Super Serial – Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Chicago

C+

Super Serial aims to dissect series of pop art — be it a filmography, discography or run of comics — by looking at its individual components.

Because Dark of the Moon just came out, I can’t yet give it a true Super Serial column with annotations and the like. However, I thought it would be cool to time my re-evaluation of the Transformers movies so the last week of the series would coincide with the release of what may actually be the last big-screen Transformers outing… at least for the moment. For now I’ll just present my DoTM write-up as an actual review; when the DVD comes out, I’ll revisit it, adding notes, talking about specific plot points and in general giving the series a more satisfying wrap-up.

In keeping with critical consensus, I’m in the camp that feels DoTM is director Michael Bay’s strongest Transformers feature yet. Though the movie has its problems, I think that Bay has finally figured out how to make an actual satisfying movie starring the Robots in Disguise. While the plot’s beyond ludicrous, the visuals in this movie — particularly the action setpieces — are astounding; in many ways, this film finally delivers the spectacle that the series’ previous films only teased.

Dark of the Moon‘s story, such as it is, is likely to provide the biggest stumbling block for viewers, especially those who aren’t already sold on the central conceit. Of all Michael Bay’s Transformers films, it’s certainly the most complicated; however, it also makes the least sense (which is probably saying a lot). Moon‘s plot is byzantine simply because the movie needs it to be; how else could all the dominoes be set up for the final hour-plus of action? There are numerous points in this film, especially in its first hour and a half, where the movie could end — or at least be significantly sped along — if characters acted with a degree of sense and reason. I don’t want to name any specifics so as to not spoil anyone who hasn’t seen it, but the Optimus/Sentinel Prime scene in the desert (which, why are they in a desert?) drives me mad.

However, if you can get past all the maneuvering this film has to do to set up the final battle sequence, Dark of the Moon is pretty fantastic. Finally Michael Bay’s camera has learned the tiniest bit of discipline, apparently due to the demands of making a movie in 3D. That allows the film to really focus on the amazing visuals afforded by giant robots, and boy are there a lot of them in Moon. The Decepticon invasion scenes here finally lock down a tone befitting the unimaginable scenario of giant robots nesting on Earth. The scenes where Chicago’s transformed into a Decepticon fortress totally work, and they finally offer a believable reason for human beings to be so central to these movies. While I hated the human involvement in Transformers (’07) and found it barely tolerable in Revenge of the Fallen, I really enjoyed it here. Maybe that’s because I live in (or around) Chicago, but I find that giving the human characters a legitimate reason to fight for their home makes their role in these movies so much more compelling.

And speaking of those humans… as much as the Transformer battles in DoTM are cool, I think my very favorite scene in the movie features mostly human characters. The entire sequence in which Lennox, Epps and their assault team scale a skyscraper to take out a Decepticon weapon is among the most viscerally amazing I’ve ever seen in film. This segment seemingly finds endless ways to be inventive; just when you think it’s exhausted its possibilities, Michael Bay finds another way to up the stakes. Those wide shots, especially, where we see Chicago’s architecture crumbling under the might of the Decepticon empire… those are something to behold.

If you’re looking for a big, dumb action movie to entertain you, you probably won’t be disappointed with DoTM. There’s nothing about it that’s actively bad (as in Transformers or Fallen), you just have to sit through a little mindless plot to watch some stuff blow up real good. If this truly is the end of the Transformers franchise (something that seems hard to believe given how much money it makes), at least fans get to go out on a movie that really brings the scale and grandeur of the 1980s cartoon to life. It’s not perfect, but hey… it’s the best we’ve got.

tags: dark of the moon, michael bay, super serial, transformers

  • http://twitter.com/pinkstonaa Aaron Pinkston

    I am with you on this film, it is clearly the best of the Bay Transformers films.  The emotional arc of the story, however, is what I would call “actively bad.”  Bay has always been known as a first-and-foremost visual action director, but he always insists on having this truly awful romantic and family plotlines.  In Dark of the Moon, it is absolutely apparent that most of the story was devised with Megan Fox still in mind, otherwise, why are we to think that Witwicky falls so head-over-heals for such a waifish shrew?  Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is surprisingly fine as an actress here, but all we know of the character is that she is not any actual representation of a human woman.  And the dismissal of Megan Fox’s character is outrageously maddening.  They were obviously in a tough space parting ways with Fox, but why do they have to feel like they need to simply replace her and keep a sense of destined love intact?  Isn’t the destruction and enslavement of the human race enough motivation for Witwicky?

  • http://nerdynothings.com Noah Nickels

    I think you are being overly harsh, Aaron. I think Shia and Rosie had ten times the chemistry that he and fox had. And I strongly disagree that this new love interest was supposed to be megan fox, they explain it perfectly and most of the relationship has taken place before the movie starts. They can’t spend too much time concentrating on the “how did they fall in love” aspect of the story, this is after-all a movie about robots blowing up the world.

    and categorizing her as a “waifish shrew” and not a representation of a human woman seems downright mean, no matter how puffy her lips were.

  • http://twitter.com/pinkstonaa Aaron Pinkston

    I’m just saying, the first two films spent a lot of time building up that Sam and Mikaela were destined to be together.  This film did zero to make us believe that there was any semblance of a relationship.  And like I said, I though that Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s performance was just fine, better than Megan Fox was in either of the first two films, but can you name more than 1 personality trait that she had?  What were some positive features of her character besides that she is beautiful?  At least they gave Mikaela some sort of backstory and other abilities than being saved.

  • http://nerdynothings.com Noah Nickels

    She was clearly very intelligent  — she worked in the white house. She was accepting of Witwicky despite the fact that for the most part he was an extremely emotional asshole and she supported him when he needed it most. Lastly, she believed him when he said he saved the world twice! I didn’t find their relationship as preposterous as you did. I don’t see how it’s that far fetched that he was able to find someone else to fall in love with.

  • http://twitter.com/pinkstonaa Aaron Pinkston

    You make a few good points, and I did like her scene with Megatron toward the end.  I of course don’t think it’s “far fetched” that he could fall in love with someone else, but you can’t deny the first two films made a clear point of destined love that is tossed aside in a single line.  The overall story arc from the first film to the third would have made much more sense if it had been Mikaela throughout and there just is something that doesn’t sit well thinking that we can replace female bodies on the screen.  Am I putting too much stock into something so minor in the franchise?  Maybe, but if you look at nearly all of Michael Bay films, this relationship is a vital component: save the world so you can save the girl.

  • http://nerdynothings.com Noah Nickels

    I can see a point being made about women not being interchangeable parts, but i don’t think that’s what is going on here. How would you have felt if they kept her name Mikaela but just changed actresses?

  • Anonymous

     My thing about the relationship – I do feel like the
    dismissal of Mikaela was sloppy and was handled in about the worst way
    possible. I don’t hate Carly, though I feel Bay sexualizes her even more than
    he did Megan Fox. The relationship doesn’t especially work for me, nor do many
    of the human-to-human moments in any of the TF movies. I agree with Aaron,
    though, that Carly’s scene with Megatron is pretty cool, and its inclusion really
    surprised me. I welcome the cleverness she displays there.

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