Few directors know how to throw a farewell party the way Michael Bay does. With this, the supposed final installment of the globe conquering Transformers series, he proves once again that there are few that truly understand the movie-going public as well as he does. Dark of the Moon is leaps and bounds above Revenge of the Fallen, narrowing the scope of the film while taking advantage of 3D and amplifying its excess and sonic poundage. Rarely will a film ever be this loud and unforgiving on the human senses, an audio/visual hammer with the subtlety of a brick to the skull. But that is what makes this film so ridiculously brilliant; it is what we, as a global movie-going audience, wants. If you don’t believe a word of the previous sentence, feel free to check the box office in a few days time.
Dark of the Moon reaches far deeper into the Transformers mythology bringing the world of Cybertron closer to Earth than ever before. It back tracks to the human space race of the 1960s to set the tone of the film, giving Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s (who makes a cameo appearance) moon landing a more sinister undertone. Humanity is once again at peril as it stands between the Autobots and Decepticons’ never ending galactic battle for supremacy. Yet in Dark of the Moon, we find that there may be more than meets the eye when it comes to the role of humans in the historical context of this great fight. It almost circumvents the plot of Revenge of the Fallen, but this progression of the Transformers history seems much better (or maybe Revenge just sucked so much that they hoped to simply sweep it under the rug) as soon as you throw out any sense of plausibility (but what’s plausible about Transformers anyway?)
Shia LaBeouf continues to do a lot of running and yelling and kicking as Sam, struggling for a job after the events of the first two movies, stumbles into employment thanks to his new squeeze, the rather well shot (God bless Michael Bay and the way he shoots lingerie models) Rosie Huntington-Whitely. And for all the hullabaloo, she is genuinely better than Megan Fox, a far less irritating caricature and a better actress. We are given some genuinely funny moments as his struggles for employment crosses paths with the likes of a slightly underused John Malkovich, an as-expected Ken Jeong and Alan Tudyk. The cast in general (which includes Frances McDormand and Patrick Dempsey) is far more rounded, having jettisoned the annoying Ramon Rodriguez and keeping the role of Sam’s parents to a minimum, which gives the film a solid human presence amongst the sentient destruction. Most of them do the best they can with the lines they’re fed, that while isn’t quite Aaron Sorkin, is better than “I’ll drive, you shoot”.
Writer Ehren Kruger does the film its biggest service by limiting the film’s landscape to but a few destinations. While we traveled to the far reaches of the Earth in Revenge of the Fallen, we are most restricted to only a few (setting the film’s final set piece within the city confines of Chicago), avoiding the travel fatigue we got in the second.
With these parts in place, Michael Bay gives the film its much-needed finality. It is unlikely that another film in our lifetime will showcase the kind of visual magnificence displayed in Dark of the Moon (unless Bay signs on for Transformers 4). A highway chase scene featuring Decepticons gunning after the Autobots is particularly mesmerizing; turning the frenzied blur we’ve seen in the previous two films into a refined, almost beautiful piece of futuristic roller derby. And there are nuances and subtleties that lacked before- the perfectly timed musical accompaniment to a scene for instance (when Sam is driving into Chicago)- that adds a rare moment of tranquility. For fans of the history, Leonard Nimoy returns to voice Sentinel Prime (the first time Nimoy returns to this universe since he voiced Galvatron in the original animated film), while the likes of Shockwave, with his newly added aura of destruction, will surely please diehards.
Critics enjoy savaging Michael Bay because he doesn’t bring the same kind of sensibilities to the art of filmmaking a Godard, a Fellini or an Orson Welles does. Yet they all had their trademarks that earned them their distinction; Godard with his Nouvelle Vague jump cuts, Fellini with his elegant imagery and Welles with his all-around innovation. And Bay, like them, has his cannon for generation now: explosive, A.D.D. ridden, sex-infused, glossy storytelling of excess proportions. You cannot compare Dark of the Moon to À bout de soufflé, but you can compare their connection to the cultural and global landscape of their time. As much as critics will pound and holler about the merits of Terrence Malick’s latest film and how we should go see that instead of Rosie Huntington-Whitely in her underwear, their gracious calls for cinematic justice will fall on deaf ears. Why? Because Michael Bay and Transformers: Dark of the Moon is the way we are now (and really, what the hell do you want from a movie about giant robots? Optimus Prime wandering the streets of Paris smoking cigarettes?) The collective applause by the audience through the film (and at its conclusion) will attest to that.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon isn’t perfect, and its conclusion rather abrupt, but as a send-off for this franchise (for now?), you couldn’t possibly ask for a bigger, more ridiculously explosive final chapter.
TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON
Directed by: Michael Bay
Written by: Ehren Kruger
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Josh Duhammel, Tyrese Gibson, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Patrick Dempsey
Runtime: 157 mins
Spider-Man: Far From Home is a splendid coda to the Avengers
Save the world, save the girl?
Where do you go after Avengers: Endgame? The finale to an 11-year journey was always going to be a heavy exhale. But with much of the story finding conclusion, it was only natural that the next chapter would be something a little lighter, less fraught but still tense with importance. The question of responsibility and the burden of carrying it has been a fundamental principle of being a superhero in this universe, a burden that only continues in the final film of this phase. So where does the Marvel Cinematic Universe go after Endgame? Well, on holiday of course. Spider-Man: Far From Home is not only a splendid film but a nice coda to the biggest cinematic undertaking we’ve seen in recent history.
