POSTED ON JULY 6, 2011:
This Moon is Waning
Michael Bay's Transformers: Dark of the Moon is dim, indeed
I've spent a large chunk of my time over the years watching bad movies for fun. For a film to be subjectively bad and still fun takes some arcane math -- an equation consisting of a supremely crazy story done with as much bad taste, wonky logic and low-budget technical prowess as possible concocted by game, motivated filmmakers who know exactly how ridiculous an endeavor they've embarked on, having committed to making it as fun as possible for themselves and the audience (both, in all likelihood, niche groups).
Think titles like Birdemic: Shock and Awe; Jesus Christ: Vampire Hunter; Wishmaster 2; an entire slew of bugfuck crazy Asian horror (SARS Wars, anyone?); King Kung Fu (which finds its namesake simian mastering martial arts and kidnapping a blonde named Rae Fey, making his last stand atop a Holiday Inn in Topeka, Kansas just because that's the tallest building around).
Or -- if you are a true deviant -- shockfests ranging from the Hungarian slice of "Is-That-A-Thing?", Taxidermia to Japanese cinematic sociopath Takashi Miike's Visitor Q and ... well, pretty much every other film Miike has ever made. I'll just throw Tetsuo: The Iron Man in for the people still interested in better, weirder, bad movies than Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
Movies of the "so bad it's good" genus usually only go truly wrong when they take themselves too seriously -- introduced to elements like name actors, inexplicably successful directors and/or writers and a massive budget. That's when you get a Battlefield Earth. I would say "or worse" but that still hasn't happened.
Battlefield Earth's main sin (aside from being a cataclysmically dumb story by the international criminal and hack writer who founded the Church of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard) was that it was boring. No film has ever emulated the feeling of what waiting in a doctor's office for two hours without a copy of Field and Stream is like. I've seen some epically boring films that still had something to say about the human condition or our history and that had the heft of individuality in their favor (the collective works of Andrei Tarkovsky and Michelangelo Antonioni, while enlightening, come to mind). Battlefield Earth, by contrast, with its lumbering writing, terribly self-serious gravity and imbecilic direction made waiting for bail money seem like dropping acid at Disneyworld.
While it shares a plot of interstellar invaders mining the Earth's resources, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is not as boring as Battlefield Earth (high praise!). Nor is it as aesthetically inept. It doesn't even really take itself that seriously. In theory, it should be kind of "fun" bad.
This time the story pulls a bit of a Forrest Gump, going back in time to reveal that the original Apollo moon landing, with JFK's go-ahead, was a ruse to cover up the reconnaissance mission of a wrecked, alien spacecraft on the dark side. (Depressingly, Buzz Aldrin, who once publicly punched lunar landing conspiracy theorist Bart Sibrel in the face, supplies a doddering cameo here -- I guess his tolerance for the falsification of his achievement varies by paycheck)
That spacecraft was an escape vehicle for the leader of the Autobots -- a shape-shifting race of extraterrestrial robots that can mimic other machines -- named Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy) and which still holds the weapon he devised to save his home planet of Cybertron from domination by the Decepticons (i.e. the bad robots).
Fast forward 42 years and two shitty movies later and Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is fresh out of college and looking for a job, while living with his new girlfriend, Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). Despite having saved the Earth twice with the help of his Autobot buddies, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) and Bumblebee and getting a medal from Obama Prime, Sam's job prospects seem just as bad as anyone's in the 2011 economy.
His girl, meanwhile, is gainfully employed by an ultra-rich, race car-collecting accountant douche, Dylan Gould (Patrick Dempsey) giving Sam panic attacks of inferiority since he has no real prospects or money and has been shut out of his heroic past by the military alliance formed between the world's governments and the Autobots, who can carry on defending humanity from itself without Sam's help, thanks.
