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September 20, 2013

Transformers 3: This Movie STILL Terrible


Time for despair.

Okay.  I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I don’t have any attachment to the Transformers franchise.

I can’t say that Dark of the Moon or any of the Bay movies have done the perennial “raping of my childhood”, mostly because Transformers was never a part of my childhood.  The most I saw of any of the original series -- for a given definition of “original”, seeing as how I don’t know what separates one generation from the rest -- was the end credits before the sun had even come up…years ago.  I once saw a clip of the Dinobots falling into lava or something, but everything else is a blur, to the point where I’ve seen more parody redubs than I have the actual cartoon.  So when it comes to the Autobots and pals, I don’t have any deep attachment to them.  I respect them and their creators -- assuming that the quality of the original series was actually something worth getting excited about.  I’ve heard some conflicting reports, but any series that made use of Stan Bush’s “The Touch” and Lion’s rendition of the main theme can’t be all bad.

That said, I can’t help but feel a bit of sympathy -- and even jealousy -- for those who were fans of the original series.  High quality or not, that show was something special to children of that not-quite-forgotten era.  I feel kind of bad about missing out on something so important to so many people (seriously, just look at the comments in those videos).  And at the same time -- as a result of seeing this movie -- I feel like even if it’s just a tiny sliver of an understanding, I know the pain the true fans have been dealt by the antics of Bay and company.  They’ve really, truly been wronged.  And if they won’t apologize, then I’ll do it on their behalf.


But let’s say you’re like me.  Let’s say you’re going into this movie franchise blind, with only a basic understanding of the characters, the relationships, the end goals, and the mythos.  Let’s say you hear the name “Transformers” and you think to yourself “Oh, hey, they made a movie out of that old cartoon?  Well, maybe I’ll give it a look.”  And then what happens?  You feel a sense of betrayal?  A newfound level of scorn for a man and a cadre you’d barely considered in the past?  A wellspring of rage bursts within your core?  An incurable disdain and cynicism for every man and woman involved -- not just for the production of the movie, but the civilization that made it okay for these movies (and ESPECIALLY their sequels) to exist and rake in undeserved millions?

Let’s say you sit through Dark of the Moon, and hate it.  What do you do next?

It doesn’t matter how you answer that question.  Because at the end of the day, there’s nothing you can do.


This movie doesn’t just break box office expectations. It doesn’t just break the spirits of those that endure its bloated run time.  This movie breaks the very concept of hope.  It is physical proof that for all the good products, and for all the good creators, and for all the good stories out there, someone -- something will always be there, gaining momentum and popularity merely by existing, regardless of quality.  There will be audiences that go out and see it regardless of its merit, some blindly getting some sense of “enjoyment” out of it, while others will venture out anyway to “enjoy it ironically” -- which sends just as bad a message, if you ask me.

Effort?  Talent?  Spirit? For some, those are the keys to making a good story.  But for others, those are traits best left by the wayside, knowing full well that a name alone is enough to get a shallow sense of success.  And the sad thing is, the truly depressing, soul-crushing thing is, they’re absolutely right.  People in droves are proving them right -- that you don’t need skill, or wisdom, or heart to earn praise.  Just get enough people and enough money to follow your “creative vision”, and you’ll succeed.  For a given definition of success, but even then you're walking away with just enough support and adoration.


Let’s say you sit through Dark of the Moon, and hate it.  What do you do next?

Easy.  Have an existential crisis -- then suck it up, pop your knuckles, and start writing.

4) The aesthetics.
A while back, there was an article on Cracked claiming that every movie has started bleeding into one another.  I can’t say I know movies intimately enough to make a sweeping claim like that, but considering that the movie industry and the video game industry have been taking (terrible) lessons from one another -- and “homogenization” is the word of the day -- I’m going to have to take their word for it.

In any case, one of the things they noted was that a lot of movies -- Transformers chief among them -- rely too heavily on making things orange and blue.  That’s to be expected, given color theory, and how the intent is to make colors have a good contrast with one another (Cross-Up used to have a green and orange contrast, for example).  But as you’d expect, the Bay films take the contrast way too far.  Every human looks like a ripe tangerine, and most areas -- at least those that don’t have orange thrown haphazardly about -- are sprawling abysses of blue.  Sure, it’s colorful and highlights the contrast, but it’s visually bland and even grating after a while, to the point where at times I found myself wishing for the comfort of the average AAA shooter’s grays and browns.  A true failure state, if there ever was one.


