Friday, 5 August 2011

Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon

Having reviewed Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen some time ago, I thought it was about time I reviewed the latest Transformers film.  I remained almost entirely spoiler-free before I saw the film, other than having inadvertantly seen a picture of Optimus pulling his trailer, and a picture of one of the characters who was being compared to one of the original G1 cartoon characters (I can't remember which).  Being spoiler free - in fact, I even avoided the trailers for the movie - meant that I approached the film completely open-minded, although a number of people who'd seen it told me that it was significantly better than the second.  I was very optimistic, and I wasn't disappointed.

There are various reasons that this film was better than the second:  the parents' roles and screen time were significantly scaled down, which is a double bonus; the film was intelligently tied in to a number of 'real life' events; the number of faceless Decepticons was reduced (in fact, there were vastly more in this film film than the second, but it didn't seem like it as they were handled with intelligence); and more time and care was taken to provide the Autobots and Decepticons with identities, vehicle modes, names and even a small dose of personality - to put it another way, they had character.  The film had a complicated but understandable plot with a number of twists (compared to the second film, which was boringly linear); killed off a number of characters, which I found very surprising and which developed interest in the story, especially with characters we care about; and a number of other surprises too (which you may or not predict in advance).

The plot begins with the Autobots' discovery of Cybertronian spacecraft technology in a building near the Chernobyl reactor in the Ukraine; then develops to the revelation of the humans' discovery of alien technology on the far side of the moon.  They refer to it in the film as 'the dark side of the moon', which is a bit of a misnomer - technically, the moon doesn't have a dark side because it turns on its axis in the same way as the Earth does, and the moon has days and nights as we do.  What they really mean is the far side of the moon (as seen from Earth), but hey, "Far of the moon" doesn't have any kind of ring to it.  Come to think of it, "Dark of the Moon" sounds like it's missing a word somewhere, but I suspect that Pink Floyd using "Dark Side of the Moon" in 1973 meant that Dreamworks had to leave well alone.  Or perhaps the Dark of the Moon was not just the spaceship, but all the villiany and subterfuge that came from it too.  Or maybe the title writers got lazy. 

Along the way, we see Optimus Prime's trailer put to good use (a scene that quite obviously screams, "New toy alert!") and a batch of new Autobots who get names (I wish I could remember them).  We get to see the Autobots walking on the moon, as they recover the body of Sentinel Prime - a very impressive character, voiced by the extremely impressive Leonard Nimoy.  Nimoy lends the film some sci-fi credibility (as does the appearance of Buzz Aldrin), as long-time fans will remember him voicing Galvatron and Unicron in the original "Transformers The Movie" from 1985, while Trekkies will appreciate his delivery of the line, "You never understood that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few!" towards the end of the film.  We also see robots in disguise.  There are at least two scenes where vehicles which were previously assumed to be Earth vehicles and nothing more suddenly transform and engage in battle - and this was a very welcome change from the second film where we saw robots that didn't transform at all.  This film definitely won on its ability to deliver surprises and shocks.

We also get some character development as Optimus and Sentinel discuss the leadership of the Autobots, and we also get to see a decrepit and suffering Megatron in another new vehicle form which befits his current situation (and again screams "New toy alert!").  The story unfolds from the discovery at Chernobyl, from Sentinel's reactivation and his change of heart, and the plot develops in dramatic and unexpected ways, as the Autobots are expelled from the Earth; the Decepticons bring in reinforcements from the Moon (and subsequently from further afield) and start their plan for world conquest.  

Quite a lot of the second half of the story feels a lot like a throwback to the G1 cartoon story "The Ultimate Doom!" - in fact, large parts of the story were almost completely pulled out of that script:  humans collaborate with Decepticons to build a space bridge to bring Cybertron into Earth orbit; human slaves who are co-erced into co-operating and so on.  I wish I could remember if Cybertron was completely destroyed by the aborted attempt to bring it to Earth; I just know it seemed to suffer considerable damage!

On the subject of borrowed material, I can safely say I didn't notice that at least two scenes in this film were ripped directly (and I mean taken wholesale frame by frame) from some of Michael Bay's previous films, namely The Island and Pearl Harbour.  It didn't affect my enjoyment, and even now I'm not bothered; seems like a clever way of reducing costs in order to put more robots on the screen for longer.  And there's no complaints there:  plenty of Autobots, transforming; plenty of new characters, with names and identities, vast numbers of explosions, action, fights and more explosions.

One of the down-sides for me was the stupid mechanised earthworm that was featured at the start of the film, and extensively towards the end.  Does it transform?  No.  Does it belong in a film called Transformers?  No.  There is absolutely no precedent that I'm aware of in the Transformers universe for a robotic earthworm.  And if it's that destructive, why didn't it completely level the skyscraper that the humans were trying to climb?  Too big, too destructive, and yet somehow didn't manage to finish off the humans.  Also, I do think that the final sequence was overly long and could easily have been shortened.  In my view, the whole Decepticon aircraft vehicle thing, despite its jointed parts, was completely unnecessary.  Transformers don't fly aircraft; they transform into them!  And yet the story dictates that we have a rescue sequence that depends on Sam and Bumblebee piloting one of these vehicles:  this was not a high point for me.  Nor was Laserbeak's multitude of alternative forms:  throughout the story, he changes forms more often than I change my socks - really not a great part of the story for me (despite what I said about robots in disguise, this was a step too far).

The main high points, in my view, were:

*  Sam, arguing with the guards as he tries to enter the secret Autobot compound:  "Sir, what about your car?"  "That's not my car...  ... ... That's my car."
*  Ironhide's character arc.  Won't say any more, but I was genuinely surprised at how his character developed.
*  No more Megan Fox, and a fairly small amount of her replacement, who despite the wooden acting had a small but key part to play in the story, just towards the end.
*  Starscream's demise at the hands of... well, yes.  A very well-written set of scenes - I didn't see it coming (and neither did Starscream).

Overall - an excellent film, with outstanding special effects, good story and plot, understandable characters (and if they did just service the plot, I'm not complaining) and a body count that exceeds the previous two films put together.  It remains to be seen if the Decepticon remains are going to be blasted off into space, where they might meet up with Unicron and come back re-energised, but I for one will most certainly be looking forward to the next instalment!

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