Sunday, July 17, 2011

681 - Transformers: Dark of the Moon review

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” features an ending sequence where the city of Chicago is annihilated, an event that would be just barely more expensive than the production of the film itself. Michael Bay, the director, reportedly stands to make somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million for his efforts, which have already been rewarded as it has easily become the highest grossing pic of the year, domestically. Critics collectively scream in terror at Bay’s every success, and truth be told, it’s difficult to argue that any “Transformers” film is any good, unless you’re making your case in a middle-school classroom.

But if nothing else, Bay is an auteur, a director whose stylistic and thematic fingerprints are visible on every frame. There are a couple dozen mega-budget films released each year, but rarely do more than a couple carry a remarkable aesthetic signature. Bay’s films, always violent, kinetic, and tonally acerbic, feel like he directed them. You like it, or you don’t.

That’s a good or a very bad thing, depending on one’s tastes. Consider the subject matter of the “Transformers” series: giant alien toys. They’ve come to earth, and then proceed to tear it to pieces, with a college kid (Shia LeBeouf) somehow managing to be at the center of the action. The U.S. military, never filmed more heroically than here, always show up to take a lot of causalities and kill a couple of the toys. If one finds this even the least bit appealing, then it’s unlikely they’ll be disappointed. A few years ago Bay directed “The Island,” a fairly thoughtful adventure about clones. It became his only flop, and I’m sure taught him an unfortunate lesson: the dumber, the better. You like it, or you don’t.

Despite the toys and the PG-13 rating, it’s crammed with violence, language, and schoolboy sexuality. Bay is the sort of director who will begin with a tracking shot from behind of a woman in her underwear, and then a few minutes later have a giant toy give a heartfelt lecture on his fondness for humanity. It’s a testament to how well it’s made that the tone never reaches self-parody, or becomes so bad it’s funny. Rest assured, if you hate this, you won’t find it humorous. You like it, or you don’t.

The characters are played by a number of recognizable faces that aren’t short on talent by any stretch. John Turturro, Frances McDormand, and even John Malkovich lend support of a kind, playing roles that might be embarrassing if the audience didn’t innately understand that they were receiving generous paychecks. I’m fond of saying that good actors in stupid movies must be in need of a kitchen remodeling, but with what these actors got, I’m sure they’ll just buy new mansions.

There's no such thing as a review-proof movie, but this comes close. That countless people enjoy these films doesn’t make them good, though there’s something indicative about the quality with which it was done judging by the support. Over the course of two and a half plus hours (!), the toys fight, have a final battle where good achieves a major victory, and all comes to a close. I can’t imagine there are more than a handful of directors that could make something this innately terrible into something so technically impressive, exciting, and draining. You like it, or you don’t.

2.5 out of 5

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