But I think it goes beyond just having a grating color scheme.  And it goes beyond making an unreal movie look fake…well, faker.  Let’s set aside the fact that Shia LaBeouf has done some kind of horrible fusion dance with an Oompa Loompa.  And let’s set aside the fact that without the regular orange explosion to offset the blues -- or on occasion, the grays -- there would be absolutely nothing dynamic or awe-inspiring about these areas or these sequences.  And let’s set aside the fact that the most the movie has to show off -- besides hyper-saturated building interiors we don’t give a shit about thanks in part to the yammering humans filling them -- are dilapidation and destruction.  No, my problem with the movie is that after a while, it becomes something that’s almost painful to watch.

You can consider this one of those intangibles -- a problem that you can’t quite put your finger on, but can’t quite bring yourself to ignore.  If I had to guess, I’d say the physical pain comes from a few factors.  First, the high contrast wears on you after a while, with that high saturation making for some unpleasantly sharp and searing visuals…visuals that only get more harmful as the action starts and everything goes bonkers.  Second, the action itself -- with the overwrought transformers -- demands too much processing power from the brain, so that trying to analyze every individual piece of every robot becomes  a tiresome and futile effort…but your brain is going to try anyway, because hey, there are actually transformers on the screen.  Third -- and this is my theory, obviously -- is that there’s a severe disconnection between what we’re being shown is real and what we know is real.  Suspension of disbelief can only go so far, especially if we’re forced to sit through a world whose color scheme that threatens to veer into the uncanny valley.  We all know what the real world looks like -- and the world of Bay’s Transformers isn’t it.




I can’t shake the feeling that the movie doesn’t even understand how to use colors effectively.  In one scene, Sam is getting grilled by a businessman, and said businessman loses his cool over the presence of the color red in his office, declaring that they’re on the “white floor” or something.  And yet in the same scene, there’s significantly more yellow than there is white -- partly because of the filtering, but mostly because the businessman has a direct view of a yellow wall.  And at the end of the movie, when the action is all done and the humans have gone from one setpiece to the next, Sam spots Carly amidst the chaos wearing a white jacket…a white jacket that is 100% clean in spite of her (like the rest of the human squad) tumbling around in a building, sliding down floors and walls, and crashing through glass panes.  YOU CAN’T DO THAT.  You can’t have a lady wear a white jacket and go through a warzone and come out of it without a single smudge on her jacket.  There’s not even a single scratch on her -- not a scuff, not a scrape, nothing. 

Can I just take a moment to say how much I hate this movie?  I can?  Okay, good.  I HATE THIS MOVIE.

5) The plot -- such as it is -- and the plot holes therein
Nicolas Cage…can you help me out with this one?


Thank you.  I needed that.

You know, it’s a strange day indeed when the plot of a movie is at once inherently simplistic and needlessly overcomplicated.  You would think that the movie could be summed up with “ancient machine is unearthed, and giant robots fight over it”.  And to some extent, that is the plot.  Insultingly simple, but for a movie like this, you’d expect no more and no less.  For a movie like this, that’s all it really needs.  After all, Pacific Rim would tweak the concept slightly a few years later, and that worked wonders.  Ah, Pacific Rim…why couldn’t I have watched you again instead?

But somehow, DotM finds a way to screw up both its simplicity and its complexity.  You can chalk this up to the presence of the humans, but remarkably it’s not just Sam’s fault.  Well, not entirely.  You’ve got a subplot about Sam and Carly’s relationship, and you just know that that’s something people want to see in a movie about giant fighting robots.  There’s a subplot about the Autobots being used for missions around the world, but that doesn’t really go anywhere besides adding a few action sequences into the god-awful first hour and a half.  There’s a subplot about government agents getting involved so there can be an allegory about how the government is bad and immigration is bad and anyone in a seat of power is bad…so basically, it’s the same old, same old where they try to make Sam look like less of an asshole by ramping up the assholitude of everyone around him.  (Also, it goes nowhere.) 


