(Editor’s note: Listen to Pink Floyd’s album “The Dark Side of the Moon” while you’re reading this, for an extra kick.)
CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (2011)
By Michael Arruda and (special guest star) Dan Keohane
(The Scene: The interior of an office building. MICHAEL ARRUDA is seated at a table when suddenly the building begins to tilt dramatically, and people and objects begin to slide past MA, who remains calmly seated. One of the people grabs onto the table and manages to take a seat across from MA. It is DAN KEOHANE).
MA: Hey, Dan. Glad you could join me.
DK: No problem. (Brushing himself off) Thanks for giving me such a dramatic entrance.
MA: Well, this is one of the more dramatic scenes from TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON, and I thought it would be a cool way to start our review. Besides, I thought you’d get a kick out of sliding down a tilting building.
DK: Well, when you know it’s fake, it’s all in good fun.
MA (looks uneasily at camera, and then over DK’s shoulder as two screaming people slide through a broken window into oblivion.) Yeah, fake. Anyway, ready to start our review?
MA: Welcome folks to another edition of Cinema Knife Fight. Today I’m joined by Dan Keohane, who’s filling in for L.L. Soares today (who’s gone to Norway to get us the lowdown on TROLLHUNTER), and we’ll be reviewing the new Transformers movie, TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (2011).
I’ll say right off the bat that I had zero expectations for this one, other than I expected not to like it, but for the most part, I was entertained and felt like I got my money’s worth.
DK: Well, almost. Linda wanted to see the 3D version so I relented, being the chivalrous chap I am. Until the movie was about to start and she realized we were seeing TRANSFORMERS and not GREEN LANTERN (2011) as she’d thought. But, we already had the glasses and the popcorn, so we stayed. Good thing, too, otherwise this review would have been pretty confusing.
MA: Chivalrous? Sounds like you pulled a fast one. “Sure, honey, let’s go see (covers mouth with his hand) Trans-gree- lan-mers. Yeah, the 3D one.”
DK: I saw the first TRANSFORMERS movie at the drive-in a few years back and was pleasantly surprised, so I figured I would be entertained at the very least with this one (caveat, never saw the second one). If you came for alien robot monsters destroying things and CGI effects on steroids, then yeah, I guess it delivered.
MA: TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON, the third film in the TRANSFORMERS movie series by Michael Bay, gets its name from its opening sequences, in which we learn that a Transformers ship crash-landed on the dark side of the moon, and this ship was discovered by the astronauts on the Apollo 11 mission. And the reason we have never gone back to the moon is because of the manipulations of evil Transformers here on earth who don’t want us going back. Until now. And this sets up the rest of the movie’s plot, as we switch to present day.
DK: I have to reluctantly toss in here that it was pretty entertaining how they messed with history like this, mixing footage from the original NASA moon landing with pretend stuff. They even had astronaut Buzz Aldrin in a cameo explaining the cover up. That was cute. Anyway, carry on….
MA: Yeah, the opening grabbed my interest, too. I liked the whole “dark side of the moon” bit, the whole NASA conspiracy, the “real” reason we got involved in the space race. I thought this was fun, and a strong way to open the movie. I also liked the way they did the historical footage, the mixture of actual JFK footage, for example, mixed in with new footage with an actor playing JFK. These opening scenes worked.
DK: Though they could have gotten better actors, or better makeup for the ones playing the presidents.
MA: Once we switch to present day, we meet up with Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) the young hero from the previous TRANSFORMERS movies. Sam is living with a new gorgeous babe Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) as he’s broken up with babe Megan Fox from the previous TRANSFORMERS movies. Gee, this guy has it rough! Sam is out of a job, and he’s depressed and frustrated about this, and during his job search he gets to utter one of the better lines of the movie, “I’ve saved the world twice, and I still can’t find a job!”
DK: Yeah, he had some cool lines. Hell, this movie was littered with clever lines. By the humans. The robots were annoying, but I jump ahead.