You can find Spider-Man: Far From Home nestled in the cinematic landscape somewhere between Iron Man 3 and National Lampoon’s Vacation. Peter Parker (Tom Holland, really solidifying himself as this generation’s best Spider-Man) is Clark Griswolding himself across Europe to chase the heart of MJ (Zendaya). As a bumbling 16-year-old who only wants to find the girl, his romance is cut a little short by the expected Marvel cinematic tomfoolery we’ve come to expect from our arachnid hero. Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn as Mysterio is a concerted effort; a cross between Tony Stark’s wise but too cool tutelage and Ben Kingsley’s Mandarin (take that how you will). As the carnage across Europe unfolds, the film becomes a well-balanced juxtapositioning of the kind of humor we’ve found appealing within in the MCU and action and adventure that doesn’t become overly burdensome or heavy. Far From Home keeps things light and breezy, but you never forget the stakes or think that this is just a tacked on fling after the events of Endgame.
The cast are well rounded and the addition of Marvel players we’ve come to love (Jon Favreau’s Happy Hogan, Spider-Man sidekick Ned, and both Nick Fury and Maria Hill) makes it hit with almost the same gravitas as the previous films. But more importantly, they never make the film feel like an overstuffed mess that plagued outings like Age of Ultron. The pace is engaging, and as the story unfolds amongst the smoke and mirrors, you can’t help but feel a kind of comic book happiness that you felt through Homecoming. It’s charming, it’s earnest, it’s funny, and at times, doesn’t take itself too seriously (Spider-Man video game in-joke included!). Plus it has those little moments that while may have been written for fans, will appeal to anyone who enjoys a good laugh, a touching moment, and good filmmaking. While the death of Tony Stark looms large within the narrative of the film, it doesn’t become baggage- but rather the catalyst for growth within Parker and helps propel the story to its conclusion.
However, one can’t help but feel that the continued presence of Tony Stark, and the reminder that he is gone, really does give this universe a sense of finality. If you stay for the end-credits (both scenes), you’ll know that Marvel has plans both big and small in the coming years. Far From Home is both the end and the beginning in a sense. It’s a nice coda to Endgame, and for some, probably a good place to step away from the past 11 years. Far From Home is also continued proof that heart and the desire to do good doesn’t always have to follow the same tired script. Save the world, lose the girl? Maybe not this time.
Spider-Man: Far From Home is in cinemas now.
SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME
Directed by: Jon Watts
Written by: Erik Sommers, Chris McKenna
Cast: Tom Holland, Zendaya, Jake Gyllenhaal, Samuel L. Jackson, Colbie Smulders, Marisa Tomei
Distributed by: Sony Pictures
Run time: 129 minutes
Film Review: Murder Mystery
Murder Mystery is a pretty crap film.
Murder Mystery is the next film in the long line of terrible Adam Sandler films distributed by Netflix. At this point we’re not sure that Netflix actually watches these movies before they put them on their service but here we are. Murder Mystery, like many of the recent Sandler-helmed flicks, seem less like movies than they do lavish holidays that Adam Sandler and friends go on where filming of random skits tied together loosely by some semblance of narrative occurs. Much of the film is slapped together with the kind of duct-tape storytelling you’d find in all those mediocre SNL movies.
There is star quality though. Jennifer Aniston is back, after working alongside Sandler in 2011’s equally terrible Just Go With It, and they’ve roped in some pretty prominent names, including Luke Evans (Fast & Furious series, The Hobbit), Gemma Arterton, and a happily cashing in his check Terrence Stamp. What happens can be best described as stupid Cluedo, or more blatantly, a dumb Murder On the Orient Express where Sandler and Aniston’s characters, a bumbling New York cop and hair dresser, stumble upon a high-stakes inheritance-grab murder mystery where absurd things happen. It never makes much sense but the biggest problems with these movies are not so much the cartoony skits (Sandler’s cop is so bad at shooting his gun that when he does, it’s a cartoon-like hail of bullets missing their target), but just the insanely unbelievable characters that fill these movies. It’s OK to suspend belief, but at this point, you don’t believe for one second any of the characters would exist in real life or that any of them act like actual humans do. There is also no shortage of cartoon bozos: Fat New York cop sidekick? Check. Buffoony Inspector Clouseau French detective? Check. Overly Spanish Spanish guy? Check. Ali G Indian guy? Check. Even Gemma Arterton’s Jessica Rabbit-esque character would make Jessica Rabbit shake her head in disbelief. At least Rob Schneider isn’t in it.
Is it funny? No, but there are actually some moments worth a chuckle. And that’s already better than Sandler’s previous Netflix outings. Murder Mystery’s jokes are mostly at the expense of the exaggerated caricatures and Sandler’s goofy self, but for the most part, its pretty bereft of humor. To make matters worse, the film has that cheap Netflix sheen to it that makes it even more of a TV movie than it already is. In the end, the movie is such a blatant Murder on the Orient Express rip-off that the end scene literally shows the Orient Express train. Unironically too.
Netflix’s has a serious movie problem- one that we’ve talked about before. Murder Mystery, is no different. You can’t fault Sandler for continuing down this path. Same goes for Aniston. Both have more than established their craft over the years that at times, you can’t help but feel envious of the position they’re in. So what if they just want to put their feet up, cash in a nice pay check, and enjoy the nice sights? Who wouldn’t?
Murder Mystery is a pretty crap film, but it’s what happens when we’ve given this much clout to Netflix. Spielberg had a point when he said Netflix movies shouldn’t be competing for Oscars. It is not only because they eschew theatrical traditions, but it should also be because they’re crap. And not even in the Spielberg Artificial Intelligence sense of being an average movie- but in the Lifetime channel level of crap. So really, when you think about, Murder Mystery is all our fault.