Monday, July 04, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon / zero stars (PG-13)

Sam Witwicky: Shia LeBeouf
Carly: Rosie Huntington-Whiteley
Lennox: Josh Duhamel
Simmons: John Turturro
Epps: Tyrese Gibson
Dylan: Patrick Dempsey
Mearing: Frances McDormand
Bruce Brazos: John Malkovich

Featuring the voices of:
Optimus Prime: Peter Cullen
Megatron: Hugo Weaving
Starscream: Charles Adler
Sentinel Prime: Leonard Nimoy

Paramount Pictures presents a film directed by Michael Bay. Written by Ehren Kruger. Based on the Hasbro toys. Running time: 157 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo).

Since I’ve been writing reviews, people have asked me about my star rating scale. I use a standard four-star scale, with four being the best rating a movie can be awarded. The most frequent question I’ve fielded about this scale, however, is, do I ever award no stars to a bad movie? I did only in theory until the day I saw “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”.

The latest in Michael Bay’s “Transformers” franchise is the worst movie I’ve ever reviewed. Certainly I’ve seen worse movies, but never to review and never in the cinema. I’ll admit I haven’t been a fan of the franchise. I’ll even admit I wasn’t expecting to like this movie, but I never could’ve guessed that it could be as bad as it is. This isn’t just a matter of this being a movie that wasn’t made for me. It isn’t just some predisposition against the idea of the Earth being invaded by an alien race of giant robots that can turn into the machinery that we use in our everyday lives. Yes, that could be enough for a negative review, but zero stars is another category of bad all together. No, this movie is like a class in filmmaking ineptitude.

I won’t go into the plot of the movie, because there’s really no point. Not only is it ridiculous and nearly indecipherable to anyone who doesn’t spend their days debating over what makes these transforming toys and their movie franchise so awesome, but it’s all just an excuse to blow things up real good. I will say that I could for once in the franchise actually follow the story, but that only highlighted the weaknesses of the filmmaking.

What I’m going to try instead is list some of the film’s faulty elements:

1. The casting. Like with every “Transformers” movie, the Spielberg name on the producing credits allows the filmmakers to attract A-list character actors to give the movies a little punch between scenes of metal robots grating against each other. The third installment recruits John Malkovich (“Red”) and Frances McDormand (“Fargo”). Malkovich plays the boss of hero, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf, “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps”). His sole purpose is to be an eccentric John Malkovich character. Other than that there is no reason for his character to exist.

McDormand is totally wasted in the role of Secretary of Defense Charlotte Mearing, in charge of everything to do with the Autobot, or good, Transformers. However, her real purpose seems to be to prevent anyone from submitting any sort of positive input and action against the impending doom that will surely befall the world if the Decepticon, or bad, Transformers should blah, blah, blah… Why hire such an intelligent actress to play such a dufuss who could never have achieved her position without being smart?

Then there’s the new girlfriend. Sam’s original girlfriend was played by Megan Fox, who was fired from this production after she made disparaging comments against Bay publicly. Since her breasts were one of the major reasons of the first two films’ success, I guess Bay felt he had to top Fox physically with her replacement and chose former Victoria’s Secret underwear model Rosie Huntington-Whitely for this movie. I’m not one to heavily criticize anyone’s acting, because I’ve been there. I know it’s much harder than it looks. But, if there’s one thing Miss Huntington-Whiteley proves, it’s that Fox has at least a margin of acting talent. Bay would’ve been just as well off to blow up one of her sexiest Victoria’s Secret pictures into a cardboard standup and tie it to LaBeouf to follow him around.

2. The editing. The editing in the “Transformers” franchise has always been atrocious. Action scenes always look like a muddy mess where huge balls of indiscernible metal creatures hit each other and you can’t tell one from the other. You’ve got that here as well, but now even the primary human characters get lost in the mix. There’s one shot during a highway chase that shows the character played by John Turturro (“The Taking of Pelham 123”) thrown from his vehicle by a giant robot. You’d expect the next shot to show what happens to him since he’s a major character that has been in every “Trensformers” movie to date. No. The editing follows the rest of the highway chase with no reference back to Turturro until the battle is over. That reference is a brief shot of him lying on the concrete. Is he dead? How did he land? How could he possibly be alive after what happened to him? None of these questions are answered immediately. A little later on he wheels in on a wheel chair with casts and a neck brace with no mention of what happened on the highway. That’s just sloppy storytelling.

In another sequence, the Decepticons are preparing to take over the planet in Chicago. Their leader announces to no one in particular that the people of Earth are about to meet their new rulers and instead of some montage sequence that shows the Decepticon army marching and flying into Chicago while the people go into a panic, the editing just skips ahead to after the invasion has begun and the Decepticons are gunning down the people that they’re supposed to be turning into slave labor. The robots are big enough and indestructible enough to unarmed civilians that I would think it just wasteful for them to be gunning anyone down that they could use for their labor force. Plus, the editing suggests that they ran out of time to get all the build up shots of the invasion that they wanted. Instead they just skipped ahead to the middle of the invasion. The result, Chicago goes from a city to a war zone in the course of one editing splice.

3. The dialogue is below asinine. Lines like “Today we take the battle to them!” “The enemy’s return is certain,” and “You may lose faith in us, but never in yourselves,” might make good introductions to speeches, but here they’re used as full statements, entire thoughts. There is never enough time between explosions for any speeches, so screenwriter Ehren Kruger (“The Ring”) makes do with an entire script of speech introductions and little else.

