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September 17, 2013

Transformers 3: This Movie Terrible

See that?  Michael Bay isn’t the only one that can sanction awkwardly-phrased subtitles.


…And now you know exactly how I reacted after seeing the end of Transformers: Dark of the Moon.


…And now you know exactly how I still feel.

So let me start once more by saying this.  My brother just happened to be scrolling through Netflix as I walked into the room, and he was looking for a movie to watch.  He passed up a few on his way through the menus, like The Dictator, The Grey, and Thor, but he didn’t seem to have too much of an interest in any of them at the moment.  And then he saw the cover of a certain robot-filled movie, and looked over to me.  “Which one is this one again?”

“What, Dark of the Moon?  That’s the second -- no, wait, it’s the third one.” 

He didn’t say another word.  He just hit Play and started watching.

I got up in an instant.  “I’m out.” 

And I started walking away.  But he called me back in -- said to give it at least five minutes.  So I grabbed a pillow and took a seat on the floor, and decided I’d give it more than just five minutes.  I’ve poked fun of Michael Bay and the Transformers movies before, but truth be told the only one I’d ever seen -- on TV, of course -- is the first one.  It wasn’t all that great, but I can think of worse ways to spend my time.  The only bits of Revenge of the Fallen I’ve seen are the clips Film Brain used in his video review, and I find myself thankful I was spared of the pain a thousand other movie fans have had dealt upon their hearts.

So I suppose I had to give the movie a fair shake.  I couldn’t make fun of a movie I’d never seen before.  Nor could I analyze what went wrong for myself.  If I wanted to see what Michael Bay hath wrought, I had to steel myself, take a seat, and give the movie a look.  My expectations were low going in.  They couldn’t possibly go any lower than zero.

Guess what?  This movie is worse than zero.  In fact, it is now the WORST movie I have ever seen.  The WORST.   By a huge margin.

Is there even any point in me doing a post on this movie?  It’s been out for, what, two years?  Do I even need to tell you how bad it is?  Do I need to type a single goddamn word?  Do I really?  What can I say that could possibly change anyone’s opinion on this multi-million dollar piece of garbage?

…Breathe in, breathe out.  Breathe in, breathe out.  Breathe in, breathe out.

Okay.  Let me start this thing one more time.  I want you to understand something, if nothing else.  I’ve said before that I don’t like terrible things, because they have the nasty habit of giving me a supremely bad headache.  It happened with Percy Jackson, and it happened here.  But this time, there was even more to it.  I don’t know if it was just because I did so much yawning, or because I stared at an alternating mix of a hyper-saturated orange-blue palette and barely-comprehensible gunmetal carnage, but I noticed that before the movie was done, my eyes were watering.  I think at certain points, I was about to start crying.  And when the movie ended, after some two and a half hours of vacuous nonsense, I felt sick.  Sick, and tired, and barely able to move my legs.  As soon as the words “directed by Michael Bay” flashed on the screen, I sauntered off and didn’t look back -- even after catching a glimpse of an epilogue from the corner of my eye.  If I had stayed any longer, there’s a chance I might have shut down completely…or worse.

Dark of the Moon.  Where do I even begin?

That’ll do.

1) Sam Witwicky.
This is one of my ironclad rules, and I’m going to keep repeating it for as long as I live: you can’t have a good story without a good main character.  No exceptions.  No objections.  No room for appeal.  If you can’t make a compelling lead, don’t even bother trying to win my favor.

And at the outset, DotM looked ready to try and offer up something substantial.  Perennial sore point Sam Witwicky (played by LaBeouf, as always) doesn’t appear at the start of the movie.  Instead, we’re treated to a lengthy flashback to the past, showing the process of the lunar landing -- and with it, the truth behind the expedition.  Apparently, the war on Cybertron led to some ancient device -- or the components of one, at least -- getting lost in the midst of a battle, and sent hurtling toward Earth (which I suspect is not the first thing that’s happened in this series, but whatever).  Collected in one site on the Ark, which in itself is lodged in the dark side of the moon, the U.S. and Russia launched their space campaigns in order to lay claim to it, or at the very least harness its secrets for themselves. 

