Another Summer blockbuster. Another sequel. Originality is not a common practice in Hollywood nowadays, being filled with Comic-book adaptations, remakes, sequels. Super 8 seems to be the only original film out this summer, and even that is inspired by the work of Steven Spielberg. But I digress, let’s get back to the topic at hand, that being the third installment in Michael Bay’s Robot-bust up action franchise, Transformers. The first installment was, for me, quite a pleasant surprise. I neither hate nor love Michael Bay movies, some of them can serve as really enjoyable action movies, like Armageddon, Bad Boys and The Rock. Transformers pleasantly joined the ranks of Bay’s more enjoyable efforts. Then we had 2009’s follow-up, Revenge of the Fallen. Now we were in Pearl Harbour territory of terrible. It was loud, crass, confusing and utterly empty, with no real story to speak of. So, the question remains, has Bay learnt his lesson this time around and improved on the shortcomings of the second installment. The answer is big, fundamental and conclusive in its nature… he kinda has.
Now before you accuse me of sitting on the fence, hear me out. In terms of story, there is much more to grasp here then there was in Revenge of the Fallen. We have a nice bit of alternative history (always love a bit of alternative history), in which the Space Race was in response to an Autobot spaceship crash landing on the Moon. The ship contained the old leader of the Autobots, Sentinel Prime, who has laid dormant since the crash. Optimus and co. mange to retrieve the ship and it’s cargo, only to discover that the Decepticons are one step ahead, hatching a plan that would bring about the destruction of Earth and mankind itself. Now this element of the story is brilliant, exactly what’s needed for a Transformers movie, genuine threat and all the excuse you need for some kick-ass robot action. The problem with the narrative is how you actually get to that point in the film. It takes a bloody hour for things to get interesting.
The first hour is disappointingly lacking in any suspense, thrills or anything that engaging, the only thing that comes close is an action scene in Chernobyl, which itself seems to be in rather bad taste.What we have to sit through is an hour of pointless exposition as we are re-introduced to Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Whitwicky, who is struggling to find a job, yet has a new super hot girlfriend in the form of British model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s Carly. Oh how life is hard for poor Sam. This time around, he is a very hard character to sympathise with, as he whines about not having a job and being left out of Autobot missions. I just wanted someone to turn to him, hit him, and tell him to suck it up and get on with his life. This feeling towards the character is helped in no means by the performance of LaBeouf, who’s routine of quick-talking, teenaged awkwardness has now run incredibly dry. Mostly because he’s not a teenager any more. And what about Huntington-Whiteley, the replacement, as it were, for the fired Megan Fox? Well, she certainly fits the bill in terms of her looks, but she has as much acting ability as one of the nuts and bolts holding the Autobots together. Her performance is awkward, uncomfortable and lacks any spark with LaBeouf. Sure, the relationship serves a purpose to up the stakes later on in the film, but otherwise it’s not a fun relationship to behold. The supporting players are also to blame for the turgid first hour. John Malkovich is embarrassing to see on-screen doing this routine in a pointless role as Sam’s new boss, as is the same with Ken Jeong of The Hangover fame. Ehren Kruger’s script doesn’t seem to know where it’s going in this first hour and it certainly left me with the impression that Bay and his team hadn’t learnt their lesson from the first sequel and that things weren’t going to improve. But then the shit hits the fan. In a good way.
As soon as a degree of threat is introduced, when the Decepticons plan comes to light and certain twists take place and characters reveal true intentions, that this movie hits overdrive and the Bayhem does indeed ensue. The hour of uninteresting exposition is replaced by a good hour and a half of pretty much solid action as Sam rejoins the Autobots and Josh Duhamel’s forces to face the new and highly dangerous Decepticon threat. The battle(s) that ensue in the city of Chicago are truly quite awe-inspiring. I watched this in 2-D, and I can imagine how much more of a spectacle that this film is in it’s intended 3-D form. The action is surprisingly quite inventive, with a collapsing skyscraper set piece as our heroes slide from floor to floor dodging Decepticon attacks. And the film is so much more fun in the company of the Autobots, as you know when they’re around we can expect action to follow. Optimus Prime this time around seems to be only useful at the last-minute, but his moves are impressive to behold. To give Bay his dues, he knows how to orchestrate action and special effects. The effects are undeniably impressive and incredibly well-realised by those guys at Industrial Light and Magic, and Bay knows the best techniques to show these effects off. The film really comes alive in these moments, pumping with excitement with some real pump your fist in the air moments, supported by another strong score from Steve Jobolsky. And you get this for the best part of the last hour and a half. Unfortunately, the writing falls back on the less impressive form of the first hour, as the loose ends are hastily tied up, unconvincing and unsatisfactory manner. The result is a sequel which for the most part corrects the mistakes made in the second movie, yet still manages to nearly deter your attention in its first act. I certainly do hope that his will be LaBeouf’s last installment, as if the franchise is to continue, it needs to be rejuvenated with a new cast. Should Bay leave? I’ll leave that decision to him. For now, Autobots… lets roll.