There’s a subplot about Sam trying to get information, but that involves Sam and it goes nowhere special; same goes for a later subplot where the Decepticons decide to use Sam as a spy, which leads to…absolutely nothing of importance.  Unless you count the Autobots agreeing to be exiled into space -- the result of the Decepticons’ plans, which doesn’t lead to anything besides taking the Autobots out of the action…something the movie had been doing flawlessly for well over an hour up to that point.  Actually, I’m starting to think that “subplot” isn’t even the right word in this case.  I’d call it a “mission objective”, but even that doesn’t seem to do it.  So I guess you could call it a “roadblock”. 

Yeah, that’ll do it.  The one thing that people are looking forward to in this movie -- the action -- is constantly getting barred off roadblocks DotM puts in the audience’s way.  I’ve heard that the intent was to make it “the darkest movie yet”, which Bay and company succeeded in by way of their wonky-ass visuals.  But from a story perspective, if the intent was to make the movie darker by loading it with half-hearted symbolism and done-to-death themes, then they not only chose the wrong place to tell that story, but they failed to make it have anything to say besides “Authority baaaaaaaaaaaad!  Heroes goooooooooood!”  And even then they couldn’t get that right, considering that war is the backdrop and context of every one of these movies, and it’s the brute-force assault of soldiers that’s the cause of and solution to each movie’s problems. 


DotM -- its masterminds and the movie at large -- isn’t smart enough to juggle all these roadblocks, and certainly not smart enough to make any of them worthy of a bloated run time.  And when you’re not being entertained by a story, you know what happens next…


--So the Decepticons demanded that the Autobots should be rounded up and sent off into space, or else they’re going to wreck Earth (some more, at least).  And why exactly did the humans believe them?  I know this joke has been made a thousand times before, but did they not pay attention to the name Decepticons?  Even if they did, why would they give up the only leverage -- the only weapon they had -- for an agreement that had no chance of reasonable follow-through?

--I swear, each plot hole in this movie opens up even further plot holes.  The Autobots get into the ship and head off for space, and then a Decepticon attack blows it up.  But the Decepticons didn’t even bother to check for traces of their bodies?  They didn’t want to make sure that all of them died, or were even on the ship to begin with?


--When it’s time for the big whompin’ battle in Chicago, it’s explicitly stated that no support can get into the city (besides Sam and a bunch of soldiers, because reasons).  Seriously, air support tries to get in there, but they’re no match for patrolling Decepticons that are suddenly everywhere because reasons.  And yet SOMEHOW, the AUTOBOTS, the sworn enemies of the Decepticons and averaging at least twenty feet in size, snuck into Chicago WITHOUT ANYBODY KNOWING?  How did they even get to the city?

--The crux of the Decepticons’ plan revolves around using MacGuffins control spires to beam Cybertron within spitting distance of Earth.  Ignoring the fact that doing so would immediately turn Earth (and the Decepticons in it) to shit, why is there one specific spire in one specific location that has to be protected or else all the other spires will stop working?  Why is that spire out in the open, or even traceable by their enemies?

--Why would the Decepticons want to turn the human race into their slaves on the newly-summoned Cybertron?  Wouldn’t that be like humans trying to enslave tiny monkeys?  Why would the Decepticons want small, weak workers who would be forced into labor on a planet completely devoid of biological life, thereby making a human work force 100% unsustainable, and 200% unsustainable given that they’d be working with instruments and even raw materials that could crush them in an instant?


--Why does Megatron end up taking orders from Carly (besides giving the audience the impression that she’s important to this movie)?  Why does Megatron end up taking orders from Carly and then decide not to smash her into fucking paste for trying to tell him what to do?  Was that really Megatron, or just another gray robot that looked like him?

--Why does the little pterodactyl robot fly to a little girl’s house and transform into a humanoid robot form completely incongruous with its current form, only to transform back into its pterodactyl form shortly after meeting her dad and firing off a snappy one-liner?  Why did the pterodactyl robot even bother to have tea with the little girl in the first place?  If it has no qualms about flying off and assaulting people in its robo-dino form, why didn’t it just fly off, find her father, and kill him where he stood?  Did he just want to have a tea party?

