REVIEW: THE DEFENDERS

CAST

Charlie Cox (Stardust)
Krysten Ritter (Veronica Mars)
Mike Colter (Zero Dark thirty)
Finn Jones (Game of Thrones)
Élodie Yung (Gods of Egypt)
Sigourney Weaver (Avatar)
Rachael Taylor (The Loft)
Eka Darville (Power Rangers RPM)
Elden Henson (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay)
Deborah Ann Woll (Ruby Sparks)
Jessica Henwick (Game of Thrones)
Ramón Rodríguez (The Taking of Pelham 123)
Rosario Dawson (Sin City)
Scott Glenn (The Silence of The Lambs)
Simone Missick (K-Town)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Wai Ching Ho (Cadillac Man)
Carrie-Anne Moss (Chuck)
Peter McRobbie (16 Blocks)
Rob Morgan (Stranger Things)
Marko Zaror (Machete Kills)

 

The Defenders is Marvel’s best Netflix show, hands down.  While the crossover between Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage can occasionally veer into a fragmented set of mini-episodes early on, the awesome foursome eventually unites to form a show greater than the sum of its parts. The street-level superheroes provide a fantastic eight-episode run with high stakes, a frenzied pace and, most importantly, effortless chemistry.Things don’t start off that way, though. The opening pair of episodes read almost as a greatest hits collection of each hero’s respective shows before the narrative eventually relents and shoehorns the plot in a comically convenient way for the four to come together. The lack of instant gratification can be grating, but this is easily relieved by the fun interaction between fan-favourites that leads up to the team-up. Misty Knight and Jessica Jones’ brief scenes are worth the price of admission alone and there are a few, shall we say interesting, crossovers you won’t see coming. Without giving too much away, a cataclysmic event is unleashed upon New York and The Defenders, each following their own leads, stumble into each other’s paths in the same building. And then things get good. Really, really good. Unsurprisingly, The Hand are the villains of the season and are led by Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra. Her performance is tempered by an unidentified terminal illness which spurs her character on and at least drives her away from the realms of cartoonish MCU villain as  she has an actual character arc rather than the bland go there, be evil trope of prior bad guys. When the show does focus on The Defenders (and, in fairness, that’s 90% of the time) the show is a rollercoaster of wisecracks, quips and, yup, Jessica Jones’ side-eye. It’s glorious fun and, for my money, feels like a much bigger event than The Avengers ever was. There’s a spine-tingling moment, complete with an inspirational score bubbling up in the background, where the four heroes unite to take on a foe at the midway point which ranks as an all-time great Marvel moment.Yes, The Defenders run is short, but those thinking a mere eight episodes won’t cut it can have their fears put to rest. Coupled with Game of Thrones season 7’s clipped seven-episode run, it feels like we’re reaching a watershed point in television where shows don’t need to be chained to a long episode run anymore. Barely a second is wasted in The Defenders: Every quiet character moment is poignant and fleshes out something or someone; every action sequence leads to something bigger, better, and more shocking; and every one-liner and on-the-nose dig at Iron Fist will make you laugh. Nothing outstays its welcome.

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: ARQ

CAST

Robbie Amell (The Flash)
Rachael Taylor (Jessica Jones)
Shaun Benson (K-19)
Gray Powell (Hollywoodland)
Jacob Neayem (Regression)
Adam Butcher (Played)
Tantoo Cardinal (Black Robe)

