Posted July 1, 2011 at 2:36 am
Hey, look, I think I figured out how to put most of my text in a blogpost behind a clicky-wall of some sort.  This is strange and new technology to me!  And if I didn't figure it out, then, uh, I'd better figure it out and fix it really quick before I ruin somebody's life FOREVER with details of a Michael Bay movie. (Update: The clickywall works when viewed from the frontpage, but if through a direct link you see everything.  If you came here through a direct link, you are duly warned.)

But first a tiny review, for those who want my general feeling but not the whole deal.  I liked it.  And even better, I still liked it after watching it a second time, so it's at least better than Revenge of the Fallen in that fashion.  But then, the second time was the first time I watched it sober, so....  Dark of the Moon is the movie the second movie should have been, expanding the Transformers mythos and raising the stakes in a setting that we care about and with a human story that's not tedious to try relate to.  There's no robots humping, no dogs humping, no robot testicles, no dog ... testicles.  And while I really liked Sam's story, it was nice that Optimus Prime had a lot of time to shine, too.  I feel like this was the first movie where he was a character.  Which is not TOO surprising, since, y'know, he was only introduced halfway through the first movie and he was dead throughout most of the second.

(Oh, and you should watch it in 3D if that sort of stuff doesn't bother your head.  It's pretty damn spectacular.)

ON TO THE SPOILERS.  My aim isn't TO spoil, but to give a better analysis of how I felt about the movie.  So it's not gonna be a whole spread or anything, but I will drop plotpoints when it helps me explain things.

Why is Revenge of the Fallen the black sheep of the trilogy?  This is my take: Sam needs a solid story.  Sam's story always helps give a backbone to the movie.  In the first movie, the whole theme is "a boy and his first car."  And that really worked!  Who the hell hasn't been a teenager?  And, look, I like Shia LaBeouf.  I think he's charismatic and I think he's funny and I like to watch him scramble his way through adversity.  And the first movie was a great vehicle (so to speak) for that.

But Revenge of the Fallen, which was "written" during the writer's strike, sort of dropped the ball.  You can almost see the movie's Sam story in bits and pieces, but it was really lost through the huge onslaught of random junk Bay was throwing together before he even had a script in his hand.  I think it was supposed to be "Sam becomes his own man apart from his parents," which is sort of hinted at in the opening scenes where his parents lose their shit when he's off to college, and followed up just once more towards the end when he tells his parents to go and hide, he's got this.  It's just a little taste of an arc, and it's really lost in the big soup of the rest of the movie.

That, and like 45 whole minutes of the movie is Sam running through the desert with a sock full of sand.

Thankfully, Dark of the Moon turns that around.  The Sam story is very strong here.  Sam is frustrated.  He saved the world twice and yet he can't acknowledge it.  He can't get a job.  He feels inadequate next to his awesomely hot girlfriend who's entirely too good for his unemployed ass.  He used to be important, and now he's not.  He doesn't even get to live with Bumblebee anymore.  Instead, he has this surrogate clunker car that's yellow with black stripes.  You can feel how small he feels he's become.  And that's a lot like growing up, realizing that you're not so important in the grand scheme of things.  Being young and new was pretty sweet, wasn't it?  Don't we love nostalgia?

It's fun and satisfying to to me to see Sam's very angry frustration.   There's parts where he's at the breaking point, kicking the fuck outta his loser car that isn't Bumblebee while his hot girlfriend's equally hot boss who is super rich and hands out cars like lollipops seems to be taking her away from him.  Even the government laughs at him when he reminds him he saved the friggin' world twice.  "Yeah, that was nice, but you got lucky."  But what sells it is that Sam never gives up.  He kind of goes on a tantrum, but he never stops trying to prove himself.  And so it's really hard not to root for him, goofball that he is.  And when he finally gets the validation he deserves, leaping through windows onto named Decepticons to take them down like the seasoned warrior he's growing into, it's amazingly satisfying.

