So here's my first-impressions TL;DR what I saw last night. Enjoy?
Why I enjoyed Dark of the Moon:
Okay, I'm not going to lie. I had a damn good time watching this movie in the theater. I know part of it is just that I'm really susceptible to movie tricks-- all the tricks they use to make you jump and squirm get me, even if the movie's crappy-- but I think it was more than just that. Dark of the Moon was, in my opinion, a better movie than Revenge of the Fallen. Why?
Because it didn't make me cringe.
Like Michael Bay promised, the juvenile humor was cut almost completely out of this movie. There were no anatomy-based jokes, no potty humor, not much in the way of slapstick or sight gags, and I appreciated that a lot.
On further reflection, I think the lowest-common-denominator humor is just a symptom of something that RotF didn't have, but I feel DotM did: respect. I'm not going to go as far as saying DotM had respect for the source material, because even I'm not that crazy, but I do feel like it respected its audience. It respected the people watching it enough to try and tell a decent story, even if it didn't necessarily succeed. I don't feel like RotF even bothered.
So I enjoyed DotM. I'm probably going to see it again, maybe even in theaters. But does that mean I love it unreservedly? Oh hell no. While there was a lot of stuff in it that I liked, there were also a lot of flaws and a lot of things I didn't like. I'm going to break down the things that made the biggest impact on me after the cut, and there will be spoilers, so consider yourself warned.
Things I didn't like about DotM:
- CARLY. Rosie Huntington-Whitely's Carly is probably the biggest problem I had with the movie, and I absolutely hated her. Now, I acknowledge that a large part of this is because I love Mikaela dearly, and I have since TF2007. She's one of my favorite characters out of the movies, and out of the entire TF franchise. When I heard Megan Fox had been tossed from DotM and that they'd be giving Shia LeBeouf's Sam a new love interest, I was devastated. I'm willing to concede that without my attachment to Mikaela, I probably would have just disliked Carly, instead of actively hating her.
I still had some major problems with Carly aside from the fact that she's not Mikaela, though. For one thing, she was completely fucking useless. She spent the entire movie being the worst kind of female love interest character you can get in a sci-fi movie: she screamed a lot, she flailed around, and she needed Sam to run after her and rescue her all the time. It seems like such a step down from Mikaela, who was a badass in TF2007 and at least did sensible things like take off her heels to run and change into boots when shit got real in RotF. I mean, they left Carly in her goddamn high heels in the entire movie. Seriously?
I mean, okay, I know TF as a franchise is historically light on female characters. I know Michael Bay as a director only cares about females so far as they have acceptably alluring cleavage. But their token hottie love interest was cool in the first movie and at least continued to hold her own in the second. And this is what they give us in the third? A vapid, screaming twit who needs Sam to rescue her? Thanks a fucking lot, Michael Bay.
Useless. God I hated Carly.
- THE DEATH TOLL. Now, far be it from me to say that a movie about war shouldn't have deaths in it, because it probably should. I'm not even saying that Michael Bay shouldn't dare to ever kill off fandom's precious Transformers, because I'm okay with that too....if it's done right which is something the movie franchise has had problems with since the start.
Now, I didn't have a problem with all of the deaths in the movie. Sentinel Prime going bad and killing Ironhide was a twist I didn't see coming, and I thought that happened at just the right moment in terms of the plot. I can even forgive no one having time to react to it, because of the traitorous maniac of a Prime on the loose. And of course, said maniac of a Prime would have to be killed at the end. That was inevitable. Given the state that Megatron was in through the whole flick, I'm inclined to write his death off as a mercy. The execution scene was kind of a brutal and neat concept.
But Soundwave didn't have to die. Shockwave didn't have to die. And all of the 'new' Autobots from the last movie, who weren't in this one (that is, everyone but Sideswipe and Wheelie, I guess)? We're supposed to assume that they all got killed off screen, apparently, and not a single character says a thing about it. They're not even acknowledged as having existed: they're just completely absent. Yet the Autobots we see in the movie are explicitly referred to as the last Autobots left alive, meaning everyone else who disappeared is dead, not just somewhere else. What the hell.
And these deaths are all supposed to be permanent. No more resurrections. Uh-huh.
But I think the biggest 'death', and the one that bothered me the most, is going to get it's own bullet point...
- THE DESTRUCTION OF CYBERTRON. Yes, you read that right. The destruction of Cybertron. I mean really? Fucking really, Dark of the Moon? This is the climax of your movie, the home planet of the Autobots and Decepticons both getting absolutely fucking destroyed? Primus, is this how Star Trek fans felt when NuTrek destroyed Vulcan?