Renton wakes up beside his former lover, Hannah. Three men break into his bedroom and take him hostage. Renton breaks his neck while escaping and wakes with a start, only for the men to break in once again. He and Hannah are taken to another room and bound to chairs. The leader of the group introduces himself as Father, identifying the others as Sonny and Brother; Cuz died of electrocution after touching a large device, the ARQ, in the room. Father says he represents a rebel group known as the Bloc and demands Renton surrender money, or “scrips”, from their rival organization, the Torus Corporation. He gives them several minutes to comply and leaves the room with the others to get food.Renton explains to Hannah the ARQ is a working perpetual motion machine he designed at Torus. After Torus shut down the project as an impossibility, he stole it. Renton believes the Bloc members to be after the ARQ rather than the scrips, though Hannah urges him to comply with their demands. After freeing himself and Hannah, he is killed while trying to escape. Renton wakes up gasping, only to relive the same scenario. This time, after freeing himself, he asks Hannah to help poison the intruders with cyanide gas. This fails when Hannah reveals herself as allied with them. Renton surrenders the scrips, only to be killed again after Sonny shoots him.After reviving, Renton questions Hannah about her past. She says she grew to resent Renton after he abandoned her to Torus, who tortured her. Renton says he never gave up looking for her after he escaped. Though he does not trust Hannah, Renton frees her. They work out a deal where they will split the scrips after using the cyanide gas to force Father and his group to stand down. Renton reneges on the deal, demanding that Hannah abandon the Bloc and come with him. She refuses and accidentally shoots Renton during a scuffle. Renton and Hannah wake in bed; this time, both recall the events. When Renton says the ARQ is causing a time loop, Hannah insists he give the technology to the Bloc. Eventually, Sonny reveals himself as a Torus mercenary and kills everyone.145458_5409_feat-770x433When they wake, Renton and Hannah agree they must keep the ARQ from Torus, though Renton expresses distrust in the Bloc. They convince Father to help them, but Sonny shoots Father and knocks Brother unconscious. After killing Sonny, Renton applies first aid to Father. He dies after Brother shoots him, not realizing Sonny is responsible. The next iteration, Sonny becomes aware of the time loop and immediately kills Father and Brother. Renton theorizes the ARQ is looping the same three-hour period due to running out of energy. Instead of producing unlimited energy, its fuel cells are refilled after every loop. When Sonny overpowers them, Renton sacrifices himself to prevent Sonny from acquiring the ARQ.1473859680893

In the next iteration, Sonny saves Cuz’s life, then kills Father and Brother. Renton and Hannah poison Sonny and Cuz with the cyanide. Before dying, Sonny uses the pool of blood from every other corpse (including Cuz, whom he kills) to set up a trap. After arguing not to destroy the machine, Hannah is electrocuted when she accidentally steps on Sonny’s trap. Renton briefly considers destroying the ARQ but allows the next iteration to begin. He admits he was wrong and offers the ARQ to the Bloc. Father, who is now aware of the time loop, and Brother agree to work with Hannah and Renton; however, Sonny and Cuz take all hostage. After Sonny forces Renton to disable the machine, Father and Brother die in the confusion of a blackout. Renton and Hannah briefly escape but return once they realize the time loop is localized to the house. After they kill Cuz, revealed to be a torturer for Torus, Sonny restarts the ARQ, only to be killed. An interrupted video message and the ARQ’s logs reveal a second, outer time loop: every nine time loops form their own loop in which their memories are reset. Unknowingly, they have repeated the same nine loops thousands of times. Realizing they are on their ninth loop, Renton and Hannah leave a desperate message to themselves, hoping future iterations can get the ARQ to the Bloc before Torus’ reinforcements arrive. After a robot breaks through and kills them, Hannah wakes with a gasp.bountykiller01

The movie questions multiple aspects of time travel in a fresh but familiar way, while developing strong characters. It is one of those movies that keeps you thinking after you’ve finished watching it.

REVIEW: LUKE CAGE – SEASON 1

CAST

Mike Colter (Ringer)
Mahershala Ali (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay)
Simone Missick (A Taste of Romance)
Theo Rossi (Cloverfield)
Alfre Woodard (Star Trek: First Contact)

RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST

Rosario Dawson (Sin City)
Frank Whaley (Broken Arrow)
Sônia Braga (Alias)
Frankie Faison (The Silence of The Lambs)
Rob Morgan (Stranger Things)
Sean Ringgold (American Gangster)
Parisa Fitz-Henley (Even Money)
Karen Pittman (The Ameircans)
Erik LaRay Harvey (Twister)
Ron Cephas Jones (Mr. Robot)
Sonja Sohn (The Originals)
Rachael Taylor (Jessica Jones)

