the only moon of the third planel in our solar system.
What I can say is to the good, there are some incredible robot visuals, particularly the new Transformers mentioned above. Peter Cullen continues to bring a gravitas to his performance of Optimus Prime, and Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson are the best of the human actors, for the most part getting the seriousness of the situation. The plot twists and a few notable surprise guest actors are welcome.
But they cannot overcome the bad. Plot holes you can drive Optimus Prime through. Bay playing to juevenile stereotypes with respect to the new Autobots, notably the Wreckers, Wheelie and newcomer Brains. Though he can certainly make a beautiful fight scene, Bay really is next to useless when it comes to giving a real role to his (few) women actors.
For me, the biggest problem was getting into the film because, somehow, Bay looked at Revenge of the Fallen and somehow decided what was needed was more (of his brand) of funny. So the first hour and a half is filled with the misadventure of Sam looking for a job, visits from the parents, jealous of Carly’s boss, all the while featuring terrible, over-the-top, unconvincing performances by Shia LaBoeuf. Similar situations ensue for John Turturro and John Malkovich. Even during the big fight scenes of the last hour, this form of “hilerity” keeps pulling you out of the film, and preventing me from being carried away for the ride. And kept bringing me back to the same thought.
“Is this really suppose to be funny?”
And I would be remiss without saying that, once again, Optimus Prime and Megatron are badly mischaracterized. Optimus Prime, the great hero, would never say in anger of Decepticons, “We’ll kill them all,” and proceed to do just that, to the point of executing his surrendering foe, or for that matter leave any sentinent life in danger’s way to make a point. Megatron would never be a toady. At least outside of the movie-verse.
A Final Lament
Maybe it is just me. Maybe if I could step away from my love of the Transformers I could be impartial about this film. Maybe the uneven story telling, butt and gay jokes, absence of strong female characters, bad performances, plot holes, and poor characterizations would otherwise be overlooked in favour of a popcorn-heavy evening with friends.
Maybe. Or maybe there are better uses for your $12.
Addendum - Spoiler-heavy Plot Holes as Promised
- Given the Decepticon cannot know that Optimus will ultimately end up with the Matrix (if they even know of its existence prior to the events of Revenge of the Fallen), how do they leave the collaborating Sentinel Prime, the key to the wondrous spacebridge, on the moon for fifty years without attempting a repair?
- Wasn’t the Matrix destroyed at least twice in Revenge of the Fallen (by Spike and later by Optimus when he destroyed the harvestor)?
- Why does Sentinel Prime not take the matrix when he is offered it by Optimus?
- Wouldn’t drawing Cybertron into Earth’s orbit have shattered our planet, which even the old 1984 cartoon recognized as a possibility?
- Why is Megatron left physically deformed but given a new alternate form?
- Why is Sam looking for a job when he has a Presidential Medal of Honour?
- If all hands are on deck to fight the Decepticons, including Wheelie, where are Mudflap and Skids? Or Jolt?
- Why are Wheelie and Brains left to hang with Sam?
- How does Carly know about the Autobots and the Decepticons?