Commentary by Matthew Leary, May 2011
Despite the flaws of the first two live action Transformers movies, Transformers: Dark of the Moon looks to close out the trilogy with a bang. From the scenes we're able to glimpse in the trailers, we've already geeked out on three things--and not a single one has anything to do with the hapless humans running around. So in the interest of getting hyped up for a hopefully redemptive installment of the blockbuster film franchise, we'd like to call attention to three bits of awesomeness from the Dark of the Moon trailers...
1. OPTIMUS PRIME
The creative minds behind the live action Transformers flicks have, in the past, gone on record as saying that it was important to include characters like Sam (Shia LaBeouf), his family, and even the military because it was the primary way the audience could relate to the story. Of course, movie fans everywhere (and sci-fi fans in particular) know this is total horsesh*t. No one who grew up with the original series tuned in to watch Sam's predecessor Spike tell bad jokes and get in the way of the Autobots, or to see Chip boy genius his way into saving the day Wesley Crusher style. We watched to see giant robots transform into things and beat the hell out of each other, and the baddest robo-mofo was Optimus Prime, heroically voiced by Peter Cullen.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen made the critical error of removing Prime for most of its runtime, focusing on Sam and Mikaela fleeing explosions, looking up, and screaming names. Fortunately, Dark of the Moon looks like it will feature the Autobot leader front and center as he should be. How geek-tastic is that dramatic scene where Optimus lays down the smack, in his signature grave and rumbling bass, to Frances McDormand's government suit? That's probably the best acting we'll see in the entire trilogy.
And if there are still unbelievers out there who insist that mainstream audiences must have human characters to relate to, I offer up the biggest piece of evidence against that BS premise: Disney/Pixar's WALL-E. Viewers of all ages, genders, and backgrounds loved those robots, and they barely spoke! So please, stop with this nonsense that we all need Shia LaBeouf constantly underfoot and dealing with relationship problems when there are Cybertronian ass-whuppins to be handed out.
The live action franchise has generally done a horrible job at visually distinguishing its robotic stars. Yes, Optimus sports his trademark blue and red trim and Bumblebee is yellow, but just about all the other bots are a sinewy tangle of silver: Jazz, Barricade, Frenzy, and (most egregiously) Starscream and Megatron. And in spite of applying that same look to Shockwave--a classic villain and fan favorite--they've finally managed to make an impressive transition from the old '80s toon. The cold and calculating Decepticon field commander makes a welcome debut in the live action series and retains several elements from his signature appearance: the antenna horns, the puffed-out chest, the laser cannon arm. But most of all, that cycloptic eye is there, and even the color change to red is a good move (fans will note that in the original TV series, he was one of the few 'cons without red eyes, instead rocking a glowing yellow pinpoint).
It's heartening to see that they're breaking out some vintage characters instead of inventing lame ass new ones. Don't even get me started on the Twins from Revenge of the Fallen.
Throughout all the incarnations of The Transformers, one thing has remained virtually constant: Bumblebee has almost always been the heart of the Autobots. He's the one kids wanted for a best friend, not Spike/Sam. But even while retaining his status as one of the few core characters, he underwent an interesting metamorphosis through the years. Previously the lovable runt of the litter, he has grown into a formidable fighter in his own right in his role as a guardian. It was one of the few changes for the better evident in the film franchise, and is now a mainstay in contemporary Transformers mythos. His ability to be both a loyal companion and a kickass protector is shown in the first two live action movies, as well as the latest animated series Transformers Prime, and looks to be in place for Dark of the Moon, where we see him scale the side of a building Jackie Chan style to scoop up two humans to safety. That is some mad ninja skill that only makes Bumblebee that much more awesome (and he didn't even have to bust out the cheesy "I'm a gold bug!" speech to do it).
So yes, folks, despite the past performances of 2007's Transformers and the subsequent Revenge of the Fallen, we haven't yet abandoned all hope, and, God help us, we're eagerly anticipating Dark of the Moon. The human characters are still sketchy, but the scale of the action looks to override that in sheer epicness. And hey, we'll get the added techy eye candy of Optimus Prime using his trailer for battle armor, taking to the air like a Macross Valkyrie. If Dark of the Moon doesn't knock it out of the park, we'll have to move on by hoping for a quick and merciful reboot with a better vision at the helm. But until that time, let's hope for the best...