Tuesday, June 28, 2011
The nicest thing I can say about "Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon" (opening June 29 at 9pm throughout San Diego in an attempt to pad the weekend box office with a few extra IMAX/3D dollars) is that it's better than "Sucker Punch," which is currently holding firm as my choice for worst film of the year.
"Transformers 3" is also better than "Transformers 2" but that film was so bad that 5-year olds animating their action figures could have made a better movie. In fact, Michael Bay's "Transformers" franchise has been nothing but painful to me. I would much rather watch the old animated TV show or animated feature film -- those were fun. Bay's films are big, noisy endurance tests that pummel viewers for more than two hours at a pop. These big, bloated summer action epics are meant to be mindless fun -- they definitely display a lot of the former but not much of the latter. I realize, though, that Bay has his fans and that they cannot be swayed in their devotion to him. So I understand that this review is unlikely to change any opinions -- you're either in Bay's camp or your not. But here goes anyway for those who may feel a similar need to vent about these mega-budget, effects driven films.
"T3" opens with a badly CGI-ed President Kennedy (that's Kennedy's second appearance this summer, he also figured into "X-Men: First Class") talking about the space program. The CGI facial work was so atrocious that I felt embarrassed for the film. Get it right or just don't even bother trying. Then we cut to actual archival footage of the president so we can see just how bad the CGI prez really is. Then Bay badly mixes grainy archive footage and crisp newly shot images with no attempt to make any of it match. But who the hell cares it's just the pre-credit backstory.
Apparently, the Americans sent Apollo 11 to the moon to check out a Cybertronian spacecraft hidden on the moon's dark side. What the crashed ship contains leads to a race between the Autobots (good robots) and the Decepticons (bad robots) to unlock the secrets and powers of the ship's cargo. The only good thing about this extended open/back story is that it keeps Shia La Beouf's Sam off screen for a good 15-20 minutes. But Sam eventually forces his way back into the narrative. He's been dumped by his hot girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox) of the first two films and now has inexplicably been taken in by the equally hot and vapid Carly (Victoria's Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). He's received a medal from President Obama but still can't get a job. Fortunately for Sam, the world is placed in jeopardy again, and he can once again feel needed.
I have to say that I think the robot effects are better here but maybe since they got rid of Megan Fox the effects team no longer had to spend all that time CGI-ing out her toe thumbs and could spend all their efforts on rendering the robots instead. In fact, the robots are far more life-like and likable than any of the human actors -- although Alan Tudyk (with a goofy accent) and Ken Jeong (being politically incorrect again) in small supporting roles do give them a little competition. But not even the robots can redeem this film. Mainly because Bay doesn't know what to do with them or how to choreograph effective action. He blows a lot of crap up and has them running around like crazy but none of them develops a fighting style that defines their personality the way that King Kong or Godzilla manage to fight in a manner that says something about who they are. There were moments when the Autobots scored victories and Bay did all but light up an onscreen sign demanding "applause and cheers" but the audience seemed so weary that no one responded at all until the end. Plus, this supposed state of the art 3D is practically nonexistent. The only reason Bay is demanding people see the film in 3D is to boost the box office returns.
There's nothing original to be found in the film. I guess you could call the film green because it recycles everything -- the dialogue feels familiar, the action looks the same. There's a whole "Battle: Los Angeles" section as the military tries to take Chicago back from the Decepticons. At another point the burrowing Shockwave robot climbs a building to destroy it and the image looks ripped off from the dumb Korean actioner "Dragon Wars." There's another robot that looks like Predator. Perhaps that's an homage and not a ripoff; either way it reveals a lack of imagination.
Now I did think removing Megan Fox would be an improvement but Huntington-Whiteley is no better and possibly even worse. Fox had the infamous toe thumbs but Huntington-Whiteley has such massive collagen-infused lips (okay there is a possibility they are natural) that when she moves in to kiss LaBeouf she looks like she'll swallow him whole. She's a Victoria's Secret model and that's really all she does here, pose for pictures -- including one with the city of Chicago blowing up behind her while her hair swirls around her like a shampoo commercial. Even in the midst of all the chaos and destruction, she finds time to change her outfits and put on those practical stilletto heels. But those designer shoes miraculously transform from stiletto heels to flats depending on how much running she has to do. The action was so lame that I found myself watching her feet to see when they make the swap. She also fails miserably at convincing us that her character would fall for LaBeouf's Sam.
As for LaBeouf -- the only thing that could have redeemed this film was if his character bit the dust and preferably at the hands of Bumblebee who has suffered so patiently as his sidekick in all 3 films. LeBeouf is simply ridiculous as a romantic action hero. He plays Sam as if he were still on the Disney show "Even Stevens" and hamming it up. He is a grating performer and his shortcomings are set in even bolder relief by putting him in scenes with Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, and John Turturro. And what the heck are actors of that caliber doing in this piece of crap? Granted, each of these talented cast members -- along with Tudyk and Jeong -- find occasional moments of comedy but that's not nearly enough of a pay off considering how long and uninspired the rest of the film is. At least when Bay was making "The Rock" and "Bad Boys" there was some sense of fun. But as Bay's budgets have grown so too has his level of pretension.
I know there are still plenty of his fans out there that will defend Michael Bay to their deaths, and accuse me of being an old curmudgeon who just can't have fun at the movies. But even some fanboys will admit that these are not great films, that they are just big, fun, summer films. What I want to know is when did we have to start qualifying big, fun, summer films with the modifier "dumb." "Star Wars" and "Raiders of the Lost Ark" were just fun popcorn movies but they were smartly made. There's nothing smart about any of the "Transformers" films. Even if you like them you have to admit that they are overlong at two-hours-plus. Even Bay himself, in an interview in "Empire" magazine fessed up to how bad "T2" was: “We made some mistakes, the real fault with [Transformers 2] is that it ran into a mystical world. When I look back at it, that was crap. The writers’ strike was coming hard and fast. It was just terrible to do a movie where you’ve got to have a story in three weeks.”
"Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon" (rated PG-13 for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo) is a painfully lame summer action film that in all likelihood will make a killing at the box office this 4th of July weekend. If you really feel the need to see this, how about buying a ticket to the much superior Hollywood trifle "Fast Five" and then sneaking in to see "T3." At least that way your hard earned dollars won't be encouraging more of this Hollywood crap.
Companion viewing: "Transformers: The Movie" (animated), "Constantine" (the only film I know where Shia LeBeouf's character is mercifully killed), "The Rock"