The leader of the Autobots was named Optimus Prime. I used to have a cat named Optimus Prime (RIP). So I’m sympathetic to the Autobot cause.
Then one day, someone figured out how to create animated movies using computers, and a new generation of Transformers was born. And Michael Bay, the maxiest of the maximalist directors, made them. And they were okay. Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon is the okayest of them. It’s mostly pretty entertaining.
Dark of the Moon continues with the recent fad of rewriting human history (see, for example, X-Men: First Class) to include superbeings, giant robots et cetera. Dark of the Moon runs wild with it: An alternate history of the Apollo Moon landing is proposed (we were there to investigate the Autobot ship that crash-landed on the Moon), and for the Chernobyl disaster (misused Autobot technology). Obama, JFK, Nixon and Robert McNamara are reenacted and impersonated. The shuttle Challenger disaster is evoked, and astronaut Buzz Aldrin appears as himself to verify what was really going on with the space race. In addition, the Lincoln Memorial is destroyed by Decepticon leader Megatron, and Chicago is pretty much laid to waste.
Young Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is back. Now he’s an unemployed college graduate with a super-hot girlfriend (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) whose boss (Patrick Dempsey) collects sportscars and is suspiciously nice. John Turturro returns as conspiracy theorist Simmons; Alan Tudyk is his capable assistant Dutch (working a Teutonic accent); John Malkovich is in the movie for no particular reason (although he’s quite funny); and Frances McDormand is a hard-nosed national security director. Ken Jeong turns up briefly as a weird spook with personal space issues. Leonard Nimoy voices Sentinel Prime, an old bot with some history. It’s a helluva cast, and once the movie works through the details of the plot, to motivate all the robot smashy-smashy to come, the humans are there primarily to scream. And scream they do – and run, and fall, and fly around in wingsuits. Truth be told, the humans are in the movie because the robots are not that interesting.
Dark of the Moon is a hardworking movie, and all that it wants to do is entertain. It succeeds. The script by Ehren Kruger is light on dialogue, and every human in it talks extremely fast, which leaves more time for battling robots. The robots themselves mostly have little to say – Optimus Prime and Sentinel Prime being the chattiest of the lot, and the only ones with anything of any consequence to say. The rest more or less speak (if they speak) in buzzwords and stock phrases. Decepticon Shockwave actually buzzes: He transforms into a gigantic tentacled buzz-sawlike worm thing that chews through buildings, streets and robots. I’m no expert in physics, but I’m pretty sure that that thing defies the laws of physics; it is about a hundred times bigger in worm form than in regular robot form. Maybe the laws are different in the part of the universe that the bots hail from.
Dark of the Moon does not encourage deep thought. The point of watching a movie like this is to get dragged along on an exhibit of modern movie technology (3-D included) and marvel at what can be done. One could focus on what cannot be done, too; the robots in this and other movies in the Transformers series have no personalities to speak of, and they have been rendered as such mechanically complicated beings, with so many moving parts, joints, gears, wheels, lights and bits and bobs that it’s pretty hard to see any evidence of intelligent design in them, or really to make out what they’re doing most of the time. They do apparently have spines, and die (if that’s the word for it) when decapitated, eviscerated or despined.
Actually, I’m not sure if they die, because I’m not sure if they’re supposed to be alive. I don’t know how they’re made, either: Do Mommy and Daddy Autobots build little Autobots out of spare parts? They do seem to be conscious, and the movie’s humans do get quite sad when their bot pals are reduced to scrap metal. That happens quite a lot in Dark of the Moon. There’s a tremendous amount of destruction and multi-species death, although none of it is of any particular consequence. Well, except for the Lincoln Memorial being blasted; that’s not cool.
Syd’s pick: Check out Spielberg’s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence from the robot genre
Early July is apparently favorable for robot movies. Ten years ago, there was Steven Spielberg’s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, the fairytale story of a robot boy created to replace a human boy who lies dying in a coma. When the real boy recovers, robot boy David (Haley Joel Osment) is abandoned in the woods, à la Hansel and Gretel. David, unable to love anyone but his “Mommy,” takes to heart the message of Pinocchio (his mother read the story to him). He sets out on a quest to find the Blue Fairy, so that she can turn him into a real boy. If he’s a real boy, he reasons, his mother will love him again.
David’s companions on his journey are Teddy (voiced by Jack Angel), a robotic super-toy teddy bear, and Gigolo Joe (Jude Law), a beautiful, suave robot sex slave. The three lost boys encounter a world in which “orgas” (humans) hate, fear and persecute “mechas” (robots) in a kind of inside-out racism. The mechas are hated not for what they look like on the outside, but for what they are on the inside; but just what is David on the inside, if he’s capable of love? The question that the movie confronts constantly, but obliquely, is the moral status of those emotional orphans who love but are themselves unloved, and the slaves who faithfully serve but are never themselves served.
There is an uneasy tension evident throughout A.I.: Artificial Intelligence – one that points to this film’s unique pedigree. First conceived by the late Stanley Kubrick as an adaptation of Brian W. Aldiss’ sci-fi story “Super-Toys Last All Summer Long,” A.I., so the legend goes, was bequeathed to Spielberg, who eventually wrote and directed it after Kubrick died.
A.I. is ambitious, engrossing, heartbreaking and challenging. It is also occasionally frustratingly ambiguous – the complicated, artificial, intelligent offspring of two divergent, occasionally convergent, artistic visions.
@ Syd M