Dark of the Moon is not only the best entry in Michael Bay’s Transformers saga, it’s also one of the best action movies of the year. Bay does what he does best – make stuff look awesome – but more importantly, the story and characters actually feel important to the film instead of ancillary functions of a purely CGI-driven creation. Ehren Kruger’s script is a perfect match for Bay’s directing style, balancing just the right amount of story with terrific action beats. Though it clocks in around two hours and forty minutes, the last hour is one of the most action packed segments in recent film history.
Let the record show that I believe Michael Bay is a brilliant filmmaker. Allow me to be clear: the man doesn’t necessarily make brilliant films (OK, never), but he’s a craftsman of the highest order who is able to accomplish things that no other director in Hollywood can. He has made an art of shooting helicopters, explosions, chase scenes, and destruction. He uses his actors as chess pieces in a larger game, and if you’re willing to play that game along with him, you’re going to have a hell of a good time.
One of the many reasons the second film, Revenge of the Fallen, didn’t work that well for me was because (and I realize this may sound crazy) there was an overabundance of robots. It was nothing but gnashing metal and mechanisms, a soulless piece of work that reeked of problems due to the then-in-full-swing Writers Guild of America strike. Dark of the Moon corrects all of these issues, boiling down the number of Transformers to the essential players and avoiding unnecessarily complicated mythologies.
The action in this film is jaw-droppingly impressive. The opening scene, an epic (and I don’t use that word lightly here) battle between the Autobots and Decepticons on their home world, rivals any space battle from any of the Star Wars films in the realm of size and scope. Much of this credit should be given to ILM for creating the visual effects, which, aside from being gorgeous, are easy to comprehend and immensely complicated. I normally don’t put much stock in the Oscars, but if the Academy fails to acknowledge the incredible effects work done in this movie, they truly are an irrelevant organization.
The reason I believe the action works so well in Dark of the Moon is because Bay essentially took scenes from the original Transformers and improved upon them. There is a fantastic highway car chase sequence (among the director’s best, an accomplishment in itself) that’s basically a more involved version of a similar scene in the first film. Same goes for the final 20 minutes, in which Shia LaBeouf runs through a huge city against all odds toward a piece of alien technology. Though some may find this a bit repetitive, I have absolutely no problem with it: since these scenes are all bigger and more bombastic than the first film (there are District 9-type alien ships floating above Chicago this time, and FAR more destruction and chaos in the streets), the movie doesn’t feel like a poor imitation of something we’ve already seen. Bay’s use of live action 3D here is phenomenal, and best used in a base-jumping sequence that was shot practically with the same technology that James Cameron invented for Avatar.
Rosie Huntington-Whitely is a step up from Megan Fox, and even though Rosie’s character isn’t quite as involved as I would have liked, she’s still a tenfold improvement from Fox’s Mikaela Banes. Rosie is definitely a “Michael Bay girl” (women in his movies should have their own classification, like Bond girls) and therefore isn’t relied on as much as the male protagonists, but for what it’s worth, I liked her a lot. She gives Sam Witwicky added motivation for self-improvement, and her presence seemed to insert a jolt of energy into what could have been a tired performance from Shia (who I’d imagine is getting sick of this character by now). And as a longtime LaBeouf fanboy, it should come as no surprise to that I was a big fan of his schtick here. He’s a true movie star in my mind – tremendously watchable and easily foreseeable as the next big A-list powerhouse in line with DiCaprio.
Dark of the Moon also succeeds in pulling together a strange collection of character actors to fill in the human roles in the movie, including John Turturro, Frances McDormand, Ken Jeong, Patrick Dempsey, Alan Tudyk, and the always-entertaining John Malkovich. I’ve heard complaints that the comedy didn’t work for many people, but I laughed a lot and found almost everyone enjoyable to watch. The exception, surprisingly, was McDormand, an actress I normally like, but found severely annoying after her first five minutes on screen. Even Ken Jeong was fun to watch, though he was acting as an amalgamation of every character he’s ever played.
In my review of the original Transformers, I wrote that I had “never seen so much debris in my life,” and now it falls on me to update that statement: Dark of the Moon now holds the record for the most debris of any film I’ve ever seen. Even if you’re not in it for the whole thing, the last forty-five minutes stands as one of the most impressive visual spectacles to hit theaters in a long time. Every other summer action film – Thor, Green Lantern, X-Men: First Class, Super 8, even Fast Five – must bow down to Michael Bay as the king of the summer blockbuster. When Bay is at his peak, nobody does it better. Until next time…