Transformers Retrospective (Part 3) Dark of the Moon
By Lewis Hurst.
Transformers: Age of Extinction is almost here. That means it’s time to revisit the third film in the series for our final retrospective: Transformers: Dark of the Moon. After the overwhelmingly negative critical response to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Michael Bay admitted that it wasn’t a great film and promised that the third film would be an improvement in every way, with a few choice changes. Namely the replacement of Megan Fox’s Mikaela with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s Carly. But, when all is said and done, is Dark of the Moon an improvement on the previous two entries in the franchise? In a word: Yes.
I’m just going to come out and say it. The opening ten minutes of this film is one of the finest opening ten minutes in blockbuster history, setting up an excellent plot focusing on a moon landing conspiracy and a crashed Autobot spaceship on the moon. And then it’s ruined by a long lingering shot of the backside of Sam’s new girlfriend Carly. That’s right. Sam’s got a new girlfriend. Want to know what happened to Mikaela? Well the two mini Autobots Brains and Wheelie make comments about being “dumped” and how “She was mean, didn’t like her” and that’s all we get. Back onto the plot, Sam gets jealous of Carly’s overly flirty boss Dylan and begins to uncover the moon conspiracy.
Meanwhile, Optimus finds out about the crashed ship where he finds the body of his mentor Sentinel Prime, whom he revives using the Maguffin of Leadership from the last film. And then in a twist no one saw coming, it turns out Sentinel Prime is evil and he betrays the Autobots allowing Megatron to conquer Earth using the pillars, a type of portal technology only Sentinel can use. In another twist no one saw coming, Dylan is working for the Decepticons and kidnaps Carly. Sam and the remaining Autobots then head into Chicago, where the Decepticons have made their base, to rescue Carly and put a stop to Sentinel’s plans.
Yeah there’s a lot going on in this film. But it all works rather well. In fact I’d probably say it’s the strongest plot of the three films so far. It has a good three act structure, it’s complex enough to be interesting without being hard to grasp and is actually pretty engrossing. Sarcasm aside, the twist of Sentinel being evil works brilliantly and is still one of the best guarded secrets in a recent blockbuster, with bit part Decepticon Shockwave hyped up as the main antagonist in marketing and even to this day, official merchandise still labels Sentinel as an Autobot. Sentinel emerges as the strongest of the franchises three main villains to date, helped by an amazing voice performance from Leonard Nimoy and some great writing. Sentinel is so determined to save his race that he sacrifices his own morals and ideals to do so. I mean… wow. That’s pretty deep for a Transformers film.
But it’s not all great for the plot. A bit of streamlining wouldn’t have hurt and a few characters could have been dropped. Sam’s parents, his boss, Simmons, Lennox and several other characters seem to just be there without filling any sort of plot relevance. Sam’s parents leave just after the plot kicks off and Simmons is quickly put out of action in an early action sequence really making me question whenever it was really worth it to bring them back to begin with and Sam’s boss is apparently only here because they had to have John Malkovich in the film somewhere. I’m not complaining… but it’s a little forced.
Now onto the other big thing about this film. Carly. I must admit, I’m not a huge fan. Huntington-Whiteley possesses minimal acting talent making it very hard to like the character thus making it hard for the audience to care when she is kidnapped. The writing for Carly isn’t particularly strong. Indeed, take the script and replace all the time’s Carly’s name is mentioned with Mikaela and the film would certainly be the same, although this is probably due to Megan Fox being fired late on in pre-production. It also doesn’t help that we’re introduced to Carly with a long shot of her walking upstairs in underwear. It’s hard to take a character seriously when they’re immediately introduced as nothing but a sex object.
One thing I can mention about Dark of the Moon though is how thrilling it is to watch. Say what you will about Bay’s directing talents when it comes to plot and characters, but you can’t deny that Dark of the Moon is a beautiful film to watch. The opening sequence of a war torn Cybertron is still one of the most beautifully animated scenes in movie history. Shots of the Decepticons attacking Chicago manage to chill and a magnificent sweeping shot of Optimus Prime swooping in to save the day manages to thrill me every time. Unlike the previous films where it was easy to choose an action scene that was the standout, here it’s impossible. All of the major action scenes are equally thrilling and amazing to watch. From the opening on Cybertron, to the Freeway Chase, to the climactic battle of Chicago to Optimus’s final stand against Sentinel, all are equally perfectly shot and animated making them a thrill to see unfold. If you can, watch the film in 3D. Up there with Avatar and The Hobbit, Dark of the Moon is one of the best 3D experiences out there. If you’ve got a 3D TV and a decent sound system, Dark of the Moon will push it to its limits.
A small problem with the film I do have however is its ending. The film doesn’t really have a sense of emotional closure. Instead the plot is resolved and the film ends. A few minutes of Optimus talking with Sam at the end could have really helped here. And if you’re desperate enough, the official novelisation contains an alternate ending I believe would have worked much better in the film and provided that sense of emotional closure the film seems to be lacking. As it is, the film just seems to lack its heart at its ending.
Another huge plus of Dark of the Moon is a limited use of humour. There is still some humour here and it’s still pretty bad, but thankfully it’s only limited to a few scenes. That’s right. There’s no Twins, no Leo and limited screen time for Sam’s parents and Simmons. Although a bit of research apparently reveals that the Twins were going to be in the film and were to be killed by Sentinel. This however was ultimately cut, perhaps Bay realised he didn’t want the audience to root for Sentinel?
But in all honesty, one of the true standouts of the film is Steve Jablonsky’s score. Jablonsky has always been one of the true stars of this franchise and his score for Dark of the Moon is his best yet. It’s a thrill to listen to both in and out of the film and it’s no shame that it’s always one of the first albums I turn to when looking for something to listen to. It’s just so great with perhaps the standout being the emotional track heard as the Autobots say their goodbyes to Sam.
So overall, Dark of the Moon is a huge improvement on the previous two films. It’s dark; action packed, has a great story and is overall a very entertaining film. I’m actually surprised at how much I enjoyed this entry in the series as opposed to the previous two entries. So yes. Transformers: Dark of the Moon is the best in the series yet, and if the trailers for Age of Extinction are reflective of the film’s quality, that’s about to change.
In a final summary, the Transformers franchise has been very mixed so far. Transformers was enjoyable but flawed. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was pretty poor but still had some good points. Transformers: Dark of the Moon was vastly different and was hugely exciting and entertaining, fixing many of the problems with the previous two films. And it seems that Transformers: Age of Extinction hopes to continue that trend and be the best film in the series yet. But only time will tell.