MA: Sam does find a job, working in the mailroom for a company run by an eccentric crackpot Bruce Brazos (John Malkovich). Malkovich is hilarious here and in top form. It’s too bad this character isn’t in the movie more. At this new job, Sam meets another crackpot Jerry Wang (Ken Jeong, basically doing a watered down variation of his Mr. Chow character from THE HANGOVER movies) who tells Sam of a conspiracy by the evil Decepticons that involves the dark side of the moon.
(VOICE from somewhere off to the right)
VOICE: Did someone mention Chow?
MA: Before Sam can learn more, Wang is sent hurtling by a Decepticon through his office window, falling to his death on the street below.
(On cue, a man hurtles past them and crashes through a window. He shrieks as he falls to the ground.)
DK (nodding approvingly): Very realistic. Well done.
MA: Yes— we —strive for realism here.
So, Sam decides to seek out answers, and he soon hooks up with old friends like former agent Simmons (John Turturo), and Autobots Bumblebee and Optimus Prime. However, he also has to deal with Secretary of Defense Charlotte Mearing (Frances McDormand), who, in a realistic turn, wants Sam to have no part in the operation since he’s a civilian who—in spite of his past—has no business working with the government at this level.
DK: I was SO psyched to see McDormand and Malkovich in this film. Both were terrific, and I agree, the film would have done well to have more Malkovich in it. I can never have enough of him.
MA: It turns out that on the dark side of the moon is the famed autobot Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy), and Optimus Prime must revive him so they can defeat the evil Decepticons once and for all. Of course, once Sentinel Prime is revived, there’s a twist in the story, which all leads to the ultimate battle between good transformers and bad transformers, with the humans in the middle. If I said this wasn’t predictable I’d be lying.
DK: Yeah… (cough…) I saw that coming too… yeah, I really did, sort of…. Nimoy had some cute lines as well, homage’s to his Spock character throughout.
MA: TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON provides decent entertainment for 2/3 of its excruciatingly long running time of 157 minutes. Yes, this movie failed on the “butt comfort” meter. I was in pain by the end!
DK: Have to agree there. This movie was WAY too long. “Butt” seriously, what do you expect? They give someone like director Michael Bay a gabillion dollars and tell him to go ahead and do whatever the hell he wants. You get an exhausting two and a half hour movie with so much friggin’ violence, I actually checked the marquee to see if it was rated R. Nope, PG-13.
MA: You thought it was really violent? Either I’m getting desensitized, or you haven’t seen too many violent R-rated movies lately. I didn’t find it violent at all.
DK: Well, I was watching it with the idea that it’s kind of supposed to be aimed at kids. Wrong assumption I think, but in that light, it’s pretty intense. For an action film over all, not too bad.
MA: I have to give credit to Bay and screenwriter Ehren Kruger. They filled this movie with likeable characters who really held my interest for most of this movie, before it turns its attention to the Autobots and Decepticons. If this movie hadn’t been about Transformers, I would have loved it! But it could have been much worse. It could have been one of those colossal special effects bores, where there are no characters to speak of. This is not the case. The human element of this movie is very good.
DK: Yes! I really enjoyed the cast (most of them). I actually said at one point that this would have been a far better movie if they had fewer Transformers in it. At least, give them fewer lines. Actually, thinking about it now, the filmmakers seemed to do just that. Over such a long stretch of film, the Transformers themselves had very few speaking parts. In a way, I think Bay pulled a fast one on the producers and used their money to film quite a stunning alien invasion movie by writing the Autobots and Decepticons (man, those are the dumbest names—obviously I was never much a fan of the cartoon) just enough to get his paycheck.
MA: As I started to say before, I really liked the characters in this movie. Shia LaBeouf makes for a very likeable young hero as Sam. I think that of the three TRANSFORMER movies, this was probably his best performance.
DK: Agreed. LaBeouf was good. He plays his character straight, and his frustration with his job situation and girlfriend issues was well done.
MA: Speaking of best performances, John Turturo delivered the best performance in the movie as former agent Simmons, still interested in alien conspiracies, and as eccentric as ever. He was my favorite character by far, and although he is in the movie for a decent amount of time, I wish he had been in it more.
