Some thoughts after my first viewing of Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Thanks to the kind Canadians, I got in on a press advance screening of Dark of the Moon for free! Full 3D and whatnot. What follows are my initial thoughts, primarily spoilerless but still behind a cut.
I do want to mention though: This is not what I would call my comprehensive review. I still have plenty of additional thoughts to come up with about DOTM, both in recording a vlog about the film and participating in one or two podcast roundtables through WTF@TFW.
The film was better than Revenge of the Fallen! Far more cohesive, and a lot of the most dullard-grade humour was absent. There were dumb jokes, but in my opinion nothing in there was on the level of things that made some folks get hilariously bristled and angry.
I will address that one review that tried to rally a new bandwagon of racial insensitivity, and went so far as to claim there was cribbed 9/11 “falling man” imagery. The dude who wrote that was trying way too hard. Granted I am almost entirely devoid of the sensitivity that results in such declarations of outrage, but the film went somewhere that actually does tend to piss me off and I was fine with it. Then again, I feel like the only person on the internet who gives a toss when film-makers decide to take it out on ze Germans once again. Herr Alan Tudyk made me smile.
But were the twins there? Nope! Were there a lot of british and scottish accented robots? Yep! If that makes you mad then I guess it’ll make you mad. There was also an asian dude that riled some folks up- as a half-asian gentleman I found nothing horrifically offensive about him. Oh, no robots had testicles and no robots humped legs, so two of the most over-hyperbolized complaints about ROTF were also missing in action.
Honestly I am not trying to get on the case of you dudes who got really mad, but you make it really easy! Anyway, you’ll still be happy about some of what I have to say even if you only want to hear someone rant about how Dark of the Moon has driven film to a new low, or whatever the tagline is nowadays. Dark of the Moon did a whole lot of cool stuff, and also missed the mark in several aspects.
One interesting thing about Dark of the Moon is how it renders a majority of Revenge of the Fallen entirely skippable. All you need to know from ROTF is that Sam saved the world with the Autobots a 2nd time, Megatron got resurrected and received a massive facial injury, there’s a little robot called Wheelie who hangs out with Sam, and Sideswipe is damn good. Seriously, Dark of the Moon comes really close to nullifying Revenge of the Fallen from even needing to be skimmed through for backstory. It really damages the strength of the live-action films as a trilogy, but given how weak ROTF was this isn’t entirely a problem.
Primary new additions to the Autobot cast are Sentinel Prime, Dino, Q, the Wreckers, and Brains. The Wreckers turned out great- somewhat shoe’d in but not an expensive bunch of background characters like many of ROTF’s new bots. Sadly, Dino and Q do end up in that realm, with Q edging his way out only by one of the wirey hairs on his head. They aren’t hilariously absent like Jolt was (from ROTF AND this film 😉 ), they just feel like wasted potential. Brains is a buddy for Wheelie, and one I somewhat enjoyed. However, he very much comes out of nowhere if one hasn’t read the prequel comic books. A whole LOT of stuff happens off-screen but on-panel between ROTF and DOTM, and is explained away extremely fast and a little too vaguely. It’s not as plot-breaking as ROTF’s reliance on viewers knowing The Fallen’s backstory, at least. Sentinel Prime was very well-done, with some fantastic (if clearly elderly) voicework from Leonard Nimoy. I enjoyed all of his scenes in the movie, and have to leave it at that for now.
The Decepticons get a bit of a better diceroll on new character additions. Laserbeak steals the show for the opening part of the movie, definitely cementing himself as one of my top movieverse characters. Really glad he didn’t get sidled with a bestial role. Soundwave is also a bit of a new character in this film for a couple reasons, taking a much more active role and not being quite as overpowered as he was in satellite mode. Sadly though, he came across as even less of a creepy intelligence specialist and more of a generic villain. And still no vocoder on his Dr Claw voice! 😦 The Dreads were a lot of fun, and totally stepped on all the toyline attempts. They’re the Cyberverse robot modes, all with the same deluxe Crankcase vehicle mode. Shockwave was one of the most hyped debuts, and unfortunately fell really short. I only recall one spoken english line from him in the entire film, and while I adored the imagery of him rising from the better metal snake…it’s really his highlight. Those hoping for a fleshed out movieverse Shockwave will be disappointed. However, Shockwave was also a red herring. His implied role in the film was sacrificed for one of the plot’s biggest twists.
Returning robot characters got some decent screentime, with Sideswipe and Ratchet ACTUALLY HAVING SEVERAL LINES OF DIALOGUE! Starscream and Megatron were also quite entertaining, though Megatron devotees may not be entirely satisfied with his full role at the end of this trilogy. Wheelie returns and I did not mind- granted I did not nearly have the same degree of animosity towards him as many others did in ROTF. He felt somewhat toned down, in part due to his partnership with Brains.
Human characters! All the ones you know and love (or hate) are back, mostly still doing their thing. Sam feels like he’s matured a little, albeit down a slightly bitter vein. Simmons is still Simmons, with a lot less pants-dropping. The NEST/military boys are there, mostly unchanged and still feeling fairly static. And of course, the fantastic General Morshower perseveres.
New to the human cast are characters such as…uh…government lady? I forgot her name. 😦 She is a lot more of an actual character than ROTF’s evil exposition man, though, and a lot of her antagonism does not feel entirely unjustified. I ended up rather liking her, even though I forgot her name for the moment. Alan Tudyk also joins our franchise as Dutch, in a somewhat comedic role that I had fun watching. Replacing Mikaela is Carly, who was not nearly as wooden or painful an actor as one might expect from a model taking on her first major film role. Also came across as a bit stronger than Mikaela. Don’t get me wrong though, she did end up damsel-ing out pretty hardcore when the plot needed it. And John Malkovich! He was in the movie. A lot more than I expected, but almost entirely for laughs. I liked his role though, it accomplished what it set out to do with me.