That's the huge reason I think Dark of the Moon works, above and beyond Revenge of the Fallen.  Sam is the backbone.  Without the backbone, you just have a laundry list of scenes.

Not that this movie's without its robots.  I think there might be a total of like fifteen minutes of shots without robots somewhere in them, out of two and a half hours of footage.  It's nice to finally get the "full" Decepticon cast of main dudes, with Shockwave finally showing up, along with Laserbeak and a grounded Soundwave.  (Not that Shockwave does much.  He's... kind of a red herring villain, only promoted as the main bad guy because the real bad guy's a surprise.)  And it's nice to get a bunch of new Autobots, expecially ones which aren't there solely to be comic relief.  Not that they're humorless, of course.  Look, I'm just saying there's nobody else like the hated Twins.   Mirage/Dino/whoever is a really fun character, if only because his Italian accent helps him to endear to you quickly.  Que/Wheeljack gets less time spent on him, but he too got more than Sideswipe's paper-thin introduction in Movie 2.

The Autobots also feel more vulnerable.  There are important casualties.  (The Twins would have been among them, before they were removed almost entirely from the movie.)  Revenge of the Fallen didn't really kill anybody important, not counting the basically immortal Optimus Prime who was resurrected at the end.  There wasn't any real feeling of danger in ROTF, but there is in DOTM.  Anybody can die.  And most do.  Graphically.

The robot plot is basically a love letter to the original Transformers cartoon.  It combines both the "human traitor, Autobots forced to leave Earth via spaceship" plot of "Megatron's Master Plan" and the "Decepticons want to bring Cybertron to Earth" plot of "The Ultimate Doom."  Oh, and at one point, Megatron removes the Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial and sits in his friggin' chair, which is a hilarious scene right out of "Atlantis, Arise!".  This movie is the G1 cartooniest ever.

The movie's not without its faults, of course.  It's a friggin' Michael Bay movie.  And as such, right on cue, the movie feels a little bloated in the final act.  Remember the Sam With Sock scene I tend to mention that feels like it goes on forever and maybe could have been snipped?  Its counterpart in Dark of the Moon is the whole toppling skyscraper scene, the one featured heavily in the trailers.  That part probably could have just been removed entirely without affecting much, and the pacing would have benefited greatly from it.  But at least it's much more visually dynamic than the Sam Carrying The Sock scene, which was, yeah, ducking into buildings and running across the desert for what felt like an eternity.  At least the toppling skyscraper takes us into more interesting visuals and dynamics, looping us in and out of windows and floors as the set rotates like a live-action Mario Galaxy level.  It would have been an amazing centerpiece for any other film, but here it's just bloated surplus.

God damn is this film dark and violent.  While the inappropriate sexual humor is mostly gone (a line or two from Sam's mom being the sole exception), it's still kind of not a movie for younger kids.  I am serious, we see humans die in great number, their parts scattered to the pavement every which way, skulls bouncing at you in 3D.  The robots don't fare any better.  If there were a Mortal Kombat Fatality scorecard, Dark of the Moon would check them all off.

(You gotta wonder how durable these Transformers really are, when it's just so easy to rip a dude's head off, spine-in-tow, Sub-Zero-style.  Seriously, very little effort, only determination needed.  The Transformers civil war shoulda been over with in fifteen minutes four million years ago.)

And Optimus Prime, the master of the brutal take-down, feels suitably horrified at the end, tossing down his weapon in disgust.  It's been a bad two-and-a-half hours for him.  He'd had all he can stands and he can't stands no more.  And yet, though justified in his violence, you can feel for his tiredness of all of it.

So, in summary: Good movie to see in 3D.  Lots of sparklies.  Strong enough story to justify the sparklies.  Shares some faults with Revenge of the Fallen, but stronger where it counts.  Stakes are higher, character is stronger, action is stronger, and a lot of the more "cheap" humor is gone.  I feel like the movie was actually written, rather than a collection of scenes.  I recommend it, so long as you know what you're getting into.