Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

(In theaters, June 2011) I never thought I’d be thankful for 3D reining in a director’s worst impulses, but looking at the dramatic increase in Transformers 3’s visual coherence over its predecessor, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Michael Bay has finally met a limiting factor he couldn’t blow up.  Simply put, the visual salad of quick cuts and flashing color that undermined Transformers 2 simply doesn’t work in 3D, and Bay has adapted his style in consequence.  Much like accessibility for disabled people ends up benefitting everyone, it turns out that Transformers 3D is a lot more accessible… even for 2D viewers.  There are a few amazing long shots in the film (one of the best being a highway stunt in which a robot transforms around its human passenger), and everything feels far more controlled and enjoyable as a result.  It helps that the plot is better than the preceding films, blending a healthy dose of conspiracy theory with multiple betrayals and catastrophic imagery.  (There’s a particular chilling moment that makes no sense in the context of the series, but shows what the trilogy could have built toward had it been coherently conceived.)  It’s easy to miss Megan Fox (her replacement is bland), to wish that Ken Jeong should have gotten a better role and to think that Shia LaBeouf is this close to developing a distinctive screen personality (albeit not a pleasant one), but various bit players such as John Turturro, John Malkovich and Frances McDormand do quite well with small roles.  Transformers 3 is hardly perfect, mind you: The plot holes are still obnoxious, the robots still look like unconnected piles of hardware, the lack of attention to characters is still annoying and the dumb humour of the series is still intrusive, but the improvement is perceptible –even when it comes from the actors doing their best with the material they’ve got.  At more than two and a half hours, Transformers 3 is overstuffed with barely relevant material: A good script re-write could have combined characters for greater impact, and cut 30-40 minutes without too much trouble.  But part of the pleasure of the Transformers series is in finding out what kind of spectacular mayhem can be put on-screen with an ultra-big budget. (The remarkable pre-credit sequence alone is probably more expensive than most movies in the history of movies.)  On this level, Transformers 3 certainly doesn’t disappoint, even for jaded action junkies.  The last hour of the film pulls out all the stops in portraying inventive set-pieces in downtown Chicago, and some sequences (such as the glass skyscraper) are nothing short of awe-inspiring.  It’s lavish summer entertainment with terrific audio/video production values, and for once there’s just enough interesting material in the script to keep us interested while Bay’s direction benefits from some much-needed restraint.  While I’m not saying that the film will end up anywhere near this year’s end Top-ten lists, it’s such an improvement over the first two in the series that it feels like a success.

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