Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Transformers 3

Oh god. What can you say about Micheal Bay at this point? I don't think anyone who looks at movies with even a squint of a critical eye every really expects to go into one of his films and then walk out of it thinking they'd seen a good film. But at the same time, Bay has becoming something of an auteur when it comes to big budget Hollywood excess. There's a distinct style to a Micheal Bay film that lets you know exactly what you're getting into. You know it'll have a mindless plot, two dimensional if not offensive characters, and a whole lot of stuff blowing up. Its just a matter of whether or not they've piled enough money on it to make you feel like you're getting something for the ticket price.
This is just how it works. The only way around it is if Micheal Bay finally grew up, but after all these years, I'm not holding my breath. But at least there is a certain stretch of time where the movie seems fully aware of its nonsense. Its flirts with homophobia, racial stereotypes, and other eye-rollers, but at least Bay's juvenile obsession with the male gaze is cranked up to the point that it comes across more as a wink at the camera, and less an invitation to 13 year old boys everywhere to satisfy their raging hormones. And in the “at least they tried” category, we have Francis McDormand trotted out to say “look, we can have non-sexpot female characters too!”.
But unfortunately, the real offense is that anyone thought they could pass off this peanut gallery as a cast of believable human beings. Ken Jeong it completely wasted, Tyrese Gibson and Josh Duhamel show up just to remind you that there are humans in the movie, and John Turturro only manages to make the stupidity seem intentional (which, as mentioned above, does help slightly). But in my opinion, it's McDormand whose talent suffers the worst levels of disregard, playing a character who seemed to be included purely to set up a scene at the end in which she gives Shia Lebouf the dream job he's been looking for. So imagine my surprise when that never happened.
As for the new love interest, Rosie-Huntington Whiteley, I thought she was perfectly adequate as a walking plot device with tits. If it had still been Megan Fox, playing a character we at least have some slight relationship with, the role might have felt like it mattered, but here we are.
But at least Shia Lebouf is still around, and he's always been the secret weapon of the Transformers films. He's always been the only actor in these cinematic junkyards with the humor and charisma to actually make you give two shits about him. And that is still very much the case here. I enjoyed watching his neurotic habits and jealous insecurities. Even if none of it adds up to anything, it makes him more relateable, and as the main character, it makes him the lynchpin that keeps the entire film from collapsing.
But boy is that put to the test. There was a good portion of this film where it really seemed to get it. The opening space-race sequence didn't do the revised-history thing as well as recent movies like X-Men: First Class, but it was nicely paced and an interesting concept. The momentum continues into the present day sequences, where we see Shia Lebouf's search for a job and the, ahem, deceptive machinations of the Decepticons (thank you, tip your server, I'll be here all week) maintained my interest throughout the first third of the film. The film seemed to know exactly what it was and was executing, and following a series of backstabs and betrayals, it looked like we were in for a perfect setup to the final epic showdown.

Unfortunately, it was at this point that the movie stopped, tred water for 45 minutes, showed Chicago being completely conquered in about 5 seconds, and then brought out Optimus Prime to essentially say, “All those people you just saw get killed? We decided to let all that happen so you guys wouldn't take us for granted.” (This is before he murders a dude not two seconds after the same dude saved his life. Optimus Prime is kinda a dick.) Somewhere in this purgatorial second act, the writers throw several half-baked, relevant-to-our-time themes in a blender and pour the sticky mess all over the middle reels. We get the the whole America under siege thing via a pointless Washington D.C. scene in which Megatron destroys the Lincoln Monument and sits on it like a throne. And of course, we get a parade of corrupt and incompetent government officials and corrupt corporate executives screaming shit like “Its hostile takeover time, Sam!"
Mercifully, a point comes where something blows up, and Micheal Bay promptly forgets about all of this. This is where the movie finally gets around to the cool shit. However meaningless the sound and fury, the final 45 minutes or so of Transformers 3 contains some truly spectacular sequences. The massive battle in downtown Chicago is enormous, and the location is mined for maximum potential. The too close, too fast camera work of the previous films is gone, replaced with beautiful long shots of buildings and the towering mechanical beasts ripping them apart. The in-battle gags are more interesting too, such as collapsing building scene (even if its a blatant Uncharted 2 ripoff) or the goofy, almost Verbinski-esque scene with Shia tethered to a ticking bomb.
And who knew Micheal Bay would be the one to finally show that 3D can work in a live action movie? (Avatar doesn't count). The 3D in the film is often subtle, but it never caused me any problems and in a few cases it looked absolutely spectacular. More importantly, the use of 3D seems to have pushed Bay to experiment with tracking shots and how he use the camera to move through space. There are several wonderful moments of the camera zooming through the battlefield environment, the most impressive of which is base jumping sequence. The event was filmed completely live, performed by actual professional base jumpers with 3D cameras rigged to their helmets. Its a movie jam packed with CGI, its this real stunt that stands out as the most memorable part of the film by far.
At this point, everyone probably knows what they're going to get with a Micheal Bay film, and Transformers 3 meets those expectations. And for whatever its worth, it is probably one of his better movies. If you're reading this and you just want to see something mindless or to geek out on the action scenes, by all means, check out the film, and if it isn't too expensive, try it in 3D. If you've seen a lot of Micheal Bay movies and found them tolerable, you might get something out of it as well. If you're a normal person or you have taste, sit tight. Only one week left till Harry Potter.

Props where props are due: the robot sex thing is a reference to Jay Pinkerton's review of The Lion, The Which, and the Wardrobe.

UPDATE: Apparently that review isn't there was good stuff though. A classic. Famous stuff. We all remember it. He tore that movie to shreds and peppered it with pictures of lions having sex. Hence my robot thing. Cause fuck the Transformers franchise. 

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