4. My list of shame. Shame on Steven Spielberg for placing his name as a stamp of approval for an inferior science fiction fantasy that he essentially has no other connection to.  Shame on Buzz Aldrin for appearing as himself in a movie that diminishes and subverts his achievements in our space program.  Shame on Bill O’Reilly for appearing as himself to lend legitimacy to the ridiculous events depicted in this movie. Shame on Leonard Nimoy for making this film his final contribution to the film genre he’s had so much to do with popularizing and for uttering one of his most famous Spock lines here in a way that turns it into a joke. And, shame on me for continuing to give lip service to a film franchise I neither enjoy nor respect and which deserves no respect from anyone else.

I’m sure fanboys will send me notes about how I’m wrong and ignorant of the intricacies of the Transformers mythology. This isn’t about Transformers, however. It’s about the shamefully low bar in filmmaking set by Michael Bay and the rest of the filmmakers involved in producing an entertainment like “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”. If audiences just stand by and accept that this is the way movies are made today, soon there will be nothing produced by Hollywood that will be worth watching. It will all involve nonsensical action scenes where no discernable story can be understood beneath all the teeth gnashing and explosions. Acting and character development will go the way of the dodo and we’ll have no level on which to relate to anything that happens on screen. “Dark of the Moon” is the worst example of filmmaking as an art form and as a storytelling format. I hang my head to think that I should ever have to pay for something of this poor quality again.


Andrew D. Wells said...

A friend of mine had these thoughts about my review:


Wow, what can I say? I have never really had a desire to write you after reading any of your reviews until now. I am by far not a “fan boy” (nerd/geek yes), nor do I disagree with much of what you said. It is very obvious from reading your article that you have no love for transformers or even the sci-fi concept of them. That in and of itself is ok, we all have our opinions. Yours comes across very strongly and is felt in reading your article. I would like to point out as many others will I am sure that prime does die in 2, but is brought back by the matrix to fight the final fight. The matrix is sort of the reason behind getting the new prime back because Optimus has it and it is the only thing that can bring the Sentinel back to “life.”

That being said I cannot contest much more of what you wrote only the emotional delivery of it.

The usage of the needs of the many, I must say was an outrage and no trek reference had any place in this film, and there was more than that one. The new girlfriend as eye candy to lonely TF nerds longing for a meaningful relationship, yes that was bad. She had no place at all in the film. When she called Megatron a bitch, yes I know she was enticing him to fight Sentinel, but as a malevolent warlord he would have squished her just on principle alone.

I know I said I would not contest anything else, but in respects to the other two films the robot fights in this third were much easier to see what was going on. In the past two movies it was very hard to see the fights due to editing and the perceived size of the bots.

In reference to the city siege of Chicago – typical terror siege kill a small part to terrorize and break the rest into submission. In short an example is made. It was one city compared to the rest of the planet. Now if that is what they were going for is another story. I only have come to that conclusion myself knowing a little bit about the subject of siege. I am by far no expert on the matter.

There will be films we like and films we hate, and for many reason on both ends. Our Hollywood produces very little today I would call good, but I do enjoy the experience most of the time. For instance transformers a kids show and toy geared for kids that like the “pew, pew” and will not identify with much else except, “wow that was cool when prime…” and at least they left the racial bots out of this film. I found them very inappropriate in the 2nd film. It is just my opinion on them… oh and the big bot having balls, not called for at all.

Well enjoy I hope I did not flame you at all because that is not my intent. I just wanted to bring up some points.

Andrew D. Wells said...

This was my response:

Well, I knew I was asking for this by writing a zero star review. But I couldn't pull my punches just because of that. If you'll read my other "Transformers" movie reviews, you'll see I'm much easier on them than I was on this one. This one was by far the sloppiest in terms of filmmaking.

As for Optimus's death. I figured I had forgotten something, but I feel that speaks to how poorly made these movie are. It was only two years ago I saw that one. I should've been able to recall an important detail like the fact that he did come back at the end of the second movie. The poor editing and poor design of the robot characters I think is the biggest culprit there. But I will also blame this movie a great deal for that confusion because the matrix is seen several times in this movie and there is never any explanation of what it is or reference to what it has been used for before. Even in a sequel, it's generally good storytelling practice to reminds audiences what they are looking at if they are foreign or alien concepts from what we see in everyday life. I will probably attempt to correct this error in my review, but I still think it was poorly dealt with in the movie.

I will agree that the Transformers fight sequences were clearer in this movie than in the previous two. But, that doesn't matter if you don't care.

As far as the siege of Chicago, I think the key word you use to defend it is "typical". This siege is far from typical. When it involves heavily armed 30 foot tall machines against unarmed civilians, there shouldn't a whole hell of a lot of resistance. But, I didn't see them take any prisoners. They were just evaporating everyone on the streets, people who were running away from them, not military personnel who were fighting them. They killed them too, but that was later.

I don't have any fond memories of the "Transformers" cartoon. I really didn't watch it. I never liked it. But, I'll accept any concept if it's handled well by the filmmakers. I watched a movie about a tire that can blow things up taking revenge on the people that have wronged it the other night, and I loved it. None of the "Tranformers" movies have handled their subject well. This one is so poorly made that it would earn its makers a failing grade in any film school. That's what upsets me about it, not its concept.

Yes, some of the offensive material from the second film has been omitted from this one, but so has any semblance of our humanity. The characters are wooden and all they do is react to what happens as they've all seen characters are supposed to react in action movies. Yell, shoot, run. There's no heart in this movie. That's the most important element in any movie, especially one about preserving the entire human race against an alien threat.

There are still pages of complaints I haven't even sratched the surface on in this movie, but at zero stars, I have to say at some point that this film isn't worth my time anymore. I'm sorry if I've offended you with my opinion.