The opening is easily the best part of the movie, even though its brief glimpse of Cybertron is about as clear as watching a few million quarters tumble around in a dryer.  Unfortunately, you can pinpoint the exact moment where the movie takes a four-hundred MPH nosedive -- a half-second after the title card appears, and the pants-bereft ass of Sam’s new girlfriend Carly takes up the better part of the screen.  (I’m pretty sure at that point I trotted out the phrase “This is gonna be a long movie” in my head -- and that’s never a good sign.)  And then we get to Sam himself…and the real problems begin.

I’ve heard the argument that in order for people to get invested in a story, they need to have a human character.  Not just a surrogate character -- 100% human.  That’s not exactly a requirement for every story, obviously (at least a half-dozen Pixar movies say hi), but I can see the pont they’re trying to make.  The audience needs a relatable character.  They need someone to latch on to -- someone basic, someone understandable, and someone who can be the anchor to normality, even in the midst of the zaniness bound to happen before them.  From what I’ve seen of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice  -- at least as much as I could take before clocking out and realizing it was a waste of time -- it was “necessary” to have a regular human character pulled out of his element as he stood alongside Magical Nicolas Cage.  Now, if it were up to my I would take out the titular apprentice and make the movie all about Magical Nicolas Cage, but what do I know?  I’d probably do something crazy like not include a squealing yellow-bellied doofus and focus on the actual struggle between supreme magical forces.  The mere idea is pure…well…

Joking aside, what’s important is that whatever character you put on-screen, and whatever character you want the audience to “follow”, they’d better be worth following.  Do they have to be human, and only human?  No.  Do they have to be well-versed in the nature of their absurd universe, or some kind of seasoned veteran?  No.  But here’s the thing: your character doesn’t have to BE human, but they have to FEEL human.  Charismatic.  Compelling.  Complex.  Something.  Anything.  Give the character a spark, and you can prove that they’re human enough.

With all that said, how does Sam fare in this movie? It’s obvious.  Somehow, someway, Sam manages to be less human than the thirty-foot robots waging war all around him.  No, it’s worse than that -- Sam is less realistic than the CG used to render the thirty-foot robots waging war all around him.

This character is completely awful.  Unbelievably awful.  He’s aggressively self-centered, short-sighted, ungrateful, domineering, self-aggrandizing, and thinks he’s entitled to whatever and whoever he wants just because he “saved the world”, and I guaran-damn-tee you there aren’t quotation marks big enough for that.  This is a character that LITERALLY has a supermodel-class girlfriend wrapping herself around him in every other scene, and he treats her like a disease-riddled maid -- at least until the thrust of his “character arc” forces him to realize “Gee, I guess I shouldn’t take my girlfriend for granted!  Tee hee!”  All he ever does is whine, gloat about past victories that aren’t even his, and demands everything and everyone conform to his rules, his standards, and his whims.  The Autobots are being used in military operations around the world, and Sam is angry at them because “they’re not there when he calls them” or “they’re getting to do stuff while he sits around getting ignored.”  Sam, the day you spontaneously quintuple in size and gain the ability to fire surface-to-air missiles from your shoulders is the day the government will be running up to you and begging for help; until that day comes, stop being such a cantankerous, pus-spewing asshole.

Oh, but he’ll try.  And the movie tries, so very hard, to prove to us that Sam is worth having around.  For some inexplicable reason, Sam is obsessed with trying to get back into the action -- even though I would have figured that given the events of the first (and presumably the second) movie, he would have preferred a quiet life where he wasn’t in danger of getting blown apart every fifteen seconds.  Alas, ‘twas not meant to be.  Only Sam has the information that everyone needs!  (He doesn’t.)  Only Sam can infiltrate the ranks of friends and enemies, men and machines alike!  (He can’t.)  Only Sam should lead the military troop in an attempt to thwart the plans of the Decepticons, and only Sam should wield the Autobot prototype weapons that really should have been passed around a lot sooner than an hour before the battle to save the planet!  (He shouldn’t, and he definitely shouldn’t.)  He’s an unwelcome presence throughout this entire movie; he’s supremely annoying from start to finish, to the point where even after he saves his girlfriend from the Decepticons -- because of course she gets held hostage -- I doubt he’s learned a single lesson.  If he shows up in Transformers 4, I would assume that his character development, such as it is, will go straight back its starting point somewhere near the lower end of negative infinity.

