Paramount // 2011 // 154 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // February 17th, 2012
The battles are over. The war begins.
You can't say you weren't warned.
Though he's helped save the world on two prior occasions, Sam Witwicky (Shia Lebeouf, The Battle of Shaker Heights) can't get any respect. Sure, he's got a hot new girlfriend (Victoria's Secret model Rosie Huntington Whitely in her acting debut, stepping in for Megan Fox), but he can't find a job and no one at the government will hook him up. Of course, they're preoccupied by a decades-long coverup of the fact that a Transformer was discovered prior to the original moon landing, and that Neil Armstrong's famous walk was actually masking an investigation. Feeling betrayed, Autobot leader Optimus Prime (yes, this is a movie in which a robot gets his feelings hurt) travels to the moon and discovers the long-dormant body of Sentinel Prime, the original leader of the Autobots. He is revived just in time for the Autobots to discover that the injured Megatron (voiced again by Hugo Weaving of The Matrix) and the evil Decepticons have a master plan to activate a bunch of hidden ancient pillars and turn Earth into the new Cybertron. For some reason, this involves the total destruction of Chicago.
I was not a fan of Michael Bay's first Transformers movie when it was released in 2007. I didn't like the "humor." I didn't like the fact that for a movie about giant robots fighting (which has always been the defense as to why I should lower my expectations when talking about the movie, because I'm not supposed to expect anything more than a movie called Transformers than than it have Transformers in it; to me, that's the very least it should have), there's not a whole lot of giant robots fighting. I didn't like that there were no stakes in the movie at all. We all should have been amazed at the fact that not one but two races of giant robots came to Earth, and we should have cowered in fear as they used our planet as a battlefield on which to engage their lifelong war with one another. Instead, they mostly hid in the front yard of a suburban house and then slapped each other around for the last 20 minutes. None of it meant anything.
Then came 2009's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the longer, louder, dumber sequel which was pieced together during a writers' strike (it showed), but which went on to make insane amounts of money despite the fact that I've never talked to single person that actually liked it. Instead of taking away the right lessons from the first movie, Bay just piled on more of the worst stuff: more humor (only this time, it was even more crude and racist), more indistinguishable characters, more "plot," more noise, more everything.
I won't go so far as to say that last summer's Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the third film in the series, addresses all of these problems, but Bay and screenwriter Ehren Kruger (he of Reindeer Games fame) do seem to at least attempt to fix some of what's been so awful about the previous two Transformers movies (because even though the accepted wisdom is that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is horrible, the first movie gets a pass for some reason; it shouldn't). It's a lot of the stuff you've already heard: the use of 3D has forced him to slow down his editing and hold shots for longer. The action makes more geographic sense, so that you at least know where you are in relation to what's on screen -- most of the time, anyway. We understand what all of the characters, both human and robot, are after, even if the way they go about getting it makes zero sense much of the time. Most importantly, though, it's the first movie in a series in which the Earth is supposed to be at stake where it feels like the Earth might be at stake.
Of course, that trademark Michael Bay "humor" is still very much present, and it's as sexist and racist and horribly unfunny as ever. There's no robot balls and no one gets peed on, but there's enough homophobia and other stupid stuff to sink several moments that otherwise might kind of work. It's one of Bay's biggest problems -- not only does he have no idea what's funny, but he doesn't even know where to put the bad jokes. The first hour of the movie is filled with this kind of stuff. That's fine. It's horrible, but it's not stepping on anything except my enjoyment. But even as the action ramps up and things get more intense, Bay still can't stop with the awful jokes. Forget the actual content; the timing and placement is completely wrong. When the entire city of Chicago has been decimated and everyone has been killed (including me, I assume) and a ragtag band of survivors is on a suicide mission to rescue a Victoria's Secret model and stop evil robots from teleporting their home planet of Cybertron right on top of the Trump Tower, leave that tender moment alone. For starters, that's entertaining enough. I don't need a laugh on top of it. Second, the "laugh" (it's not funny) steps on any tension that's been built up. Sometimes, that's ok; Speed was pretty good about relieving tension with a joke. Bay won't even let us get tense. He's too busy making us not laugh.
There are so many more problems with Transformers: Dark of the Moon than just that. At two and a half hours, it's about an hour too long; get rid of the entire first hour of bogus exposition and character "business," and maybe you've got something. None of the characters are remotely interesting or likable or sympathetic -- least of all Shia Lebeouf's Sam Witwicky, who remains a shouty, obnoxious, shouting douchebag for the third movie in a row. I had hoped we might see the character grow up a little this time around, but no such luck. The movie still can't really think of much reason to have him around, either, though I guess "rescue his girlfriend" (played by a blonde girl in underpants who is not Megan Fox) is more purpose than he's been given in the past two films. Heavy hitters like John Malkovich, Frances McDormand and John Turturro are all brought in to collect a paycheck and afford the movie an air of respectability, but they're just as guilty of shameless mugging as Labeouf. I'm more willing to tolerate from them, but that doesn't excuse it.
