Posted on Thursday, June 30th, 2011 by David Chen
Alright, so Transformers: Dark of the Moon was not as bad as Revenge of the Fallen. But man, it did not fall under any definition of “good” that I use, as I was led to believe it might. I enjoyed many aspects of Dark of the Moon: some of the action set pieces were spectacular, the special effects were awe-inspiring, and it has the best use of live action 3D that I’ve seen since Avatar. Also, there is a lot of base jumping in this film, and it is exhilarating.
All that being said, this is a situation where the negatives outweigh the positives. Assume SPOILERS for the film follow beyond this point.
Before we begin, please note the following: Yes, I get that many of these complaints could easily apply to the other Transformers films, as well as summer films in general. But these are still, in fact, things that I did not like about Transformers: Dark of the Moon. For those of you who are already typically annoyed by these movies (or these types of lists), you may want to stop reading now.
Got it? Cool. Let’s begin:
This thing is long. Like, really long. - Clocking in at 154 minutes, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is the longest of the three Transformers films (beating out Revenge of the Fallen‘s 150 minute runtime just barely). What does all that extra time get us? Many painfully lame attempts at humor. A half-baked story about stopping the invasion of earth. A totally pointless subplot with the autobots faking their death. More robots imbued with ethnic stereotypes. The horror of witnessing greats such as John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, and Buzz Aldrin (?) pointlessly prostituting themselves on the altar of Michael Bay (With regards to the latter point, I understand an actor/former astronaut has got to eat, but it was still painful to witness).
In other words, there was absolutely no reason this film needed to be this long. The “plot” certainly was not worthy of it. How much more effective would this film have been if it had clocked in at a lean hour and 45 minutes? Michael Bay desperately needs to understand that less is more. Sadly, with the nearly-assured success of this film, I doubt he ever will.
Ken Jeong - I usually celebrate when I see fellow Asian-Americans getting more acting work in major motion pictures, but count me in with the camp that thinks Ken Jeong’s current schtick is tired and borderline offensive. His over-the-top performance in Dark of the Moon is yet another way in which he has worn out his welcome with me. Why is it that every time I see Ken Jeong appear on screen in anything, I feel like Asian male race relations in the U.S. have just taken three steps backwards? Jeong is one of the most recognizable Asian male actors in American films today, but much of his fame has come through personifying stereotypes (see: The Hangover and Transformers: Dark of the Moon) or just plain ol’ batshit insane people (see: Knocked Up and Community). Don’t get me wrong: if you offered me $1 million to play a psycho poindexter in a Transformers film, I’d probably take that job too. But since I’m comfortably on this side of the movie screen, I’m also comfortably on this side of the righteous indignation.
It was not always this way. For me, Jeong is effective in small doses in our pop culture landscape, but after seeing him in The Hangovers, Community, and now this, I think I’m ready to see him try something new or vanish from the entertainment scene completely. In other words, I appreciate it when Asians are better represented in our entertainment but Ken Jeong makes me ask: at what cost? AT WHAT COST?
‘Cisco: The Movie’ – When Cisco Telepresence showed up prominently in 24, I wasn’t bothered by it. It was a relatively new technology to consumers at the time, and it made sense that these disparate government agencies were using it. But Cisco shows up at so many random points in this film — for video conferences that, in other films, would not be branded, and as a strangely prominent router in another situation — that it’s absurdly distracting. Assuming Cisco did sponsor this movie, what did they hope to gain? Is there a huge overlap between the target audience for this film and Cisco Telepresence? Are high-powered executives really watching this film and saying, “Hey, we should get that for our international offices!” Are military brass really watching this film and saying to themselves, “Glad we integrated that Cisco Telepresence!” What possible purpose could this sponsorship serve?
To be fair, there was tons of blatant product placement in this film (e.g. Sam’s mom bizarrely lifting a can of Bud Light to her lips right after she just got served…s’mores?). But Cisco’s felt particularly egregious and desperate.
Optimus Prime getting trapped in cables for like, half an hour - The dude has a frickin’ super-heated sword attached to his arm. He has brought down gigantic robots with one swipe. And he gets flummoxed by a bunch of construction cables? I understand they wanted to tie Optimus Prime up for a bit (literally!) so he could return for a great last-second save, but this was still incredibly lame.
The editing – Dark of the Moon was worked on by three different editors, and while I’m sure that each one performed admirably given difficult circumstances, this film still feels like it was hastily assembled by gluing together ribbons left on the floor after Michael Bay took a chainsaw to some 3D film canisters. Characters appear in random situations and positions all of a sudden. There is frequently no flow from one scene to the next, especially in the final chapter of the film. Continuity is a mess. All in all, a sloppy job.
Megatron getting outwitted by Rosie-Huntington Whitely - Megatron, baby, I get it. You feel like you’ve been overshadowed by the Primes for your whole life. You’ve clearly got a lot of anger building inside you, and that will need to be worked out at some point. But maybe wait 20 minutes until your plan has come to fruition before completely ruining your colleague’s face and thus jeopardizing your entire mission?
Michael Bay still has not solved the “Transformers Battle Problem” – Much has been said about how the final 45 minutes of the film are brilliant, and I agree that there are, in fact, supremely cool sequences in this section. But going into this movie, I was wondering if Michael Bay had solved the “Transformers Battle Problem,” which is a term I made up to describe the problem of creating momentum in a battle in which you have enormous metal killing machines facing off against tiny, carbon-based lifeforms with mostly-ineffectual weapons. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to convey on film that progress is being made towards a goal, or that the momentum of the battle is turning one way or the other.
This was certainly an issue in the last film and I still feel like it is an issue here. Sure, we get a few of cool scenes of autobots and U.S. soldiers taking down decepticons (even Sam gets in on the action!). But what do these individual victories/defeats mean for the larger battle? With one or two exceptions, these set pieces could have been strung together in any order and still retained their level of importance to the plot. What could have been a suspenseful, tension-filled epic battle ends up becoming an endless series of set pieces that feel haphazardly strung together. The Transformers Battle Problem is not an easy one to solve, and I was sad that Bay was unable to accomplish it here.