Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Transformers 3: AKA You Got One More Chance Michael Bay!

I’m not going to go into some long-winded bullshit about Transformer toys, Michael Bay raping childhood, etc. etc.  I did own the toys when I was a kid, but they never really matched in scale to my GI Joes and Star Wars figures, so I didn’t really give much thought to them. I tried to pair up the two but when you folded up the transformers they looked like bumper cars compared to the Joes.  And I now have officially gone on too long about the toys.

Didn’t really give a shit when the first Transformers film came out, but caught it in the theatre and was underwhelmed to say the least. I couldn’t, for the life of me, tell the difference between Optimus Prime and Megatron. And the spastic way the fight scenes were filmed didn’t help... it looked like those old Tasmanian Devil cartoons where he’d whip himself into a dervish and shit would fly out of the tornado.

Second film? Even worse. Had no fucking clue what was going on. Plus they had little Spike Lee-looking “afro-bots” that completely blew with me what little goodwill Bay had for making the awesome THE ROCK.
Third film? Not excited. Bay had two chances to give us all what we really wanted to see: giant robots fighting; and he buggered it both times. But whether it was the marketing or the early positive reviews... or the fact the Rio had a midnight screening and I had nothing else to do, I was suckered out of $15 and two and a half hours of my life.

And surprisingly, I LIKED it. In fact, it may very well be the only summer film so far that I’ll see twice – for sheer spectacle alone. Third time for a franchise is usually far from a charm, but with Transformers, Bay seemed to finally get it. It’s not without flaws – after some really cool retro NASA business (albeit with a badly rendered CGI John Kennedy) the first chunk of the movie is dedicated to Shia Lebeouf looking for a job. The film beats you over the head with the utterly ridiculous fact that this college grad who hangs with giant robots, and got medals for saving the world twice (and in the second, had a shitload of alien knowledge pumped into his brain – can’t believe I remembered that) can’t get a job. That’s right; our hero’s biggest dilemma isn’t robots or alien conquest, but paying the rent. This whole subplot could have been dropped with a snap of Bay’s fingers, leaving more time for ‘splosions. The whole point of this seemed to be to bring in an odd-looking (and I hope those aren’t his real teeth) John Malkovich, who comes on screen, acts a bit goofy, and then is never seen again. The writers should have simply made Shia “liaison to the bots” or some bullshit, and got on with it.

But once the action gets rolling about 30 minutes in, the film becomes a juggernaut. And most importantly, instead of badly choreographed fights and choppy action, we get some truly thrilling beat downs, car chases, and mayhem. It’s as if filming in 3D was like Ritalin for Bay... he finally slowed down and learned how to properly stage his set pieces. Even the human-based action scenes are fluid and well structured. Unlike the first two films, Bay lets the audience know what the fuck is going on.

And the 3D is incredible. What I assumed would be the typical marketing gimmick designed to lift a few more bucks from wallets ends up being quite the masterful use of the tech. I’m not even getting to the best part yet. Quick plot rundown: turns out some cybertron (that’s the bot’s home world) shit crashed on the moon, hence NASA spending most of the ‘60’s trying to get there. Some shit goes down, the Autobots find out about their junk being up there, and head up in a rocket to find the near-death Sentinel Prime (voiced very cooly by Leonard Nimoy – who in a goosebump-inducing moment even throws in a very familiar line from Wrath of Khan). They resurrect the old Prime, and that’s when the shit hits the fan. Soon Shia and his hot new girlfriend are being chased by Decepticons after some space-age macguffin that will destroy mankind.

And I haven’t even got to the best part – the full on invasion of Chicago by an army of Decepticons. We’re talking War of the Worlds/Mars Attacks style mass destruction. Bay and crew manage to pull off the near apocalypse of the Windy City, complete with human incinerations, in a sequence that will most surely win the CG team an Oscar. Add in a shitload of soldiers actually delivering some payback to the ‘cons, some amazing (real) skydiving stunts in glorious 3D, and some well-done robot battles, and we essentially have the epic battle we’ve been waiting for with the Terminator franchise.

The film overall has a more adult sensibility. Gone are the fetchit-bots, the testicle references, the scat and urine humor, and most of the clowning around that marred the first two films. The violence is definitely more visceral – the robots even bleed red – and the ‘bot invasion is quite intense. Hell, even Turturro manages to steal his scenes without resorting to too much muggery. The whole thing is played, thankfully, with a much more serious tone.

Before you think this review is a Michael Bay circle jerk, the film is far from perfect. There are some head scratching moments, including (SPOILER) why the Autobots wait until most of Chicago’s populace is either incinerated down to their skulls, crushed or exploded before joining the battle. I don’t ask for much, but a simple line saying “we tried to make it sooner” would have sufficed. Instead, the autobots come across as dicks. And character development? You expect that from a giant robot flick? Robot Jox had more character development that this. Even the Autobots seem more believable than the human characters.

But if you’re looking for some cheap summer thrills that deliver, and are actually worthy of the 3D technology... I can’t believe I’m saying this... go see Dark of the Moon.


(hangs head in shame)

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