Transformers 3 really doesn’t warrant an extensively thorough delve into the minutiae of every bit of texture, nook and seam found within; because quite frankly, there really doesn’t exist. But you know what? Despite Mark Kermode’s head bashing of the film, I quite enjoyed it. That is not to say there are no problems. Surprise! It’s chock full of them. All of the typical Bay-isms that people are constantly bashing the guy for are here. And it is certainly possible that I had the wool pulled over my eyes like I did with the first film. It was 2:30 in the morning when the film ended so my delirium may have clouded my judgement a bit. Either way, for the most part, I had fun. A LOT more fun than the dreadful Transformers 2. So again, not really worth diving into exactly, but one can make a checklist of the goods, the bads and the uglies. So here they are in a Wednesday morning (much like the movie) stream of consciousness…
So yes, there are bad things. For one, I cannot for the life of me get on board with Bay’s particular brand of humor. The only way to explain it is with redundancy: it’s juvenile in the most childlike manner. It’s George Lucas-style robot humor that is supposed to be cute and amusing but just comes off as flat, needless, perplexing and eye-rolling. Nothing works. The humor might work in another movie, but here it is simply too broad. There is certainly a place for humor in Transformers, but it’s got to be of the right brand of humor – and this stuff just doesn’t work. Shia LaBeouf has oodles of charisma and makes some of his stuff amusing, but anything not involving him is simply embarrassing. I fucking hate Ken Jeong – that pretty much says it all. The parents didn’t work last time (excuse the understatement) and they don’t work here either. They are the most needless characters in cinema history. About the only character I found truly funny was Alan Tudyk – no surprise there.
Next is the music. Bay probably loves “Nickelback.” Nothing wrong with that; except one thing: I hate it. The music choices are as broad as the humor. It doesn’t sound cool, it sounds typical, corny and backwoods. If Celine Dion did the soundtrack it would probably have worked better. The end credits are excruciating to sit through. To each their own I guess. But for me: terrible, terrible, terrible.
Lastly, at 160 minutes, Transformers 3 is just TOO DAMN LONG! There are plenty of small action sequences that did nothing but prolong the action. Now, by about the 90 minute mark the movie had won me over. If it had ended at about the 125 minute mark I would’ve been a pretty happy camper. But the action really drags on by the end and things start to get repetitive. I can only watch LaBeouf and company slide back and forth in a building for so long before I’m yawning. I can only watch a robot explode so many times before I’m checking my watch. I can only see people getting zapped for so long before I’m squirming in my seat. I can only watch a finite number of building crumble before my eyes start to close.
But there are some good things going on as well. For starters, I really enjoyed the opening sequence before the title card. In about 10 minutes, Bay recreates the decade for the race to the moon… but with the plot twist. Neil Armstrong, et. al. are trying to get to the moon before the Russians for really only one thing: an alien space craft has landed on the dark side and they’re tasked with a recon mission. From the president to NASA to the CIA and everyone in between, it gives an interesting and surprisingly believable twist to American history. Bay uses archival footage mixed with recreations to give a unique and creative feel to the film that I haven’t seen from him before.
The rest of it is whiz-bang fourth of July type of movie making. And it looks fantastic. Bay has (sort of) learned from previous mistakes and pulls back on his action a bit more so that we can actually see what is going on. Robots are differentiated by color and appearance. The bad guys are snake like or have “dreadlocks” or some other distinguishable feature. The good guys are bright and colorful. The camera isn’t as up close as it was in previous films and the action isn’t literally as in-your-face as it was before.
The plot was simple and something I could relate to in a movie kind of way. I had a frame of reference. Bay has a knack for making his characters paper thin so when they’re under attack no one really gives a frog’s fat ass. Transformers 3 introduces a new character that I do care about: Chicago. Pitting the action in a well known city that slowly gets torn apart is much more “heart breaking” than a bunch of army dudes in the desert or in some unknown scrap metal yard.
Lastly, you gotta admit it. Everything looks fantastic. Not a glitch in the whole thing. The compositing is perfect and the design of motion is so fluid and fun to watch. The freeway chase sequence is particularly thrilling. This is where the movie really shines – and it knows it, so there’s a lot of it. As mentioned, it does start to drag towards the end, but until then everything is a lot of fun to watch. Watching the details in the intricacy of the bullet time transforming borders on fascinating – particularly when there’s a human involved with the actual morphing. It’s pretty ingenious actually.
Overall, Michael Bay is simply not a good film maker by the yardstick that I never really enjoy his films except as a one time watch; and only on the most superficial of levels. They are “shut down your brain and watch” moving pictures. There are small plot threads that are abandoned and big name stars are clearly only here for the paycheck. And you know what? This is just fine by me. Michael Bay knows what he likes, he knows what he wants and God bless him, that is what appears on screen. It is his vision of awesome and he makes it come alive. So it is with zero sarcasm I say, good for him.