Netflix’s latest drama may not be a great superhero series, but it’s searingly relevant and entertaining. Premiering on Friday, Sept. 30, Luke Cage is vital and alive and of-the-moment. It sings with the rhythms and swagger of Harlem and it’s a genre show that wears its intellectual curiosities like a badge. It’s so satisfying as badass street poetry and muscular urban renewal parable that after watching the seven episodes made available for critics, I barely cared that as a superhero show, Luke Cage is often repetitive and a little underwhelming. It’s the logical extension of Marvel’s niche-y approach to its Netflix offerings, a specificity that has yielded shows that are far more provocative, but far less universally accessible than the company’s blockbuster movies.The Marvel movies try to tick every box, but staying true to Netflix’s general business model, their comic book shows have just gone after one or two boxes aggressively. Jessica Jones used a snarky heroine and a mind-controlling bad guy to craft a story about consent and the power of sisterhood. Daredevil was using blindness and the darkness of Hell’s Kitchen as a platform for a story of Catholic guilt and challenged faith. Run by Cheo Hodari Coker, Luke Cage is the Harlem Renaissance intersecting with the comic book renaissance, a confrontational act of all-too-real wish fulfillment imagining a young black male as bulletproof.

Mike Colter’s Luke Cage was introduced in Jessica Jones as a haunted love interest for the main character, where we learned about his powers, basically being super-strong and impervious to bullets (or pretty much anything that might pierce/penetrate/crush his skin). We pick up with Luke sweeping the floors at the neighborhood barbershop run by Frankie Faison’s Pop. It’s the sort of community institution where people sit around all day debating the coaching styles of Pat Riley and Phil Jackson or whether Easy Rawlins or Kenyatta was the better urban fiction hero. By night, he works as a dishwasher at Harlem’s Paradise, a nightclub with a tremendous talent booker and operated by mobster Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali), cousin of local politician Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard). Immediately, we see a harsh contrast between the greedy capitalist renewal espoused by Cottonmouth and Dillard and the grassroots Harlem that Luke Cage wants to be a part of and wants to elevate. Naturally, conflict is a-brewing between the two Harlems.Like Wilson Fisk in Daredevil, Cottonmouth is a vicious, remorseless killer, but he’s also got a somewhat noble sense of how what he’s doing is good for the borough he grew up in. Cottonmouth’s ties are to family and also to the idea of legacy and the protection of a renowned family name, key details that Coker and his writers hit hard.The Marvel movies rely on outsized special effects to capture their heightened take on reality, but the Netflix shows don’t have the budget for that, so they opt for outsized thematics instead. Like Jessica Jones before it, Luke Cage is aggressively unsubtle, but it’s also aggressively smart. Sure, having Luke Cage wandering around, wearing a hoodie as an act of defiance, reading Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man feels a bit on the nose, but once you throw in the references to Walter Mosley and Donald Goines and Ta-Nehisi Coates, it becomes clear that this show doubles as a superlative summer reading list, which has value beyond computer-generated scenes of mass destruction or a really cool mocap villain.The early episodes are so charmingly brainy and move with such a light step — Paul McGuigan of Sherlock and Scandal knows his way around a flashy pilot — and the cinematography is so stylish — not surprisingly, everybody loves photographing Mike Colter — that you only sometimes realize that the things you expect to get out of a superhero show are largely missing. Luke Cage is, to his great detriment, initially much too powerful, and while he’s certainly a reluctant hero, when he actually goes to work on the bad guys, it’s pointless to try stopping him. The “Ruckus” set piece in the third episode stands out because nothing else even comes close in scope or action execution. Of the seven episodes, the one that was least successful for me, and by a wide margin, was the most comic book-y, an origin-story fourth episode that hews reasonably closely to Luke’s ’70s Marvel origins. It’s fitting that Luke would want to debate pulp and elevated pulp-fiction African-American heroes, because that’s the tradition Luke Cage operates best in, which is great if that’s what you’re looking for the show to be.Ali makes great use of a classic villain cackle, and he gives Cottonmouth a coiled, psychotic rage and disarming glimpses of reasonableness. Woodard’s Mariah is Cottonmouth’s opposite, all superficial gentility and then undercurrents of something unhinged that become more frequent. Faison and Ron Cephas Jones, as a barbershop chess wiz named (or nicknamed) Bobby Fish, offer grounded decency, and I’m enjoying what Theo Rossi is doing, skulking around the edges, as a criminal intermediary dubbed Shades. Simone Missick’s Misty Knight and Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple are there half as proactive female leads, half as potential love interests for Luke, but sometimes are confusing reminders that Luke was mighty hung up on a deceased ex — and then on Jessica Jones — just one TV show ago and they feel like they ought to be mentioned.Just as Colter moves with purpose, Luke Cage moves with purpose, even if that purpose isn’t the same as what Civil War or Age of Ultron have led audiences to anticipate from Marvel. It’s a series infused by the conversations we’re having about race and gender and the American urban space in 2016, and it’s a series built to inspire additional conversations about black masculinity and representations of heroism in an age in which the news is too often focused on the tragic disposability of black masculinity. Luke Cage is another great staple for Marvel and its Cinematic Universe.