--Why are there no female transformers in these movies?  I know they’re out there in the animated canon.  Similarly, why are there no female soldiers in these movies?  I know they’re out there in the real world.  Do Bay and company just not know what women do besides straddle things?

  
--Why does the little robot pterodactyl fly after Sam and chase him through a building, but when the scene ends Sam is fine without any payoff or repercussion for that scene or the robot’s attack?  Did the robot just break into the building to give Sam a good scare?  Doesn’t he know that he could have done that just as easily by putting on an episode of Even Stevens

--How is it that the Autobots are always capable of finding and Saving Sam right when he’s in the most danger?  How does Bumblebee know the exact angle and maneuvers to take when Sam is flung into midair in spite of Bumbebee presumably fighting against dozens of Decepticons elsewhere?

--Movie, are you seriously trying to tell me that Optimus Prime, THE designated badass of the movie, is taken out of the action for minutes on end because he got caught in some wires?  In spite of having something like THIS: 


--What was the point of introducing Deep Wang and giving him an extended sequence with Sam if he’s just going to get killed off a few minutes later?  What was even the point of that character?  What was the point of half of the characters in this movie?  Why does it feel like I need a wiki to understand this movie AS I’M WATCHING THE MOVIE?

--Why is there a soldier who says “he didn’t sign up for this” even though undoubtedly he had to agree to taking on the Chicago infiltration mission prior to the start of the big whompin’ action scene?  Should I be offended that this is one of the only two black characters to appear in this movie, and he’s a complete coward?  Or should I be offended that this movie is supposed to represent the human race?

--If there are transformers that can change their disguise form at will, like the little robot that can inexplicably transform into a modern-day desktop computer, why don’t the Autobots change forms to suit the mission objective?  Why, when it is absolutely imperative that they take to the skies, do the Autobots not take to the skies?  Why maintain their “disguise” when their cover has long since been blown?


--If the transformers are so unbelievably advanced -- and are, you know, robots -- why don’t they completely shut down all their human opposition by hacking into their technology and leaving them in the dark for all eternity?  Wasn’t their ability to hack into whatever they wanted a key ability in the first movie?  Similarly, didn’t the second movie reveal that the transformers can take on human forms at will?  Is subterfuge just not an option in a Michael Bay movie?

--Why is America pretty much the only country that matters in this movie unless they want to make use of a setpiece?  I’m pretty sure the country is not some kind of modern-day Pangaea.

--Why did I watch this movie?


Ah, that explains it. 

6) The action.
Whether you’ve seen the movie or not, you probably know that the story…or the characters…or the visuals…or the music, now that I think about it…is not the draw of DotM or its older brothers.  And as such, you would think -- you would THINK that even if the movie bungled every other aspect, the one thing it would get right as per its genre and funding and namesake and expectations, is the action.

…Mr. Cage, an encore, if you would?


Bless you, Nic Cage.

Here’s the first problem with the action in this movie: the only things the robots do for the vast majority of the run time is A) transform, B) leap around in slow motion, and C) make explosions.  They might do more than that, but that’s just a problem endemic with the movie: that’s the best impression and memory it can leave on me even minutes after watching its cinematic nonsense.  I can almost guarantee that a third of the budget (probably more) went to making the transformers transform again, and again, and again, and again, even when there’s absolutely no need for them to. 

I get it.  They’re transformers.  They transform.  Now make them do something.  It’s bad enough that I have to look at their cluttered forms in the first place, but to make me watch them go from machine to man over and over again isn’t just excessive, it’s infuriating.  And seeing one robot take down another robot -- usually in slow motion, or with some manner of zooming-in -- stops being awesome and becomes exhaustive very quickly.  It just highlights how unreal all of it is -- or to use a more appropriate term, how inconsequential it all is.


