Monday, July 4, 2011

“Runaway” from Transformers: Dark of the Moon

The title is referring to what you think

Happy Fourth of July! My "review" of the latest installment of this cinematic ordeal known as the Transformers franchise is after the jump. I use quotes because this is more of a structured rant that's been building for four years as opposed to a more objective assessment. If you really want to know if you should see this or not you'll find more useful pieces elsewhere on the internet.

But first I just wanted to share this video I’ve created that far better encapsulates my feelings, particularly towards the creators of these things, through images and music rather than the following absurd amount of written text.


Let’s have a toast for these people indeed because we have been putting up with this for way too long.

I don’t even know where to begin. It’s going to take some restraint to keep this focused on why just this movie sucks as opposed to all three of them.

First of all, in all honesty much of the material that has come from the Transformers franchise has never been great because let’s face it, it was a toy commercial and one for toys around during the Reagan era no less. Perhaps it’s appropriate for them to be re-purposed into loud, meaningless army movies at heart.

You don't deserve to wear  that hat
But there have always been, I’ve felt anyway, enough interesting ideas, plot threads, character premises that someone talented could weave into an entertaining and quality piece of fiction. Last year’s game Transformers: War for Cybertron is testament to that. At this point I say abandon live-action and just do an all CGI-animated movie set on Cybertron. It’d probably be cheaper, although less profitable. Just make the Transformers movie that’s actually about the Transformers.

But Michael Bay has shown three times now that he simply does not want to make that movie. There are plenty of other movies he wants to make. Dark of the Moon starts as a lame conspiracy movie and ends as a boisterous military action movie. It’s as long as two movies too. It’s just disappointing that neither of those movies are really Transformers movies, or just good for that matter.

No it’s not as weirdly offensive or obviously script-deficient as the painfully awful, aggressively meaningless and equally long 2009 release Revenge of the Fallen. Dark stuff is actually kind of going on and the terrible, terrible homophobic (Ken Jeong, Alan Tudyk) and childish (Wheelie) comedy is at least dialed down to almost tolerable levels.

However, just because it’s not as bad as one of the worst things ever shouldn’t mean that it’s even remotely acceptable. As I was watching this nonsense unfold with my hands in the air, surrendering, all I had were questions like:

Just who do you think you are?
Why is Shia LaBeouf so annoying and so the worst and yet keeps getting ridiculously high-profile roles? You understand? He keeps repeating that but I still don’t.

If Megatron was in the Hoover Dam for like a hundred years why is the big twist that Transformers have been on the Moon since the 60s news to the government?

Why wasn’t the Fallen, the Decepticon master who was killed last time, not aware of this plan?
What was anyone’s plan or motivation at any point in time? Also, where were they?

Why do the robots still look like garbage and how depressing is it that people now think this is what the Transformers look like?

Why does Megatron have a terrorist headscarf? And why is he an idiot? Is it because he only has half a face?

Since when is Optimus “flame decals” Prime like this jerk, Neo-Con “no cutting and running” guy for their bizarre war allegories? And also, when did he start sucking at leading the Autobots? What happened to the robot Jesus that keeps dying and coming back in pretty much any Transformers property? And where was he during the majority of the end battle sequence? Why I am watching these random army guys I don’t care at all about and not the Transformers in Transformers?
Why are so many weird political digs in this movie anyway?

When did Soundwave go from a satellite to a Mercedes?

Why is Shockwave in this movie for literally no reason and why are the rest of the Decepticons just these little gremlins and nameless goons with dreadlocks and/or tentacles?

If you’re going to have an antagonistic planet why not just use Unicron?

Since when do the Autobots have hair and Einstein faces and potbellies with logos for Target on them?

Why is the subtitle the dumbest thing since "Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark"?

Why is John Malkovich in this? And why is there this whole metaphor about getting a job? I guess to complete the “become a man” arc after getting the high school girl and going to college. That’s what these Transformers movies are really about, a boy transforming into a man. Not at all about robots transforming into cars.

Why do human beings, like Frances McDormand, think that they have any power to tell the giant, ancient robots what to do? Why are all they so arrogant and awful and annoying that I actually want the villains to just kill them all and restore the robot planet we get a glimpse of in the beginning? Why I am sympathizing for and offended on behalf of the evil Decepticons?

Why do they show the real Kennedy during their alternate space race cold opening only to hire the worst look-a-like ever? It’s the same with Obama. Maybe it’s because “we’re all Republicans here”(actual quote for the movie).

At least the trailer was neat

Here are some positives for fairness sake. The use of Laserbeak  is surprisingly good. Patrick Dempsey’s role is ludicrous but kind of oddly fun. You could tell it was shot for 3D so I assume the 3D looks good, although I didn’t see it in 3D because 3D still sucks. Plus, I don’t care how cool 3D base-jumping looks in a giant robot movie. It’s a giant robot movie so show me that instead of trying to distract me from bad your movie is.