I’d almost call it deviously brilliant.  Maybe the entire concept of Sam is supposed to be a bit of a subversive injection; that is, he’s our surrogate character, but he’s making fun of everything the movie and its audience is supposed to stand for.  Hey, kids!  Want to be a hero and pal around with the Autobots?  Too bad!  You may think you’re a badass with the right to hang out with Optimus Prime, but in reality you’re a needy, obsessive creep who treats everything and everyone around him like the salt of the earth in your quest to run alongside the militant mech-warriors screaming your head off and needing to be saved! 

And you know what?  I think I would have preferred that.  If they had gone all the way -- if Optimus walked up to Sam and told him to piss off, that would have been awesome.   But he didn’t.  Sam Witwicky is supposed to be the guy we’re rooting for.  He’s supposed to be the do-no-wrong, put-upon “hero”, whose struggle isn’t born out f necessity, but conceit on his part and contrivance on the writers’ part.  Well, contrivance and contempt for the audience.  Sam is only in this movie for vicarious, proxy-based insertion into the action; he’s a ringing endorsement of the idea that you’re allowed to be an asshole as long as you run around telling everyone you’re a hero, because it’s everyone else’s fault for getting in your way.

I would list some more concrete examples, but I’d be typing until next year if I started doing that.  So I’ll just leave you with this little nugget: when he’s being grilled by government officials in a room lined with awards, plaques, and medals, Sam says that he has one medal and treats it like a bigger deal than everything else in the room, including the hardened agent standing a yard away. 

I’m not sure I want to live in a universe that houses a movie like this.

2) The robots.
Why do the robots have accents?

This was a question I had to ask myself, and my brother, and the movie, multiple times, and I never got a good answer.  Why do the robots have accents?  Indulge me for a moment here.  The Autobots and Decepticons are supposed to be from Cybertron, an alien world light-years away from Earth.  Obviously, they would have their own language -- especially given that they have their own alien writing.  Maybe they have a different sentence structure, or lexicon, or communicate in beeps and boops.  If that’s the case, why do they have accents that line up with Earth-based accents?  Okay, sure, so they downloaded other languages into their databanks or whatever, but what was the point of downloading accents?  Huge percentages of the action -- particularly in this movie -- take place in the U.S., so what’s the point? 

There’s an Autobot in this movie that’s got some kind of Scottish accent, but if he’s in the U.S., then why would he speak like that?  Even if we work under the assumption that the Autobot awoke in Scotland and altered his language processors to match the surroundings, why wouldn’t he change to American English once he started working for the government?  Wouldn’t he want to be more easily accepted by his American peers?  Even beyond that, for what reason does a race of robots even need accents?  They’re robots.  Machines.  Designed to operate efficiently without cultural barriers getting in the way.  So why bother with accents?  Do they even understand the concept of accents?

Now, I will be fair.  There is one reason that the movie offers as to why they have accents.  You see, if these machines -- Autobots, Decepticons, or otherwise -- didn’t speak in different voices, most of them wouldn’t have characters.  Or be distinguishable from one another.

The robots -- yes, even Optimus -- don’t even threaten to be good at any point throughout this movie.  I defy you to name every single transformer that appears in this movie, and I defy you to consistently keep up with who’s who at any given point.  The only ones you can do that with are Optimus, Bumblebee, and Sentinel Prime, and that’s because they’re colored differently…or at the very least, colored at all.  All the Decepticons are gray and black snarling monsters (at least when they aren’t being tiny hyper-obnoxious cretins).  I managed to hear “Ironhide” amidst the cacophony of bad writing and my own tear-laden cries, but I couldn’t pick him out in a scene if you asked me.  There are two other robots called “the Wreckers”, but damned if I know who they are and what they contribute to the plot.  I would say that these machines are only in the movie to facilitate explosions and pretenses of a plot, but like many, many others have said before me, they’re utterly marginalized in their own film.  And I think I know why.