REVIEW: JESSICA JONES – SEASON 1

MAIN CAST
Krysten Ritter (Veronica Mars)
Mike Colter (Ringer)
Rachael Taylor (Transformers)
Erin Moriarty (The Watch)
Eka Darville (Power Rangers RPM)
Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix)
Wil Traval (Once Upon a Time)
David Tennant (Doctor Who)
RECURRING / NOTABLE GUEST CAST
Susie Abromeit (Sex Drive)
Robin Weigert (Lost)
Kieran Mulcare (The Following)
Clarke Peters (John Wick)
Colby Minifie (Nurse Jackie)
Rebecca De Mornay (The Hand That Rocks The Cradle)
Thomas Kopache (Stigmata)
Michael Siberry (Highlander: The Series)
Rosario Dawson (Daredevil TV)
jessica jones poster
Marvel’s Jessica Jones announces its noir intentions from the get-go. From the slinky music and impressionistic animation of the opening credits, there’s no doubt what kind of series this is going to be, and the (naturally) hard-boiled narration of series star Krysten Ritter sets the stage for the dark, sardonic world she occupies. Thankfully, the narration can best be described as “unobtrusive.” It’s there because that’s how noir works, but the show is otherwise self-aware enough not to cling to the expectations of its genre. Sure, Jessica works behind a glass door with “Alias Investigations” typewritten across it, but this also the type of noir in which Jessica asks someone why they thinks she lives alone, and their response is, “Because people don’t like you?”
Created by Melissa Rosenberg (who put in time on shows as varied as Dexter, Birds Of Prey, and Party Of Five in addition to writing all five Twilight movies), Jessica Jones avoids a villain-of-the-week structure by having Jessica essentially work on the same case for the duration of the first season. There’s no onslaught of new superpowered (or “gifted,” in the parlance of the show) opponents for the heroine to face each episode; in fact, despite her super strength and impressive vertical leap, Jessica would strongly object to being called a heroine at all. Her brief attempt to use her powers for good resulted in her being taken under the sway of Kilgrave (David Tennant), whose mind control tactics caused her to commit a terrible crime that the show slowly teases out.
It’s his apparent return that kick-starts the action on the show. A missing college co-ed case turns out to be more complicated than Jessica initially assumes, and forces her to reconsider her distaste for heroism. Reasonably content to drink her way through her PTSD and take PI cases from high-powered attorney Jeryn Hogarth (played with admirable steely ferocity by Carrie-Anne Moss, long marooned after the Matrix movies), Jessica is soon faced with the prospect of her own responsibility for taking care of Kilgrave.
Along her ambivalent path towards heroism, she looks out for her junkie neighbor (Eka Darville), flirts with the handsome Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and slowly reconnects with her foster sister, Trish (Rachael Taylor). The show really starts to cook once Jessica and Trish start working together on the Kilgrave case. Trish, a former child star and current celebrity radio show host, is the only one who knows everything that happened to Jessica. Initially introduced as the disapproving straight arrow friend, she’s quickly revealed to be something much more interesting, despite her lack of superpowers. She’s also positioned as the moral center of the show, which proves to be vital for Jessica, who’s unsurprisingly given to a bleak pessimism.
It should be said: Jessica Jones is a deeply feminist show, all the way down to its depiction of sex, which is pointedly empowering for the women. More than that, its central conflict is its lead character struggling to maintain her agency against an abusive man. All the people in positions of power (minus Kilgrave) are women, and the story of the missing co-ed extends beyond the mystery of her disappearance. Trish is by no means content to sit on the sidelines of the action, and Hogarth seems to spend all of her time conducting important business meetings in impeccably tailored dresses and confidently seducing her assistant. Moss has a way with a withering putdown, though Ritter gets her fair share, even if the show doesn’t take full advantage of her comedic side. She’s compelling as Jessica. The slow build toward a confrontation between Kilgrave and Jessica is tensely effective, hanging over everything else she does. Tennant’s face is barely seen on camera for the first couple of episodes, but rather than make his absence seem pointed, the tactic works as a way to build up Jessica’s dread about his return.
While the series clearly takes place in the same universe as Daredevil, complete with brutal violence and punches that really land, the fight scenes themselves have a very different feel. Jessica’s too strong to lose fistfights, and she partakes in them with a weary sense of resignation that people are wasting her time trying to resolve problems this way. All of this adds up to a show that is very certain of its voice and tone. Streets are always covered with a foot of grimy snow, Jessica doesn’t own a garment that doesn’t have a hole or three in it, and every drawer or cabinet contains a bottle of booze or a pistol. A Must See