Except that when NuTrek destroyed Vulcan, it was a big fucking deal. It was a devastating blow to multiple characters in the movie and had an impact on the plot. What did DotM do with it?
It just happened. That's it. And we're supposed to believe that this is a happy ending because Optimus Prime and the Autobots triumphed. Never mind that there are apparently about eight Autobots left alive, period, never mind that there are unknown numbers of (unnamed) Decepticons still roaming loose on the Earth, never mind that Cybertron has been fucking wiped out of existence, all that matters is that humans won't be made into slaves! Hooray!
Now, if I was an optimistic type of person, I could tell myself that dealing with this tragedy is what the proposed fourth movie will be about. Unfortunately, I know better than that. Cybertron is gone and the Cybertronians are pretty much doomed to extinction, and that's that.
Some happy ending.
- THE PLOT HOLES AND LOOSE ENDS. Good lord, there were a lot of these. DotM was definitely not a finely crafted and carefully plotted movie, to say the least, and there are a lot of things they don't even bother to explain in the course of it, that we're just supposed to roll with as the audience. They never explain things like why Shockwave's on earth or what his role is in Megatron's plans. He's obviously in collaboration with Soundwave, as evidenced by his actions moving forward Decepticon plans to revive Sentinel and Laserbeak's presence in Chernobyl, but that's all we get. Nothing's ever explicitly said about it, we never actually see Shockwave interacting directly with the other 'Cons, or even communicating with them. He just shows up places and does things. It bugs me.
We see Megatron feeding barrels full of hatchlings in the desert in Africa... and that's it. The hatchlings aren't mentioned. The Autobots don't seem to know they're there. We never see them again. Hell, it's not even explicitly stated that they are hatchlings, it's just... an assumption? How the hell did they manage to activate that many if he hatchlings need energon and the 'Cons don't have any (as stated by Starscream in RotF, when the hatchlings first show up)? And what's going to happen to them now?
How the hell did Simmons get rich?
Where did the second mini-bot Brains come from, and why is he hanging around with Sam like Wheelie? For that matter, why are Wheelie and Brains just hanging around with Sam? Don't they have anything better to do?
Why the hell would anyone think using humans as a slave labor force to rebuild a GIANT ALIEN ROBOT PLANET is a good idea?? If they'd just left it at 'Sentinel and the Decepticons plan to strip Earth of its bountiful resources', it would have been hokey but fine. But they resource they wanted was human slave labor? Get real.
Speaking of, when exactly did Sentinel and Megatron strike their deal, anyway? If they came to their truce before the Ark left Cybertron with the space bridge, why was the ship shot down by 'Cons? If they didn't, when did Sentinel make his choice to 'betray the Autobot cause' to save Cybertron? After Optimus woke up him? If he and Megatron struck their truce after Sentinel was brought back online, why was it Megatron's plan all along to have Optimus revive Sentinel? Was he just assuming he'd find a way to convince/coerce Sentinel to let him use the space bridge? It doesn't make any sense.
I'm sure there's more, but man, just these few major ones are enough to make me twitch. On the other hand, with DotM I feel like the missing exposition is on a cutting room floor somewhere, wheras with the plot failures in RotF it felt like the people in charge just didn't care that it made no sense. I guess that's an improvement?
- MEGATRON. I'll admit that I went into this movie expecting Megatron to be a disappointment. Megatron has been a disappointment throughout the entirety of the movie franchise. He's just straight up not an effective villain nor military leader, and he never has been. But DotM just made him.... pathetic. And that's about all there is to him. He's still bearing wounds from the end of RotF for some reason, even though it's been abut four years since the end of the last movie. He appears to be infested with the Cybertronian version of lice or mites, which makes my skin crawl like you wouldn't believe. We're supposed to believe he's the one orchestrating Sentinel Prime's reactivation and the whole plot with the space bridge, but we see Laserbeak do more than Megatron ever does to progress that particular plot. In the end, the only thing he does that has any kind of impact is attack Sentinel, distracting him long enough to keep him from killing Optimus.
That's it. Then he dies, and that's really it.
My hopes weren't very high for what they'd be doing with Megatron in this movie, and I still managed to be disappointed by him. That's impressive.