If you’ve been on my blog before, you may have seen some of the “art” I’ve thrown up every now and then.  This is one of the more common ones:

And not too long ago, I decided to retire it.  And I replaced it with an updated version:

I admit I’m not much in the way of art.  I do a so-so job, but it’s definitely not my forte -- so to compensate, I try to make things as easy on myself as I can.  Drawing things in Paint can be much more complicated and time-consuming than you (and I) would have guessed, but certain approaches and techniques can make things simpler.  For a non-artist, art is hard…and I’d bet that even for those who DO have some real skill, making art takes time, effort, and of course skill.  I’ll come back to this topic another day with evidence, but for now I’ll just say this: simplicity is key.  Excess breeds waste, and waste breeds dissatisfaction.  Even for this movie, they -- the animators, and likely the writers by extension -- tried to get past it with some shortcuts of their own.  What am I getting at here?  Well, it’s simple.

They made the transformers too damn complicated to render for their own good.  So rather than painstakingly animating them every step of the way, they just decided to remove them whenever they could.

That’s the only explanation for why these movies focus on the humans instead of the transformers.  Or if not that, then at least the reason I want to believe; I REFUSE to accept that this is the story of Sam’s plight as his Victoria’s Secret girlfriend tries to bend herself into his new belt.  Every single transformer in this movie is a mess of metal shards and doodads, shifting and squirming like a parent jingling his keys in front of a baby.  There’s too much information that a viewer has to process, and too much information for even the average supercomputer to render.  So the only way to keep the budget under a trillion dollars -- you know, besides doing the smart thing and making the robot designs simpler -- is to keep them off-screen for as much time as an undiscerning audience member can tolerate without calling BS.  The tradeoff is that these robots, Autobots or Decepticons, aren’t even one-note; it’s more like they’re a quarter-note, maybe even eighth.  Bumblebee is Sam’s friend.  Megatron is the bad guy.  Starscream is also a bad guy.  Wheelie makes me want to ram a carving knife through my shin.  Optimus is noble…except when he decides to go on killing sprees.  Sentinel Prime is a good guy who turns evil because reasons.  There are other robots.

That’s it.  That’s all there is to the robots in this movie.  Most of them don’t even get named; the only reason I knew Wheelie’s name was because of MovieBob.  The transformers are marginalized in a movie titled Transformers.  Let that sink in.  If you’ve seen this movie, you know what I’m talking about, and you can agree with me.  If you haven’t seen this movie, then let me confirm that the hearsay is 100% accurate.  They get no time to be anything more than graphics and explosion generators.  And yet, somehow, someway, they manage to be better characters than the humans.

Let me rephrase that.  Somehow, someway, the robots manage to be more human than the humans.

3) Everyone else.
There’s no denying that Sam is the biggest asshole in the entire movie, but the humans are only a few steps below him on the “I Want to be Around These People” scale.  Who among them deserves the award for best character?  Take your pick.  You’ve got the smarmy boss guy who turns out to be a traitor to the human race.  There’s a slew of government officials/agents that are varying degrees of jerkiness.  Sam’s parents are still kicking around and being awkward, which therefore must immediately mean they’re comedy gold.  We can’t forget about the random extra strutting around the office “violating the dress code” because it’s been too long since there have been boobs on the screen.  And of course, there’s the unsinkable Deep Wang.  Can’t leave him off the billing.

Now here’s a question I have about Sam’s girlfriend Carly (who’s apparently named after a character from the cartoon, but if you don’t know that -- like me during the film’s run time -- then you’re probably laughing at the fact that there’s a character named CARly running around).  Given what I’ve said about Sam, and given what the audience knows about Sam by watching the movie, there’s a question that never gets a good answer:  what the hell does she see in him?  This guy displays open contempt for her and others throughout the entire movie.  The thrust of the plot is thanks to him being such an uncompromising tool, forcing her into the arms of his love rival, her ex, and inevitably leading to her being kidnapped and held for ransom.  And at the end of the movie, they hug and kiss, because that’s just what people do at the end of movies.  So what, was the lovers’ spat they had before her kidnapping erased?  Did she forget about the constant bullshit he made her (and us) sit through?

