Review by Gary Liew, from the All Action, No Plot Movie Club
“And finally, it has come full circle.
The first Transformers was somewhat of a surprise hit amongst audiences, with its epic showcase of top-tier CGI action sequences held together by a Spielberg-ian coming-of-age story about a boy and his car. Then Revenge of the Fallen came and squandered much of the potential the franchise seemingly had, reaffirming the fact that sequels are for the most part, inferior to their original counterparts.
Now, thankfully, Dark of the Moon, the third and final instalment in the Transformers trilogy, for the most part restores some goodwill and respect to the franchise. The film is slightly better written (which isn’t saying much) and boasts an epic hour long climatic action sequence that is bound to satisfy those craving for a blockbuster action fix. Though Michael Bay manages to restraint his over-indulging stylistic sensibilities to address the overarching issues of its predecessor, those issues by and large still remain, even if they are somewhat toned down.
For one, the film is long. Clocking a mammoth 154 mins, the film is a drag to slog through, especially on a second viewing. As a large chunk of the action takes place in the last hour, audiences are subjected to almost 90 mins of clunky exposition and unnecessary plotting. The film paces back and forth constantly between the Autobots conflict with the Decepticons and Shia LaBoeuf’s Sam Witwicky dealing with the mundane aspects of normal life like looking for work and the dilemma of being sidelined despite saving the human race twice, which doesn’t gel mechanically (no pun intended) with each other to form an organic or interesting dichotomy. The moment Sam secures his first job, the Transformers enter the picture and that entire subplot is left to dust.
Performances are mostly okay. Shia himself walks the fine line of being funny and tiresome at the same time, constantly berating and being an over-reacting asshole. Character actors John Malkovich and Frances McDormand are surprise inclusions but whose characters ultimately amounts to nothing. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson do best with what little they have. John Turturro is serviceable as the comedic relief even if his role feels shoehorned in, and kudos to Patrick Dempsey for a refreshing turn from his usual “McDreamy” roles to offer something a little different than what we expect of him.
However, most eyes will be on Rosie Huntington-Whitley as the replacement eye candy of fan favourite Megan Fox. It is a shame that Fox’s role in the first two films are completely diminished here with simply a throwaway line or two. Rosie on the other hand proves she’s no slouch in the acting department (for a supermodel that is) and exudes ease with scenes that require her to, ahem, flaunt her gifted physical assets. Where Bay indulges again in his excessive rendering of beautiful women is introducing us first to her character with an upskirt shot of her rear end walking up the stairs in slow-motion. Cringe-worthy as it is, I believe the intended outcome was meant for the raging hormonal male teen demographic – many of which elicited wild cheers in my theatre.
There’s been a negative sentiment towards the use of racial stereotypes in Revenge of the Fallen, and these problems seem to have trickled itself into the third. Several Transformers are still defined by their multicultural accents to differentiate themselves from the others, relying completely on racial archetypes to form a caricature of a personality. Then there’s Ken Jeong, whose recent output has simply been a parody of his character in the first Hangover film, cranking racial slurs and maniacal behaviour to the eleventh.
Where Dark of the Moon mostly succeeds, is in delivering incredible visual-effects action. Amidst a sea of poorly post-converted 3D films, Michael Bay’s use of actual 3D cameras in his debut foray of that format brings us what may be the best live-action 3D film ever made. That may be a bold statement considering Avatar deservedly retains that honour, but here, the 3D compliments the plethora of crazy action set pieces and immerses the audience fully into the visceral experience of the action. Bay wisely discards the quick-cut, shaky-cam Bourne style camera that bogged down the viewing experience in the second film with well-framed wideshots of the action to establish a sense of depth, perception and geography, allowing longer shots to linger with cuts few and far in between. The sound design definitely heightens the tension, and Steve Jablonsky’s sweeping score occasionally elevates the action into realms of epic highs.
The pacing of the action however is hit or miss. Bay proves he masterfully commands well-choreographed individual action sequences but fails to weave them as strands to form an emotional collective whole. Much of this problem is prevalent in the final act – the connective tissue between each set piece are largely gaps of dull expository moments filled with weird humour, and as such much of the momentum from the previous set piece is lost upon arriving at the next. Great action is like a dance number, as quoted by Jon Chu of the Step Up films – there are three acts, each act serves to up the ante of the climax. It’s not all spectacle, flow and pacing play a large part in making those action beats count. As such, each set piece in Dark of the Moon serves only to be admired on a visual level with only a hint of stakes to form a tiny fabric of story progression. Still, a few memorable set pieces – highlights include a collapsing skyscraper, an amazing 3D sequence with military men gliding in sky-diving suits and a drawn-out robot battle taking place in a rundown, decimated Chicago – needs to be seen to be admired.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find any action films this year nearing the level of epic awesomeness that only giant robot battles can conjure. Fans can certainly be happy that Optimus Prime is finally the badass he was meant to be – featuring prominently in most of the film’s signature set pieces. As the final entry in the franchise, the Transformers future in the live-action format is ready for a refuel – whether it’s in the form of another trilogy or a complete reboot – but for now, this is the event movie of the year that needs to experienced, in 3D no less – which alone is worth the price of admission.
The sparks of the Transformers franchise may have fizzled, but what an incredible fizzle it was.”