Things I liked about DotM:
- THE PLOT. I really enjoyed the fact that they seemed to be actually trying to tell a story in this movie, instead of just having a bunch of robots and military teams flailing around and fighting each other. The fact that the plot of this movie was basically two G1 episode plots smashed together also pleased me-- not particularly because of the G1 homage/reference/tie-in, but because it meant there was actually plot. There was a lot of it. Granted, there were a lot of plot holes, too, but things were always happening in this movie, and I liked it.
I also liked Sam's human-interest subplot in this movie a lot better than the one in RotF. A kid out of college struggling to get a job-- and struggling to find something that makes him feel as important as saving the world? Yeah, I can get behind that a lot easier than "I just wanna go home and be all normal" Sam, that's for sure.
- LASERBEAK. Holy god, Laserbeak. I DID NOT EXPECT LASERBEAK, YOU GUYS. I did not expect him to talk, I did not expect him to be creepy and terrifying, I did not expect him to do so damn much. He was a high point of the movie for me, and it was really nice to see at least one of the Decepticons being, um, competent? I mean, we know they're competent fighters, for the most part. We've seen them make war very very well. But for the most part, that's all they do. The 'Cons in this franchise have for the most part been little better than brute-force thugs. It was a real treat to see one of them, any of them managing to pull off that sneaky, slimy manipulation we like to see out of our 'Cons on occasion.
- THE DECEPTICON/HUMAN ALLIANCE. Okay, this one might just be because I'm a sucker for this trope in TF fiction in general, but I was quite pleased by the Decepticon/human alliance. I like seeing the Decepticons be smart enough to use humans to their advantage. I liked that the 'Cons had ways to control their liaisons, and I liked that Patrick Dempsey's character (....Dylan...?) wasn't delusional enough to think that he could bend the 'Cons to his will. He was dealing with forces bigger and scarier than he was, and he knew it, and I liked that element. This doesn't mean he wasn't a creep, because he was, but he was a creep who knew his place.
- THE FIGHT SCENES. I know one of the perennial complaints about Bay's TF movies is that his fight scenes are a mess and you can't tell what the fuck is going on. Thankfully, this isn't as much of a problem in this one as the last two, at least not until the very end. There were some really, really cool fights in this movie, especially the one on the freeway with the three Decepticon SUVs chasing down pre-defection Sentinel Prime. That was some cool stuff.
I also appreciate that, at least among the Autobots, we get to see that different mechs have different fighting styles? It's a damn treat to watch Sideswipe fight for example, in this movie and in RotF too. (It's also a damn treat to watch him move, period.) I also adore the way Dino/Mirage moves and fights, and glee'd a little every time I saw him transform onscreen because I knew I was about to see more of it.
- THE SPECIAL EFFECTS. I've always found the TF movies visually impressive. Ever since the first previews for TF2007 hit the web, the rendering on the mechs has been top notch. (Hell, the fact that the mechs were so well-rendered, even in the first TF2007 trailers, is the very reason I started to get interested in Transformers.) Say what you will about the character designs, about the choreography of the fights, about Bay's filming style, but the SFX themselves have always been rock solid, and DotM doesn't disappoint in that respect. This was one hell of a visual spectacle.
And I enjoyed the 3D. It's amazing how much difference it makes when they actually film in 3D, instead of just retroactively editing a movie to show it in 3D.
- ALAN TUDYK'S CHARACTER, DUTCH. I knew Alan Tudyk was due to be in this movie, but I had no idea what role he was going to play, and so I did not expect Dutch. Dutch was awesome, and beyond that, Dutch was useful, and I appreciate that! I don't think they overused him, and it was great to get to see Alan Tudyk be a stone-cold badass, even if it was only for a few minutes. He was great.
- EXECUTIONS. Executions! Multiple! I do not even have words for this. Even in a franchise that's been getting progressively darker and grittier in terms of tone and narrative for the past half a decade (or longer), I still did not expect robots to be straight-up executing other robots on screen. First we get the Autobot Wreckers who dismember a Deception pilot that they drag out of a down battleship, which was..... something else, to say the least. (And why are we supposed to think the Autobots are good guys again?) But then we get Soundwave overseeing a round-up of Autobot prisoners during the final battle.... and deciding to execute them all himself. No prisoners. (Granted, he only gets through one of them before the day is saved, but...) Now, this kind of thing is more Decepticon style than Autobot, but it was still seriously, seriously brutal.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to advocate brutality and violence just for the hell of it. I'm definitely not cheering either side on particularly, and I would have liked to see some acknowledgement that Autobots dismembering a guy while he was still alive was maybe a bad thing? But I also appreciate maturity in my storytelling, and I think one of the things that TF narratives have occasionally missed is that this story is about war. Not just war, but a nasty war of attrition that's been going on for a Really Long Time between two sets of unbelievably powerful opponents. I like seeing Cybertronians doing nasty things to each other because it feels to me like real people fighting a real war, not a set of whitewashed good guys fighting a set of blackwashed bad guys. There have been some other TF canons recently that have been very good at this-- IDW's G1-based-ish comics and Transformers: Animated both come to mind-- but that doesn't mean I don't like seeing it in the movie too.