DK: Yeah, he was good, but I have to disagree. Along with Malkovich, my favorite was Alan Tudyk’s portrayal of Dutch. Tudyk (FIREFLY, DEATH AT A FUNERAL) has to be one of the funniest actors around. His fake German accent (and I think he tried to make it as bad as possible) and bizarrely out-of-place scene in a Russian bar was absolutely hilarious.
MA: Yeah, that was a good scene, but I still like Turturo better. His performance intrigued me more, while Tudyk just made me laugh.
Patrick Dempsey makes a good villain, as he plays Dylan, Carly’s boss, who at first just seems to be a weasel for putting the moves on another man’s girlfriend, but as the story unfolds, he’s up to things far more sinister.
Frances McDormand, as you would expect, is very good as Secretary of Defense Mearing. John Malkovich is hilarious as Bruce Brazos, Sam’s weird boss. While Malkovich is terrific, sadly the role is a thankless one and is nothing more than an extended cameo, since Bruce disappears for the entire second half of the film, which is too bad, because he’s a hoot.
Kevin Dunn and Julie White return as Sam’s parents, and I found them much less annoying in this movie than in the previous ones, mostly because their screen time has been greatly reduced. However, that being said, the brief scenes they share with Sam are excellent. Ken Jeong is also on hand as the outrageous Jerry Wang. Again, Jeong pretty much reprises his Mr. Chow shenanigans from THE HANGOVER movies, though here he’s giving us the PG-13 version.
VOICE: Did someone mention Chow?
(Mr. Chow is slowly crawling toward them, through the debris, when he loses his grip and slides through the window again, with a scream)
DK: Yea, the guy is a scene-stealer, especially in the bathroom scene (of course), but the actor seems grossly pigeon-holed into this kind of role. Like you say, though, every actor in this film, from the soldier grunts to Jeoong’s psycho-scientist, gave 110% to their roles. Everyone seemed to be having a BLAST making this movie.
(On cue, there is a huge explosion outside.)
DK: Even the sound effects seem real.
(Behind DK, blood spatters a glass window.)
MA (winces): Where was I?
DK: The cast.
MA: Yes, this is a veteran cast that does not disappoint. To Michael Bay and Ehren Kruger’s credit, they really stock this film with likeable characters. The problem is eventually they all take a back seat to the Transformers, which I find silly and boring.
DK: Me too. Visually, they were stunning to watch (because of the very cool CGI, NOT because of the 3D glasses).
MA: What would have made this movie succeed at a higher level, would have been including more of these characters at the end of this movie. During the final battle, Sam and Carly are pretty much the only main characters directly involved. Had John Turturo, Frances McDormand and John Malkovich also been there in on the action, we’d be talking about a much more entertaining movie.
DK: I have to disagree there. The soldiers (Josh Duhamel and Lester Speight, to name just two) were the main characters in the second half of the movie.
MA: I know. That’s why I didn’t like the second half as much, because I didn’t like these characters as much, nor did I consider them main characters.
DK: Well, the soldiers are involved at the end because, once the bad alien robots take over Chicago, it becomes a war movie. Sam and his always-stainless Stepford girlfriend were simply the visual constants running among the cast. For a war movie, it was pretty awesome to watch.
MA: Speaking of Stepford girlfriends, one cast member who doesn’t fare as well is Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, as Sam’s beautiful girlfriend Carly. Yes, she’s absolutely stunning and beautiful, but she’s also strictly eye candy here. Not that her acting was necessarily bad, because it wasn’t. She’s fine. She’s just rather dull, and if not for her beauty, we wouldn’t be talking about her. Another gripe, though not her fault, is during the film’s climactic battle, she’s running around in heels!