REVIEW: MAN-THING

CAST

Conan Stevens (The Hobbit)
Matthew Le Nevez (Fred)
Rachael Taylor (Jessica Jones)
Jack Thompson (Broken Arrow)
Rawiri Paratene (Whale Rider)
Alex O’Loughlin (Moonlight)
Steve Bastoni (Suburban Mayhem)

https://horrorpediadotcom.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/manthing4.jpg?w=520Man-Thing is set in a backwater Leeziana town with an unusually large number of unexplained disappearances, the previous sheriff among them. Kyle Williams (Matthew Le Nevez) isn’t on the job as Bywater’s new sheriff long before he’s saddled with a murder investigation, one that’s interrupted by a squabble involving protestors at Schist Petroleum. Schist has set up shop in swamplands held sacred by the three…well, two, now…Indians that call Bywater home. Schist’s buyout happened under extremely suspicious circumstances, and townsfolk like schoolteacher Teri Richards (Rachel Taylor) aren’t going to stand for it. So…you know the drill. More unexplained murders. Kyle and Teri fall madly in love inexplicably quickly as they investigate. Can’t trust rednecks or blustering corporate weasels. Climax when the Man-Thing finally comes.For a movie titled Man-Thing, the plant-like creature almost seems like a minor supporting character. Sure, there are plenty of P.O.V. shots. A hand. A briefly glimpsed arm. A fuzzy photo. You don’t really get a full-on, unobscured look at Man-Thing until the last fifteen minutes or so of the movie. Sure, a “less is more” approach can work extremely effectively in a movie like Jaws, but Man-Thing isn’t Jaws. Wow. It really, really isn’t Jaws.Very loosely based on “Cry of the Native” in Adventures into Fear #16, the basic story is a mishmash of clichés — amorous kids who stumble into the path of a killer before the opening titles, the new cop in town, the corrupt, murderous businessman, a wronged man wreaking havoc from the grave, the quarreling, determined woman who gradually steps into the role of love interest, two scoops of cryptic Native American hokum… The creature looks like Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway’s creation, and a character named Ted Sallis does factor in, but the origin and motivations are both completely different. Nothing that happens bears much resemblance to the comics; the creature is practically a guard dog, killing pretty much everyone who crosses his path indiscriminately. No one who knows fear even burns at the Man-Thing’s touch. Violent shaking and stabbing vine-tentacles, sure, but no burning touch. I guess even if he is a second or third-tier character, “Man-Thing” still carries more marquee value than “Boring Sheriff”, the bland character who winds up snagging most of the screentime. The cast as a whole ranges from mediocre to there-are-twenty-million-people-in-Australia-and-I’m-pretty-sure-you-could-find-someone-better-than-this-guy. