It wasn’t hard not to loathe Transformers: Dark of the Moon after the train wreck that was Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Even slight expectations for a third film were flushed the moment ghetto twin robots opened their mouths, and the desire for “bigger and better” evaporated as agent Simmons (John Turturro) called in an Naval missile strike on a skyscraper-tall Decepticon’s metal balls.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say a child could have penned a better sequel.
Without the time crunch of a writer’s strike and everyone involved with Revenge of the Fallen publicly apologizing for their work, Dark of the Moon was as much an “I’m Sorry” note as a sequel. Live and learn to get it right, right? It mostly does with an improved plot and performances, if you don’t mind them dressed in Michael Bay’s sunglasses and hat.
After having saved the world from certain doom twice, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is feeling a lot like Rodney Dangerfield. The U.S. government continues to run N.E.S.T. in conjunction with the Autobots to help flush out hiding Decepticons. Sam is no longer invited to the party, and instead struggles to find an office job in a fledging economy where even Ivy League graduates aren’t guaranteed a free pass to success.
Sam’s personal struggles and lack of respect from everyone around him sans his new girlfriend would make perfect sense in any film. In the Transformers universe, it’s his job to be in the thick of an intergalactic war.
Through a series of mathematically impossible coincidences that involve veteran actors John Malkovich, Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand, Ken Jeong and Alan Tudyk adding their acting chops, Sam is soon back barking at N.E.S.T. and warning of another Decepticon plot to take over the world. He’s right, of course, and the key is hidden on the dark side of the moon in the form of a crashed Autobot Ark spaceship.
Dark of the Moon is what the first Transformers film should have been; the discovery of an alien robotic race that had crashed onto the moon, and a human conspiracy to cover up their existence. Too bad the previous two Transformers films also dealt with long-lost buried robots dating back thousands of Earth years. A consolation is the third time’s the charm.
Even the improved plot takes a second seat to Michal Bay being Michael Bay. After an introduction that exposes the crashed Ark when it was initially entered by the crew of Apollo 11, the first post-credits scene resembles a fashion show as it tracks the long, tanned legs of Carly (Rosey Huntington-Whiteley) making her way through a huge apartment to Sam in bed. It’s amazing what a Congressional Medal of Honor got the guy with no job, and even more mind-boggling that he held onto her. This sequence must have been Michael Bay’s wet dream as a child.
Rosey is the sophisticated opposite of Fox’s grease monkey Mikaela. Where Mikaela loves to fix hot rods, Carly gets them as gifts. At least neither actress is expected to put in much of a performance, which suits the Victoria’s Secret model just fine.
Mirroring the first Transformers film and I’m guessing foaming at the mouth to one-up himself, Bay returns to blowing up an urban environment for his grand finale. If Los Angeles was the ant to squash then Chicago in Dark of the Moon is the entire ant hill. The devastation, almost shot entirely on location and supplemented with some of ILM’s finest visual effects work, makes for memorable popcorn fueled escapism.
Even as skyscrapers fall and Decepticons fly around evaporating humans, Dark of the Moon is still handicapped by the nearly indistinguishable robot designs that make all but a handful of primary characters worth rooting for. There are some new metal faces, but aside from Sentinel Prime voice by Leonard Nimoy, they might as well be nondescript extras with non-speaking roles.
The new big bad villain Shockwave and his pet tentacle are just “there,” uttering a handful of words and then vanishing in the first act. He reappears in the finale just long enough to be taken out by soldiers that he should have easily squashed. You never get to know or fear him or his insurance company’s worst nightmare as it rips Chicago to shreds. Diminutive Laserbeak seemed to rack up a higher body count.
If you’ve seen either Transformers or Transformers: Dark of the Moon on Blu-ray, then you know to expect and audio and video paradise when visiting Dark of the Moon. Shot on a combination of digital and film formats, the old and new techniques blend seamlessly to create pure reference quality viewing material. There are no, and I mean no complaints anywhere in the video presentation. I can’t wait to check out the 3D version when it’s available later this year to hopefully be wowed.
I’m equally impressed and floored by the 7.1 Dolby TrueHD mix which takes the clarity of the previous two releases and extends the LFE and directional effects even further. You could close your eyes and listen to the final battle and find it just as enjoyable while staring into a black abyss with a grin a mile wide.
One anomaly I did find was three brief audio dropouts beginning when Optimus Prime makes his heroic run to cut through a bevy of Decepticons in Chicago. When switching my Blu-ray player from bitstream to LCPM they went away. I’m guessing my Oppo player needs a firmware update, but I did want to point out the dropouts did happen and continue to happen when set to bitstream.
Beyond the Feature
Paramount is pulling an “Avatar” with Transformers: Dark of the Moon by rushing out a movie-only version and not being coy about planning a collector’s edition with bonus features coming a few months later. This release includes a voucher for $10 off the Blu-ray 3D version of that upcoming souped up edition.
There’s a lot of negativity swirling around this decision on the Internet, but I don’t stand behind those complaints. This movie-only edition puts Dark of the Moon in homes as early as possible to the day, and at a cheaper price than if it was loaded with extras. Call it a money grab or worse, but I’m thankful to see it now rather than two to three months down the road. I only wish there were a Blu-ray-only version that didn’t include the DVD and digital copy.
With Dark of the Moon, Michael Bay has completed his Transformers trilogy. I hesitate to call it a trilogy as the only connective tissue between the films that evolve in any way is Sam and his oblivious parents. All three films, though not created equal, feel like Michael Bay’s greatest action hits with a thread of yarn added after they were storyboarded to tie them together.
Dark of the Moon does end with Bay’s biggest bangs yet, which might as well have been made for the Blu-ray format. This is pure reference quality, folks, and will knock up your home gear faster than Sam can hook up with girls 10,000 times out of his league.
– Dan Bradley
Click here to buy Transformers: Dark of the Moon on Blu-ray for a discounted price at Amazon.com (September 30, 2011 release date).