All of that changes when Optimus discovers a fuel cell from Sentinel Prime's ship (and the "actual" reason for the radioactive disaster) in the ruins of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Saddened that his human allies lied about their knowledge of the cell's discovery, Defense Secretary Charlotte Mearing (a slumming Frances McDormand) assures Optimus of American ignorance (an easy sell) of his technology's possession by the Russians, only to be shocked to learn that the weapon on board the moon-moored ship, of which the cell is proof, leads to a collection of "Pillars", which open a bridge in space/time that can transport an entire army of Decepticons to Earth.
Meanwhile, Sam scores a mail room gig and the attention of a conspiracy theorist co-worker named Jerry Wang (Ken Jeong), who clues Sam into the discovery of the fuel cell and the systematic murders of some Russian and American scientists. Deducing that perhaps malevolent forces are behind it all, Sam gets in touch with his old nemesis/ally, the retired and tell-all-book-pimping Agent Seymour Simmons, (John Turturro). They find themselves, once again, in a position to save the world.
Two hundred million dollars (not counting marketing) can buy a lot of things. Two drone fighters for our multiple, real-life wars; over $7.5 million school lunches for disadvantage children or even buying a nuclear-powered, gold-plated Lamborghini -- just to name a few.
Michael Bay used it to craft a completely soulless, predictable, utterly stupid and embarrassingly unfunny addition to a series of films that has little reason to exist except to impress people who clap their fins for shiny bullshit.
With all the grace of an epileptic with Tourette syndrome, Transformers: Dark of the Moon jerks back and forth between what passes for character development and action with perfunctory nonchalance. Michael Bay is a superficial director as a rule, but his boredom here is apparent and not helped by his penchant for ADHD plotting or Ehren Kruger's screenplay, an unimaginatively re-hashed affair that mimics the action set pieces of the first two films with less scope while replacing the blatant racism of Revenge of the Fallen's Mudflap and Skids characters with Ken Jeong's gangsta patois. Because an Asian dude playing an O.G. from the '90s is hilarious to famous, white, middle-aged, hacky screenwriters looking to score an undemanding paycheck and cheap laughs.
It's really the near incomprehensibility of Kruger's script, one which laboriously sets up the Decepticons take-over of Earth--across a totally unnecessary two-and-a-half hour runtime -- only to ignore its own rules or anything interesting in order to achieve an "epic" scope that really hamstrings any possibility of good. It's fat and lazy writing that drops whole characters that should never have been included to begin with, be they the inclusion of Sam's creepy parents or John Malkovich as his quickly erstwhile employer -- who only seem to exist to eat screen time or geek out over Sam's Autobot friends. The script's plays at nerdy self-awareness are confined to Leonard Nimoy hat-tips. The re-purposing of a signature Spock line will have even Star Trek haters rolling their eyes at its banal obviousness.
It's only when the hour-long Battle of Chicago begins (after 80 minutes of inanity) that you get a sense of what Dark of the Moon could have been if it were another movie. There's probably an exciting film to be had out of an all-out takeover of Earth by interstellar robots with these kinds of technical and monetary resources at hand. Thanks to Bay and Kruger, this isn't it.
Considering the great sound and visual FX work (Skywalker and ILM do this stuff well and the eventual Blu-Ray will be reference-quality material to sell 3-D LED TVs and 7.1 Surround systems at Best Buy in six months' time) and the hints of a story that might have worked if it weren't so unimaginative, on-the-rails, plot hole laden and boring, make the state-of- the-art efforts expended, on a technical level, even more of a goddamn shame.
The performances are equally pointless and mostly terrible in that they serve Dark of the Moon's ubiquitous sound and fury that signify nothing. LaBeouf seems to be almost as bored as Bay while Megan Fox-replacement (Hint for Fox: Don't compare your day job as a generically hot movie star to being a concentration camp victim) Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is even more beautiful and talentless than her predecessor. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese, as soldiers, are wallpaper. Only Frances McDormand and John Turturro seem to be playing off the folly of their characters. In a film where Bill O'Reilly gives the most convincing performance, they should all feel unclean.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon is 147-minutes and thirteen bucks (in purposeless 3-D) worth of time and futile bombast better spent doing almost anything else, with anyone else, to burn the slowly dwindling and precious supplies of your money and life.
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