Finally, I actually like this new girl better and not just because she’s British or for some of the specific camera angles. There’s nothing to her at all but she comes off as a nicer person in real life that Megan Fox ever did.

But here we are again with this same problems. The robots are too faceless, overly-designed, and visually incoherent while fighting for any audience to care about them. So instead of the alien robot civil war with far more potential for a unique, compelling narrative I’m stuck being forced to care about these empty, plain old human beings. That apocalyptic Chicago end sequence people keep “raving” about? It’s just Battle: LA but set in Chicago and with a bigger budget. At least Battle: LA didn’t have to pay lip-service to some other franchise it was pretending to be a part of while reveling in its military fetishism.

Transformers don’t have to be pointy scrap metal piles of CGI void and absolute nothingness. They can have recognizable faces and personalities worth following and rooting for to the point where their deaths can be meaningful instead of non-events. They can be more than just explosions and accents to be pushed aside by John Duhamel in a flight suit or Shia LaBeouf getting felt up in a bathroom.

Just look at how much more relatable this thing is based on eyes alone
Movies like Avatar, which I think is meh, and District 9, which I think is great, confirm to me that it’s possible to make alien movies with military elements where the aliens themselves are characters that can emote. Audiences can accept wholly computer-animated worlds as real and its inhabitants as dignified creatures, not merely these faceless things that get shot down as we fulfill our “noble” agendas. I’m not saying every movies needs to be this hippie love-in, but the dehumanization of the enemy in these movies is such a horrible message to send. Conflict is complex and all of its angles need to be explored.

And the fact that I’m even having these thoughts is indicative of one, my mind, and two, how much Michael Bay has completely missed the points with these movies. Dumb fun is fine but there is a difference between a dumb fun movie where alien robots fight and a dumb movie where a person I hate interacts with other annoying people unnecessarily for ninety minutes and then army guys shoot for an hour while robots occasionally fight in the background. That second movie is not a Transformers movie. Many people may not see the difference there but I do. A more robot-centric movie might not even be good, but it’d be an experiment worth trying rather than falling back onto this admittedly well-constructed but utterly soulless action movie that sometimes features robots. That movie definitely is not good.

We should have standards for everything. Even things as dumb as “robots what turn into stuff.”

Bonus Section- The Star Trek Connection
So Leonard Nimoy voices Sentinel Prime in a movie, which could’ve been neat if he had anything to do, and naturally there is a Star Trek reference, a pretty clever one at that, but it got me to thinking about the new Star Trek movie, written by the previous Transformers writers at that, and how I like and dislike it at the same time.

I’ve never liked Star Trek, the TV series at least. And this movie struck me as them trying to make a Star Trek “cool” enough to get me to like it. It worked, but at what cost? Older fans liked Star Trek for what it was, uncoolness and all, but to attract newer fans they changed a lot of it. I'm all for creators not being completely beholden to a fanbase but the creator of Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, is long dead so it wasn't even his call. Now I don’t know how old Trek fans feel about this new movie but to me it felt as if something had been taken away from someone only to be given to me, someone who didn’t really want it in the first place. Accepting it felt hypocritical because I know how bad it is to be on the other side of that equation because of my experience with Transformers. With these movies I’ve seen everything I ever liked about the franchise ripped out of my hands only to be given to people who would’ve paid to see anything and wouldn’t have cared otherwise.

You know what though, it’s kind of a good thing that I appear to be so personally bothered by these trivial movies because one, I’m really not, passion just makes for fun and lengthy writing and two, it fortunately shows how little real problems I actually have :)

Since it is Independence Day and all I just feel that I should clarify that I’m not staunchly anti-military in real life or even in movies. I love stuff like Saving Private Ryan and I'm grateful for the freedom and protection to even write this stuff like this. I just resent the focus on the army in what should be a sci-fi giant robot movie in my opinion.

If you still want to chastise me though be sure to comment below


  1. I am speechless Jordan. Nice rant/review!

  2. thanks Marley, if only redditors were this kind

  3. I didn't particular hate this movie as much as you did, but I can say the film is completely unmemorable. There is no scene in this film that makes me say, "Wow that was amazing." Also I think 3D makes Michael Bay a better filmmaker, because he isn't constantly making the audience motion sickness with his poor attempt at Paul Greengrass shaky cam.

  4. This is a good action packed movie sure to please the science fiction/fantasy enthusiast. The story starts with an alternate history of the moon landing with an alien discovery twist and moves on to become a fast-paced action movie with the familiar heroes except for one, a new romantic interest.