DK: Listen, this movie is geared to guys of our generation who watched the original cartoon (me being the exception), but it’s also aimed at teenage boys. Whiteley’s Carly is not a real character in any sense of the word. In fact, if we want to add any depth to the plot—just for kicks, because Bay and company had no intention to have this be the case—Carly is not real, she’s a figment of Sam’s imagination, a wish fulfillment of a young boy in a man’s body. Why else could she have been in a war zone for so long, in a building which was crushed and destroyed, tossed out a window, nearly crushed by a hundred blocks of concrete and a bus, and yet not have one stain or blemish on her flimsy outfit? Because she’s not real. Did you ever wonder why no one ever spoke to her except Sam and the bad guy (and, being the Bad Guy, he uses Sam’s delusions against him!). Actually, that’s quite clever. I’m a clever guy, did you know that?
MA: Well, you heard it here first, folks, on Cinema Knife Fight, the truth behind Carly’s character! Pretty neat theory. I don’t buy it, but it’s a fun theory. I mean, I think John Malkovich’s character talks to her at one point, doesn’t he? As does John Turturro’s character, and Frances McDormand— okay, toss out that theory!
There’s also a veteran cast voicing the Transformers. Peter Cullen returns once more as the voice of Optimus Prime. Cullen has voiced Optimus in all three movies, and also did back in the animated cartoon series from the 1980s. Cullen is also the voice of Eeyore from the WINNIE THE POOH cartoons.
DK: Really? I like Eeyore. He’s funny.
(Eeyore goes sliding past them.)
EEYORE: These things always happen to me.
(EEYORE slides off the edge of the building.)
DK: Was that—?
Hugo Weaving voices the villainous Megatron— we’ll be seeing Weaving soon as The Red Skull in CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER and Sentinel Prime is voiced by Leonard Nimoy, which opens the door for a bunch of STAR TREK in-jokes in the movie, as Dan mentioned way up at the beginning of this review. At one point, Mr. Spock is seen on TV in a STAR TREK episode, and as Sentinel Prime, Nimoy gets to deliver one of his more famous lines from the STAR TREK movie series, from STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN (1982).
So, it’s quite the cast, and that took me quite a long time to get through. Nearly 157 minutes!
DK: I had to go pee at one point. That’s a long movie.
MA: I enjoyed the screenplay by Ehren Kruger. The first half of the movie was very witty and good for some laughs, and Kruger did a nice job creating a bunch of likeable characters.
Even director Michael Bay gets some high marks for this one. The movie looks great, the action scenes are decent and entertaining, and for the most part they don’t go on too long.
DK: Yes, visually this movie was amazing and the scenes were short enough to not drag on. It’s just that there were so many of them.
MA: I loved the sequence in the tilting office building. It was completely unbelievable, but it was still fun!
DK: Totally over the top, but a hoot to watch.
MA: I saw the movie in 3D, too, though I knew I was going to see TRANSFORMERS and not GREEN LANTERN, and once again—so much so, I’m growing tired of saying so—the 3D failed to impress. It added nothing to the movie. In fact, again, midway through, I forgot I was even watching it in 3D. So, if you have the choice, save your money and see it in 2D. I didn’t really have the choice, because the 2D version was playing only once and at an oddball time, compared to the two convenient showings of the 3D version.
DK: Definitely, yes. The 3D is pointless here. Actually, one of theaters in Worcester had more showings of the 2D version than the 3D, which tells me even the theaters are growing weary of this gimmick.
MA: So, what’s wrong with TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON? The biggest thing wrong with it is it’s about TRANSFORMERS. I mean, regardless of the humongous budget, the impressive special effects and the veteran cast, this is, after all, just a big-budget big-screen kids’ movie about giant robots. It’s difficult to take this film seriously, and I certainly can’t classify it as satisfying adult entertainment.
Sure, this movie is probably the darkest of the series, but how dark can a TRANSFORMERS movie be? You know Megatron is not about to mercilessly murder our young heroes. Sure, he’s going to try but—I mean, it’s Scooby Doo stuff! Megatron would have taken over the world, if not for “those meddling kids!”
