So, I thought I'd do some fun posts about some of my favorites.
Now please, don't slam your laptop shut in a fit of Anti-Micheal Bay rage because I used the words "Transformers 3" and "favorite" in the same blog post.
If you ask me, and (hopefully) and of my close friends, it could probably be said that I have pretty good taste in movies. I try not to be too much of a typical millennial, but it's true, I do prefer newer movies and sometimes I just like what I like, but I try to have a really good, story-driven reason for it.
So yeah, it's true, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is one of my favorite movies, but I promise I can defend that position and still keep your respect. At least, I hope so. Besides, it was a MUCH BETTER movie than Revenge of the Fallen.
This is one of those movies that, more often than not, gets torn to shreds by people who have regular conversations about film. Not to mention all of the anger on the IMDB reviews page. So let me go ahead and get the negatives out of way, at least where my taste is concerned.
As I understand it, Bay is pretty notorious for the way he films females, and I have to say, I don't approve of that sort of thing. Enough said about that. Also, there is a lot of dodgy sexual dialogue/situational humor that is obviously made to appeal to an internet-saturated demographic. I'm not a stick in the mud, but I feel like a lot of this humor was just uncomfortable and unneeded, especially when other parts of the script are genuinely funny. The character of Jerry Wang is pretty hilarious, but I didn't need to see him straddling Sam in a stall while spitting out bizarre one-liners any more than I wanted to see a pervy little robot attaching itself to the female lead's leg.
Oh yeah, and that place that Carly is supposed to be working at in DC....that's in Milwaukee. It's a museum. I've been there, and it's cool. But it's not in DC.
Moving on to the things I really like about this movie though. I'll be honest, the second half of the movie far outshines the first. The first half of the movie feels like mostly awkward humor and teen pandering, but the second half feels like a meaningful war/adventure movie. Having said that, first of all, I really like BIG things, especially when there is a good reason for them. If there are big emotions, and big ideas involved, then bring on the theatrics. It's pointless violence or unfounded visual-effects that I find offputting, but I don't find that to be the case with this movie. A lot of people have complained that they aren't into all that huge explosions and grand CGI spectacle stuff, and sometimes that's totally a legitimate argument (in the case of storyless movies that are essentially just stunts), but this is a Transformers movie. I mean, what were you expecting? "Seven Tons: The story of Bumblebee and his introspective journey to donate his internal parts to those that need them most before he dies of a rare Cybertronian virus"? And when it just cuts to the city suffering under the thumb of a Decepticon invasion, or when Ironhide is powerfully hewing his way through the baddies, I want to see it in all of its operatic glory. Plus, it completely lends itself to the seriousness of the movie's main themes and emotional content. "What emotional content?" a lot of people seem to be arguing, but a lot of things in this one hit home for me, so let's get to that in just a moment. I just want to add that, as a visual artist myself, the visual effects in this movie are beautiful, as far as character design and depth of development go. The ships, the props, the level of detail is astounding.
The movie opens with Sam Witwicky essentially feeling condemned to the bottom wrung of ladder-climbing. His direct quote really sums it up, “I’ve done s*** that matters and I’d kind of like a job where I matter again.”. This was the first part of the movie that really, really got me emotionally. Maybe it's because I've felt this way more than once in my own life, but it just seemed so painfully identifiable. He's got all these people looking at him like he's chopped liver, when he knows his life about more, when he knows he's done more than he has the time or the freedom to sit around and explain, and the Autobots are out there living the adventure he was once a part of. He's fresh out of college, and it's time to get a "big boy job", as if saving the world was something that should only garner a pat on the back before he's sent out into obscurity. This is a huge character development, if you ask me. He has to deal with what he knows he is made for and what the world expects him to be, but couldn't possibly understand. So much so that, for a while, even the people who should listen to him, don't. Not to mention that he's dealing with feelings of inadequacy. Ironic, that he's adequate enough to save the world, but feels thrown into the role of "less than" errand boy in the land of the....regular people.
There is also what feels like a really good terrorism analogy in this film. The people of earth literally send away their heroes because they don't believe in them anymore, succumbing to the bad guys' demands, and it almost costs them everything. Their compromise to fear and the demands of the bad guys is their biggest mistake. That's why there had to be the giant carnage and spectacle that a Bay film begs for. It was a part of the message. Not to mention that on a personal level, we've got Carly's boss who has made a personal deal with the enemy for his own gain. And the Decepticons are relentless. They execute the good guys in broad daylight, and Sentinel Prime's betrayal even spells the end of the beloved and infinitely hardcore Ironhide. If nothing else, that moment proves just how serious things are. They try to negotiate with bad guys who have nothing but selfish and evil intentions, and it brings along tragedy, and lots and lots of death. There's just something about that idea of people sending away their heroes that gets to me on some really deep level. I can rarely watch the movie without getting choked up every time I watch that shuttle take off into orbit. Don't judge me. Everyone has their reasons for compromising with the enemy, and most of those reasons have to do with fear and giving up hope. They think they can just send the Autobots off into the cosmos, but when the ship explodes, I think that's when the gravity of the situation comes falling down onto the people of earth. They finally see who they are dealing with, and as far as they know, their best hope of survival just got turned into carbon.