So how was the plot? Oddly enough, it ran really close to a certain multi-parter from the G1 series. On the downside, it is very reliant on cartoony aspects like villains blabbering about things to protagonists and plot device items popping up for the sake of being important. Granted the movieverse at this point almost makes an in-joke of just how many powerful items remain lost for generations until crashing into to the story of the next sequel. 😀 On the upside, the plot does not becoming a psychotic clusterbabble like ROTF’s did in its final half. There are not 15 climaxes, interlocking puzzle-pieces of subplots, multiple endbosses, or other ROTF classics. Everything ran on more or less a simple path, much like the end of the first film. It was far more cohesive than ROTF’s plot, though I hope that isn’t taken as meaning it was a solid film script overall. It still relied too much on out-of-film supplementary fiction without providing sufficient exposition within its own screentime, in the opening quarter. And on the other side of the coin, it got way too involved in detailing just how the space race factors into the plot during the opening 10 minutes. Props for goofy CG Kennedyface though! Finally, the pace was way less spastic than ROTF’s. Things move pretty fast to get us to the main action scenes, and I did not mind.
Overall, I do not entirely mind that the plot ended up a slightly grittier parallel to that of a multi-parter from G1. It inherently dumbs things down, but within a far more solid skeleton than ROTF’s confused script. There is still room for fun in there, and DOTM provided a lot of it. Unfortunately though, it also let a lot of great potentials slip through its fingers.
Dark of the Moon is not shy about displaying character and bystander death. It’s not toned down, and quite harsh. That part is fine, but the film drops its bodycount ball in making the deaths feel dramatically viable. Some deaths pull their way to the outskirts of having the full cycle of drama, importance, and aftermath. But a lot of them felt very throwaway and almost unpleasantly cruel- a problem I have had with both prior Transformers films. I have seen arguments made that this makes everything high-stakes, and legitimizes further superviolence, but one thing I have always preferred is for established character death to have clear meaning and aftermath. A majority of DOTM’s deaths lack clear aftermath, aside from cold vengeance. And some of them feel very unworthy of those who suffer their fatal consequences. Even when characters just stop appearing or do not clearly die, the film treats a lot of its cast quite disposably and does not make any effort to offer aftermath or detailed closure.
This takes me to Optimus Prime. The movieverse Optimus Prime, as of the end of Dark of the Moon, has played entirely into my running gag of being a potential homicidal maniac. THIS IS NOT NECESSARILY A BAD THING. I find it quite amusing, and adore the fact that it has become one of the unique characteristics of this Optimus iteration. However, it also ferries along a lot of my problems in the prior paragraph. Optimus Prime is far too powerful, and his fight scenes end far too decisively. Even when he receives a brutal maiming, I constantly felt that it would only a matter of seconds for him to say a hilarious murder-line and end the battle nigh-instantly. While Optimus Prime is meant to be a hero and primary antagonist, he is just _far_too_powerful_ in these films, growing in Superman-itude with each passing sequel.
All that having been said! I really like how the movieverse Optimus Prime trailer was introduced as a transforming weapons rack. Even if this version of Optimus STILL casually discards his equipment with smile-inducing predictability. I want to imagine that his “flight tech” is still the corpse of a former ally, further de-cybertronianized by being referred to as mere equipment.
Let me take a moment here to give massive props to ILM for their work in this film. The CG felt tighter and more alive than either of DOTM’s predecessors, and was a great high note to go out on if this is the end of this continuity. Though there was a surprising lack of delicious and nearly pornographic transformation sequences. A lot of transformations in this film happened quite quickly, which is not a bad thing in and of itself. The action sequences themselves were fun and exciting, definitely making me look forward to seeing them again sometime.
I think this was my favourite film of the trilogy, though a casual filmgoer would need the exposition of the first film to enter into this one. The action was fantastic, and even easier to follow than either of its predecessors. The 3D was also top-tier, if you’re into that kind of thing. I am! 😀 There were a lot of really great set pieces, and even those that ended with disappointing deliveries of death were still cool to watch through their entirety.
That said, it still commits a lot of crimes that film buffs will scoff at hardcore. And if you’re the kind of viewer that likes to go into movies with the expectation of hating them, it won’t go out of its way to dissuade you. Though I question your idea of how to spend your spare time if you’re that adamant at not enjoying yourself. 😉 It is an easy film to have fun with though, both in viewing and in poking fun at afterwards, and it does so without being quite as confusing and a drag to watch as ROTF. However, defending it as a high point in film-making is not something I would be able to look at without laughing. Just as with the other live-action Transformers films, being a white knight or vitriolic mouth-frother is the same thing in my eyes. Whatever gets you off, though!
I’ll have vlogs and podcasts about the film after I’ve seen it a second (and possibly third) time, so I will end this by saying there’s plenty more that can be said about the film in either direction. Please listen to the podcasts, at least! I take a bit of pride in WTF@TFW’s ability to have an fun, interesting, and less-sensationalized discussion about media that we watch. There’ll be something in there and my own vlog for lovers AND haters of Dark of the Moon.
Thanks for reading, if you did! I hope it wasn’t entirely unfulfilling. 🙂