- SHOCKWAVE. I am not gonna lie, I thought Shockwave was kind of cool. He was also criminally underutilized, should have fucking talked, and I've already mentioned the major plothole regarding his relationship to the rest of the Decepticons. But what we did get of him in the movie I liked. I liked his pet/symbiont/transport/mechanical sandworm horrorterror. I liked his design. I liked the way he moved and he fought a lot. I appreciate that despite not knowing anything about him or where he came from or what he was doing and why he was doing it, I still felt threatened by him. It's a damn shame he's dead and we won't get any more out of him, because what we got to see before he died had a lot of potential.
Other thoughts on DotM:
- THE WRECKERS. I went in expecting the worst of the Wreckers, a trio of new Autobots with Nascar alt forms and.... let's call them unflattering robot forms, shall we? I figured we were going to have the awful racist twins replaced with awful redneck stereotypes, and thankfully, that wasn't the case. They all had Scottish and Irish accents for some reason? Okay. Anyway, I wouldn't call them a high point and I didn't particularly like them, but in a toss-up between Skids/Mudflap and the Wreckers, I'd take the Wreckers any day.
- What the hell ever happened to Sarah and Annabelle Lennox? They were such a big deal to him in TF2007, and we get nada in both RotF and DotM. Thanks guys.
- The last minute rename of Wheeljack and Mirage to Que and Dino.... bugs me. I'm the last person to bitch about giving characters names that aren't part of the Hallowed Canon of G1-- I don't care about that-- but if you're going to rename characters at the last minute, can you at least give them Transformer names? Que is.... okayish, I guess, but Dino? Really?
- The Corvette centennial concept looks stupid without a roof. Sorry Sideswipe.
- HAHAHAHAHAHA MIKAELA DUMPED SAM. This brings me much glee. Also, why the hell did Sam have Mikaela's dog? ....And her Wheelie? >:[
Would I recommend it?
Well, that depends on who I was talking to. Would I recommend Dark of the Moon to a hardcore, long time Transformers fan? Probably not. This movie continues in the exact same vein as the first two in terms of the way it runs roughshod over what most fans have come to expect from their various Transformers fictions. None of the robots on either side get much in the way of serious screen time and consideration, and the Autobots, Optimus included, are still brutal, violent, and vicious. If you came out of TF2007 and/or RotF hating everything and everyone, DotM isn't going to fix anything for you.
If you're a fan of the movie franchise in particular, however, like I am? I'd recommend it. TF2007 was my first experience with any Transformers canon ever, and I liked it a lot. DotM feels a lot more like TF2007 than RotF to me, and for that I'm grateful. I don't think it was as good a movie as the first one, but I enjoyed it, especially because a lot of the stuff that made RotF embarrassing even for dedicated fans of the movie-verse is gone from this one. It may still be "raping the childhoods" of long-term G1 fans, but at least the movie franchise has been (relatively) internally consistent in the way it does it.
Would I recommend it to non-TF fans? Probably. As far as science-fiction flicks go, it's no better and no worse than a lot of the stuff that's come out recently. Sure, the story is fairly predictable and it's not the most well-written or well-plotted movie in the world, but I think it's solid enough that it's an enjoyable watch. Certainly the effects and the action make it a decent popcorn movie for the summer. I know that's not the highest recommendation in the world, but it's a pretty fun movie over all, especially if you're not going in there already predisposed to hating it, everything in it, and everything it stands for.
All in all, I don't regret seeing it. I won't feel embarrassed to admit that I'm a TF fan the way I was for a while when RotF came out. (Don't look at me that way, Transfans, you know what I'm talking about.) Hell, I'd be willing to go see it again, although I probably wouldn't spring for the 3D. IMAX, maybe....
It wasn't a particularly good movie. It definitely wasn't a good Transformers movie. But it was a movie that had some cool and fun things, and I really enjoyed it while I was in the theater watching it. That was good enough for me, but I have low standards when it comes to movies.
Your mileage will almost certainly vary.
Thanks for reading.