I also really just love the character of Optimus Prime. I love heroes, and Prime is a great one. He's a leader with a great moral compass, that can still tear apart the enemy on the battlefield. These days, it feels like people think that being a real "good guy" as opposed to an antihero is mutually exclusive to being a force to be reckoned with, and I like that Prime shatters that expectation. When Chicago is turning to ruin, and there are just a few dedicated people fighting back, and Prime reappears from being supposedly dead and puts a shotgun slug into into a Decepticon pilot, proclaiming "We will kill them all.", you know his isn't there to pansy around and negotiate with the enemy. And I love that. It's not like he hasn't tried diplomacy. It isn't like he hasn't let Megatron live despite everything up to this point, but that time has passed. I think the people who say this movie isn't about character aren't considering the Autobots to be characters. Prime has to make a lot of hard decisions throughout, and when he decides it's "time to find out" what he would be like without Megatron, you know that despite the full conviction, this wasn't something that was taken lightly. It's even hard to watch, because on one hand, heroes aren't supposed to be executioners, but on the other, this is war. And the absolute flare and attitude with which the Autobots fight the Decepticons makes the action feel that much more satisfying.
To add potency to all that, I have to say that the voice acting for Optimus, Sentinel, and Megatron (most of the Cybertronians in general) just tops off the sweetness of the bravado pie for me. Yes, there is a lot of dialogue that, on paper, must have looked somewhat campy. But Peter Cullen's voice talent (combined with the audio effect savvy of the sound engineers and designers) and execution took it from that all the way what, for me, was a beautiful, manly brand of grandiose. Optimus and Megatron's verbal jousting was pretty epic. Especially since it was all in relatively subdued and controlled tones, contrasting the absolute beating they were throwing at each other onscreen. They fought like dogs, but practically argued like Britons. The language helped separate the big, romantic, heroic moments of the battles from the quick-lipped meta-humor of the movie's other moments. If anything, the writing was a neat study in contrasts. But back to the voice acting, it's all pretty spot on, even just the gutteral battle-cries and grunts of the mechanized combatants.
And something has to be said about Steve Jablonsky's score. I once heard an interview with Hans Zimmer about the making of the music for Inception. I believe the term he used was "vulgar", when referring to what usually happens when someone uses an electric guitar in an orchestral score, which is why he had done so with such delicate care and attention to detail in Inception. I feel like Jablonsky approached this score with the same type of gravity (ok ok, except for the abusive use of pop music in a few places. But honestly, some of that worked too). But what I mean is that, Jablonsky's themes are big, epic, and accessible. The pulsing strings, the the swelling choirs and horns. When he does work in more modern elements, he's basically playing off of the Linkin Park sound that the series attached itself to, which works great with a movie about space robots anyway, but it's still subtle and appropriate enough to not feel gaudy or steal from how majestic the overall vibe is. The music is what part of what makes Optimus' dialogue so effective.
And the audio engineer in me has to say something about the sound design. The layered sounds of the transformations (how much is synthesized and how much is sampled, it's hard to tell), to the little details like the creaks and whirrs when a bot takes a knee, must have taken many hours to compile and apply, but they really shine during the battles. Whoever created and mixed these did a great job maintaining a bassy, weighty girth in the sounds, even when it came to the treatment of the effects on that actor's voices.
Those are the biggest reasons for me, but here's a couple side-notes too.
People have argued that Carly's character is completely useless and unneeded. I tend to disagree. Most of these arguments are based on the assertion that she was just eye-candy meant to pull the boys into the theater. However, look at what the writers do here. They create a character in Carly that offsets Mikaela, Megan Fox's character from the previous films. Where Mikaela is this rough-and-tumble sort of bad-girl, Carly is a bit more professional, (which sadly is easy to miss, because of the way Bay chose to visually.....well, you know, in a few places). She prefers for Sam's stories to STAY stories, which feels extremely disappointing (you kind of want to punch her in the arm and call her a wimp), because it's more fun to see the female lead jump into the action, but it's a legitmate point of view, and a pretty believable one at that (let's face it, it takes a lot of guts to even hang out in the same neighborhood as two giant fighting robots, much less mouth off to one). However, her moment is when she essentially manipulates Megatron into turning on Sentinel. It kind of made me go, "Oh, ok, but she's clever. That's the character's strong point." People like to knock on the fact that Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is primarily a model and not an actress, and it's true that she spends a lot of the movie either looking stunned or screaming. However, I watched the film again recently, and as an actor myself, tried to really look at her performance in the more character-driven scenes between her and Shia LaBeouf (I.E. in the conversations in the offices). And you know what? I actually thought she did pretty good. The banter was fun and believable, the conversations didn't seem forced. It could be that she isn't a very good actress, but if that's the case, the editing must have hidden it pretty well. And aside from the whole, "I don't want to be hardcore and fight the evil robots" thing, I liked this character's personality better. She's not very dynamic, but still, more likable.
Some have also knocked on Bay's pretty blatant patriotism. To this, I feel like a pretty direct "Oh, shut it" is in order. It a day where a lot of people like to act like they need to apologize for being Americans, I think it takes some guts to be patriotic, especially when it's not really considered "cool" anymore. And one thing I tip my proverbial hat to is the reverence with which Bay portrays the active duty military. I can respect that, and I sort of wish more people would.
I think that Prime's monologue at the end really sums things up well.
"In any war there are calms between storms. There will be days when we lose faith, days when our allies turn against us. But the day will never come when we forsake this planet and its people."
So that's why I like Transformers 3.