It doesn’t make any sense.  It doesn’t make their bond deeper, it just makes her even less of a character -- and need I remind you that we were introduced to this character via a gargantuan ass shot.  The only thing she’s there for is to be arm candy and something to look at besides hyper-saturated oranges and blues and incomprehensible robot parts.  You can’t do that -- not in a movie with a nine-figure budget made in the present day.  You can’t throw up a character with the sole purpose of wearing tight dresses and being Shia LaBeouf’s hula hoop.  You can’t make her a damsel in distress for one half of the movie and a symbol of male status in the other.  You.  Can’t.  DO IT.

…You know what?  I think I can actually name the best character in this movie.  It’s Buzz Aldrin.

I’m out of here.  I’ll finish this up next time; if I don’t do something that doesn’t make me want to stick my head in a vise, chances are I’ll stick my head in a vise.  So “look forward to” the next post, wherein I try to figure out the plot.  If there is one.

*sigh* Good job, Mr. Aldrin.  Good job.


  1. Let me say one thing about Revenge of the Fallen: I fell asleep. It sucked THAT bad. You missed nothing... except the robot's balls on the pyramid. That was memorable (for the wrong reasons).

    Never seen Dark of the Moon (a HORRENDOUS title, BTW) and never plan to. Michael Bay sucks, the people involved suck, everything about this movie "franchise" sucks.

    Transformers fans don't deserve this.

  2. "I fell asleep. It sucked THAT bad."

    Cripes a la mode, it must have been. I would have figured that with all the explosions going off, it'd be impossible to fall asleep. Then again, if RotF ALSO has an hour-plus sequence of Sam's wacky misadventures, maybe it's not quite so far-fetched. Also, I haven't seen the movie, but I get the feeling I know exactly what made the pyramid battle so memorable. And it's an inclusion like that that just makes me go "Why?"

    The answer to that, I'd wager, is "Because they can." Now if you'll excuse me, I think I have to go cry for the next eight hours.

  3. Well, when I was younger, I used to listen to some loud rock and metal music to help me sleep. So I guess I'm an anomaly.

    Worse. ROTF has as insulting pair of robots acting like stereotypical urban black people... only worse. Even the stereotype of the stereotype would feel outraged at the whole "Readin'?" "We don't do much readin'!" "Yo, yo, yo!" crap. And don't get me started on the one Decepticon droid dry-humping Megan Fox's leg.

    Everything else was a blur. Or maybe everything I said was a dream... I don't remember... the movie bored me to tears... zzzzzz... z_z

  4. ...Guy, you wanna take this one?


    Ah, yes, that'll do. Now then, back to crying.

  5. Yeah, Wall-E was the EXACT movie/character I had in mind when I wrote that line. There are others, no question, but that little robot came to mind first and spoke (relatively speaking) the loudest. Ah, Pixar. Would that all movie makers could follow your example and not make shit.

    In any case, I can buy your theory on the transformers' accents. I've dumped pretty much everything about the first movie from my brain -- for obvious reasons -- but I suppose I can't deny that if it's a means to appeal to human sensibilities (and that they pooled their dialogue from certain locations), then that's okay. Except, you know, when the accents and voices become less of a trait or a means to expand on human/transformer relations and more of an annoyance that makes my ears wail in agony. I have no idea why they had to put Wheelie in that movie, but I would very much like for all evidence of him -- and these movies at large -- to be erased.

    I'm just glad I never saw the second movie. I don't think my soul could handle the "fabled" Skids and Mudflap.

  6. "I’ve heard the argument that in order for people to get invested in a story, they need to have a human character." Wall-E would like to have a word with you naysayers.

    Anyway. I can probably justify the robot accents without watching this crappy movie. In the first movie they mention that the Autobots learned to talk from Media broadcasts made by humans. You can easily justify that they got their accents based around what they chose to pool their dialogue from.

    Plus robot logic could discern diversity amongst humans, these details were much more important to the Autobots than the Decepticons, but they could find similar uses. If their intent was instilling terror in organics they might intentionally pool their speech from scary stuff. In that train of thought it might be fun to have one not talk at all but emit noises akin to nails on a chalkboard.

    But you know what? Michael Bay. So that wasn't thought of, go figure.