[WARNING: NO SPOILERS]
Some people love to hate Michael Bay.
Some people also love to hate movies that exist primarily to sell toys (kinda bizarre how two, high profile examples of this “genre” were released at the same time this week), so it should come as no surprise that a number of early reviews for Transformers: (Turn Off the) Dark of the Moon have stuck the kinfe in. These commentaters resolutely claim that the movie is abysmal, wanting you to believe it’s as painful as watching a Lady Gaga concert while having your testicles sandblasted.
Judas, I say!
As long as you go in knowing what to expect – a rambunctious movie about giant robots masterminding all manner of mayhem - then it’s easily the best of the three and a thoroughly enjoyable ride.
Mind you I’m no Michael Bay or Transformers apologist; I think the first movie is ok at best and the second IS as painful as the above. But the new film clearly removes itself from the pack in a few small but important ways…
First and foremost, the insipid, pointless, and completely out of place kindergarten humor is GONE. No robots pissing oil, no 50 foot machines tip-toeing around a house saying “my bad” and not one Autobot humps anyone’s leg. To me, this stuff was some of the worst offenders of the first two movies and constantly pulled me out of the story. That’s not to say this movie has no childish humor – it does - but, in most cases, it didn’t insult me and I actually laughed.
By the grace of the All-Spark, the writers of the first two films were joyfully missing from the credits of part three and you can feel the glory of their absence from start to finish. The plot is a lot more cohesive this time around and was something I could follow. The action made sense, there were no Optimus-sized plot holes being constantly thrown at you and I believed in the characters. Plus, overall, the movie has a much darker, more sinister tone - tones that go hand in hand with “dramatic” and this film certainly has raised the stakes. Bay pulls no punches and the body count in TF3 is pretty high. When big, heavy things fall out of the sky we don’t get the “A-Team shot” in which we clearly see everyone scurry out of the way just in time; no, when that big, heavy thing falls out of the sky peeps get ker-ushed!
Of course, dead pedestrians don’t make a bad movie good and, thankfully, this isn’t a movie that needs saving. With the story and character bases well covered, the audience can now sit back and enjoy the real reason they sat down – the action and visual effects.
And boy oh boy, does this movie deliver! The action set pieces are epic and well-conceived and – hold onto your hat, folks – Michael Bay actually slows down enough so that you can appreciate what you’re looking at and, more importantly, tell what the hell is going on! This is in part due to Bay’s understanding that 3D movies bring with them a few extra cinematic rules; rules that he chose to embrace rather than ignore like so many directors new to 3D have done.
And yes, the 3D is good. Yes, it would have been nice to have a few less telephoto lenses and a bit more spacing between those lenses, but Bay has shown an understanding of what it takes to successfully compose an effective stereo shot. Throughout the entire film, shots are purposely crafted with foreground and mid ground objects, bringing depth to scenes that might have otherwise been flat.
Another example is perhaps my favorite 3D shot in the movie – our characters walk through an alley in Chicago as the camera cranes down. The Alley itself, with all it’s urban detail, provides good depth, but when the camera comes to rest it does so right over a giant puddle – a puddle that reflects the city skyscrapers we DON’T see in the rest of the shot. This not only provides visual information we wouldn’t have seen without the puddle, but it adds and incredible extra layer of depth; reflections can do wonders for a 3D shot, and in his case, since the puddle is on a flat surface, the depth of the reflection adds incredible stereo contrast.
Sadly, just as soon as you have a chance to appreciate the beauty of the shot, it’s over. And this is perhaps my only real criticism of the 3D – Bay may have slowed down his cutting style enough to avoid eye strain and headaches (no mean feat in a two and a half hour 3D movie), but he should have learned to slow down for the sake of the art, as well. While the concept of a long take may be as alien to Michael Bay as tofu is to McDonald’s, any number of 3D shots would have proven truly breathtaking had they been allowed to breathe. Instead, we get a lot of moments of “wow, that’s a great sh-” and then it’s over. Oh well, I guess we’ll have a lot of great 3D freeze-frames to look forward to on the Blu-Ray!
Still, when all is said and done, TF3 is easily the best 3D since that movie with all the silly blue people. And it’s not just stereo eye candy, quite a few action bits are definitely enhanced by 3D (most notably the wingsuit sequence). And I think from the moment it was announced, we all knew that giant, fighting robots would be a natural for 3D, and it was.
Speaking of visual effects, not only are these the most jaw-dropping images ever put up on the silver screen, the troops at ILM should get TWO Oscars for having to render all that inconceivably complex animation twice! The last hour of the film is one, long, tremendous, spectacular battle but, unlike the first two films, thanks to the added weight of some actual drama and a cohesive plot, I wasn’t bored and wanting to leave before the end.
This time around, I kind of didn’t WANT it to end.
What more can you ask from a movie?