Now here’s the second problem, and it’s a fairly obvious one: the action in this movie is more about the humans than the machines.  That’s to be expected given how DotM treats its mechanical cast, but there’s a problem with that approach.  Until Sam uses his prototype Autobot weapons (which really should have gone to anyone else in the group), the humans have absolutely no chance against any of the Decepticons.  Zero.  None.  The deck is not stacked in their favor, meaning that all they can do is run and survive.  Run and survive.  Run and survive.  Over, and over, and over again.  A one-sided battle is not exciting, and watching our “hero” run away from battle after battle and explosion after explosion sure as shit isn’t, either.  But the audience has to endure the escapades (and escapes) of Sam and crew as the movie continues to pretend like they’re important, up to and including a wingsuit scene that immediately gave me PTSD flashbacks to CoDBlops2.  And, you know, accomplishes virtually nothing.

But the biggest problem -- and likewise, one of the most obvious problems -- is simple.  There is never, ever any payoff to what happens in these fights.  Setting aside the fact that Optimus could have put an end to the Decepticons’ plans in an instant via his jetpack and sniping the control spire from afar instead of letting the humans try to run to it, it’s impossible to get a sense that anything in this movie matters.  Know why?  Because it doesn’t.  Especially not the filler wingsuit diving. 


Virtually every roadblock comes and goes without fanfare.  Virtually every skirmish ends with someone or something getting destroyed, usually to the backdrop of urban chaos (and bonus points for including an American flag in a shot).  Virtually anything that I could have cared about in this movie -- Sentinel Prime and his betrayal, the death of Additional Autobot #4, Bumblebee giving what he thinks will be his last words to Sam, Optimus going kill-crazy and “nobly” trashing Decepticons left and right -- has all the impact of a half-dry towelette.  There’s no perceivable impact factor, no sense of weight to even the mightiest of machines, no setup of stakes from skirmish to skirmish, no losses gained so long as the main characters make it out without a scratch…nothing. 

You could chalk it up to the characters it’s impossible to care about.  You could chalk it up to the slog the movie makes you endure before you get to the “good” stuff.  You could chalk it up to the movie hamstringing itself at every opportunity, up to and including Optimus curb-stomping Sentinel Prime and especially Megatron in the amount of time it’d take to fire off a one-liner.  But in my eyes, based on what I’ve seen, there’s no one answer as to why the movie fails on every level.

That’s because every answer is viable.  Because you see, THE MOVIE FAILS ON EVERY LEVEL.         


And before you ask, Sam: yes.  Yes, it is mostly your fault.

7) The despair.
Michael Bay won.  He’s already won.

I would assume that it’s very easy to make a drinking game out of how many times a transformer pointlessly transforms in this movie, or any one of these movies for that matter.  But if I had to guess, I’d say that each transformation costs some serious money to get rendered.  Maybe more than most people will see in a lifetime.  And yet, for all that money spent -- for all that money wasted, it is extremely likely that Dark of the Moon, Revenge of the Fallen, and the original Transformers made all of that money back and more.  If it didn’t -- if these things weren’t profitable -- then we wouldn’t be getting a fourth movie.  And Michael Bay, and likely the rest of his crew, wouldn’t have signed on to work on it.

Is this the world we live in now?  Is this what we should expect?  Fame, success, and opportunities given to those that limp their way into the public consciousness?  Where stories of the lowest caliber garner the greatest adoration?  Where the worst of works inspires the worst of trends, and sends shockwaves throughout the creative schema of our age? 




If it is -- if we’re in the darkest future imaginable -- if those that rally against the movie are in the minority, and the hungry and undiscerning masses are the majority -- then what option is there left?  Raging impotently on the internet years after the fact?  Try to put forth our own stories and coexist alongside them, knowing full well that they’ll coexist with filth?  Go with the flow?

Let’s say you sit through Dark of the Moon, and hate it.  What do you do next?

It doesn’t matter how you answer that question.  Because at the end of the day, there’s nothing you can do.

All you can do is live, and write, and hope for the best…and pray that one day soon, things will get better.


…You know, I’ve got to say I’m not much of a fan of this whole existential crisis thing.  Nor am I a fan of this movie.  But I guess if nothing else, I’ve got this blog.  And that’s something, right?

It’s just a shame I had to make my 397th and 399th post about this crap.  Oh well.  Let’s see what I can do for the big 400th.  I’m sure it won’t be anything too special.


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