But I'm the jerk. We don't go to Transformers movies to be impressed with character and performances. We should, because the fact that we don't is yet another example of how we've collectively agreed to let the bar be lowered on what we consider entertaining, but that doesn't change the fact that we're all only in it for the spectacle. On that front, Dark of the Moon delivers more than the past two movies combined. The final hour of the movie, essentially an extended fight-and-rescue sequence in Chicago (why Chicago is never explained, but I don't care because I can see my house from here), has some incredible moments. It's not just the special effects and giant robots, either; Bay and Kruger have actually sat down and devised some set pieces designed to show us things we haven't seen in a movie before, like a an entire sequence inside a building that's falling over (because the statute of limitations has run out on avoiding explicit 9/11 imagery in our summer blockbusters) or an aerial sequence in which a team of soldiers jump out of a plane and fly through the city in wingsuits. So what if it makes no sense and that there must surely be a more effective way to combat giant robots destroying the city than guys dropping out of planes in wingsuits. It looks incredibly cool.
And yet, thanks to the wonder of high definition, practically none of the complaints matter. Bad movie or not, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is an incredibly kick ass Blu-ray -- the kind of movie for which the format is practically made. The feature is offered on two separate Blu-ray discs: a 3D version and a standard 2D version on a second disc. I don't necessarily have any complaints about the 3D presentation, except for the fact that it's in 3D. Maybe I'm not the right guy to talk about it, because I still don't see the point of the format. The good news is that there isn't any wacky 3D "business" in the movie; Bay just uses it to establish depth in the frame, which he does pretty well. It just doesn't make it any better as a movie, and feels totally superfluous -- especially on a home setup. Still, if you're a fan of 3D, you won't be let down by the job that Paramount has done here. The 1080p transfer on both HD options is pretty much perfect, showing incredible detail even amidst the film's too-busy robot effects; colors are vibrant, skin tones look good (if way too orange, because Michael Bay) and every single thing in the frame looks razor sharp. Sure, none of the images amount to much -- and at times don't even make sense -- but goddamn do they look great. And the sound? Prepare to be completely blown away by the thundering, perfect 7-channel lossless audio track. Just the opening Paramount logo offers some of the coolest surround effects I've ever heard (it's become a staple of the series), and things only get better from there. The dialogue sounds great (as long as you ignore what they're actually saying) and never gets drowned out by the insane explosions, metal-on-metal fistfights, machine gun fire, roaring engines, supermodel acting -- everything that Bay and his team throw into the mix is expertly separated and crystal clear. Again, I wish all of this excellence was in the service of a better movie, but there's no denying that this is one of the best-looking, best-sounding Blu-rays on the market.
Paramount appears to have followed the Avatar model in releasing Transformers: Dark of the Moon on Blu-ray, putting out a bare-bones HD version shortly after the theatrical window, while making it very known that another version of the movie would be coming out in a short time with way more special features. I'm not necessarily a fan of studios double dipping, but if they're going to be this upfront about it, we've really got nothing to complain about and no one but ourselves to blame if we're unable to wait for the more complete release. Those who did hold off on Transformers: Dark of the Moon will be justly rewarded with the sheer amount of content on this special edition; not only is there a 3D Blu-ray, a 2D Blu-ray and a standard DVD copy of the movie (plus both a digital copy and Ultra Violet copy for playback on portable devices, meaning there are five different ways to watch the movie in just this release), but a fourth disc contains a boatload of supplemental features, all presented in 1080p HD. By far the best of the lot is a fairly in-depth "making of" documentary called "Above and Beyond." Though it's broken down into five individual segment, it can be played as one long feature that runs nearly two hours, covering pre-production (including the switch from Megan Fox to Rosie Huntington-Whitely, which I appreciate being addressed even though not everyone is totally forthcoming about the reasons for the split -- leave it to Michael Bay to just come right out and say "She didn't look like Megan [Fox] anymore..."), the complicated shoot, the use of the heavy 3D cameras, visual effects and much, much more. Fans will have to do with this in place of a Michael Bay commentary (say what you want about his movies, his commentaries are usually pretty honest and interesting), but given the scope and scale of a movie like this, actually seeing the way sequences are staged is probably more value than just hearing the director describe it. Even if you can't stand the movie (and who could blame you?), there's real value in watching the way an effects-intensive franchise blockbuster like this is put together.
The other featurettes are more specialized in nature and will likely be more appealing to the more hardcore fans of the series. There's an interesting effects breakdown that offers a number of action sequences to be viewed either in their previsualization stage or side-by-side with the final film. A piece on NASA and its involvement in the film feels mostly promotional in nature, while a collection of more EPK-style featurettes focus on different aspects of the movie from the 3D technology (on which James Cameron makes an appearance) to the sound design to guys doing the impressive aerial stunts during the Chicago sequence. The remainder of the bonus section is devoted to extensive storyboard and art galleries, as well as stills of the movie's marketing and various promotional tie-ins used to drum up interest in a movie that was always going to do just fine on its own.
Even with its few not-terrible aspects, there is so much that's bad about Transformers: Dark of the Moon that I refuse to think about it any longer -- it's not going to help the movie, and it's certainly not going to help me. It's the first movie in the series that didn't make me hate my life, and I guess that should count for something. That's as far as we've sunk in talking about these films. I don't ever need to see it again, and I won't be telling any thinking people who really love movies that they should, either. But it exists, and I did see it, and there you are.
We should expect more.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 7.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 154 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* 2D Version
* Image Galleries
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy
* Official Site