Lastly, the relationship between Sam and Carly is a microcosm for what’s lacking in these TRANSFORMERS movies. Sam is desperately in love with Carly, so much so, we’re supposed to believe he’d go to the ends of the earth and risk his life to save hers. Really? Why does he love her so much? Is it because she’s absolutely beautiful? Is that why he loves her? Because she’s an incredibly hot babe? It must be, because they share no on-screen chemistry. Nothing we see them do convinces us they’re in love. Their relationship is eye candy without depth, and that is the central problem with this movie.
You want me to care deeply? To really care about what’s going on? Then give me real characters, real relationships that I can believe in, give me a reason why two young people love each other so much, and I’ll return to your movie series time and time again, because I’ll care about your characters and won’t sleep unless I know what’s happened to them. If this were the case, then we’d be talking about raising TRANSFORMERS up a few notches.
DK: Okay, you just spent WAY too much time talking about Sam and Carly. Their relationship is merely there to serve as wish fulfillment for teenage boys. Period. And to show the mental delusions of Sam, who has suffered such serious post-traumatic stress from saving the world, that he invented a new girlfriend.
MA: I disagree. Sam is driven in this movie by his “love” for Carly. I’m simply saying I didn’t find this “love” believable, and had I found it believable, I would have liked this movie more.
DK: No, the driving force behind the character Sam is to keep moving before the clowns in the walls can get him and eat him up.
TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON could have been much worse. As it stands, it’s a fairly entertaining movie that’s got enjoyable characters, a humorous script, decent action sequences and eye-popping special effects, but at the end of the day, it’s all fluff, the stuff that 10-year-old boys dream about. I give it two and a half knives.
DK: One point to make, and worth seeing, if you take a 10-year-old boy to this movie, keep one thing in mind: it’s pretty violent. You see innocent people in the streets of Chicago blown to pieces over and over again. Two of the good Transformers die pretty horrible deaths, one execution-style. It might actually be too traumatic a movie for kids under 10. Seriously.
MA (laughing): Seriously? I mean, there’s no blood in these scenes at all. I wouldn’t classify them as violent. However, the film is rated PG-13, so parents probably shouldn’t be taking their 10 year-olds in the first place!
DK: Trying to take what little kids will think (which isn’t hard, being a dad myself) into account, I thought the Chicago invasion and liberation section of the movie (the last third) kicked major butt. And the Transformers spoke very little, which helped a lot. And it could have been a shorter film, I agree. But despite all the money, all the special effects and all the cool actors, well, I kind of wished we’d gone to see GREEN LANTERN instead, because I didn’t enjoy this one much.
MA: Actually, GREEN LANTERN was worse! The characters in this movie were much more entertaining than the characters in GREEN LANTERN.
DK: But dinner was good afterwards (at least until the police called because, unbeknownst to me, I knocked over my neighbor’s mailbox on the way to the movies—but that’s another story for another time). I give it two knives.
MA: Well, that about wraps things up here. Thanks again, Dan, for filling in for L.L. today.
DK: Happy to do it. It was fun. Speaking of fun, now I can ride the slide.
MA: Excuse me?
(DK lets go of his chair and slides down the tilted building towards the edge.)
MA: No, Dan, wait!
DK: Geronimo!!! (DK slides off the edge of the building.)
MA: That’s not good.
(Cell phone rings. MA answers it.)
MA: Hey, L.L.! Yeah, we’re just finishing up now. Dan? Oh, he’s—he’s not here right now. He’s—
well, how do I put this?
(Suddenly DK flies into view outside window and gives MA a thumbs-up while in midair.)
DK: Trampoline! I’m okay! (DK falls out of sight once again.)
MA: He just had so much fun he had to go off and jump around some. You know Dan. Oh yeah, I’m sure he’ll be back to do this again sometime. (DK flies by again, dancing with Eeyore.) I hope.
© Copyright 2011 by Michael Arruda and Daniel G. Keohane
Michael Arruda gives TRANSFORMERS: DARK SIDE OF THE MOON – – 2 and a half knives!
Dan Keohane gives TRANSFORMERS: DARK SIDE OF THE MOON – – 2 knives!