Aug 26, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011): A-

Less off-the-rails insane than Revenge of the Fallen (an eye-popping drug on which I had a very bad trip the first time around), Transformers: Dark of the Moon is still gonzo where it counts the most, and whether through a willful attempt to respond to critics of The Fallen's aggressive visuals or simply catering to the needs of this third outing's three dimensions, Bay's images are frequently doled out in wider, longer shots that render his canted angles something like poetic. My initial hatred of The Fallen was just as quickly replaced by the realization that I'd joined in the mob mentality against it without giving the movie proper a real chance. Frankly, most critics did just the same this time around, and too bad for them. Michael Bay's emotional complexity as a storyteller is still inversely proportional to his technical prowess and pop culture savvy; best he work with toys, catchphrases, and stereotypes. Or are they archetypes? Either way, I see no hatred inherent here - just an eccentric juvenile made scapegoat for his cultural influence (and all that came before him). He's come a long way since Bad Boys II (still a contender for worst film I've ever seen); with newfound awareness as an artist ("It is a visual and therefore visceral betrayal"), his wielding of the blockbuster format is almost profoundly carthartic. Breathlessly realized imagery abounds (the opening war on Cybertron, the tentacles of Shockwave tearing through Chernobyl, Bumblebee transforming from and back into a car with a passenger riding inside), and Bay's eye for framing and cutting shows newfound economy. It's also frequently hilarious, particularly Alan Tudyk and the red-faced John Malkovich (who, along with Francis McDormand and series mainstay John Turturro, turns this into something of a Coen brothers reunion), but don't overlook Shia LeBeouf's ability to freak out on cue. A historical revisionist opening brilliantly contextualizes the mayhem to come. I never owned a Transformers toy and have no nostalgia for Hasbro culture, but there's something irrefutably chilling about the moment when Optimus Prime grinds himself to a halt with his saber, pivots to face his enemy, and lets out a demonic wartime growl.

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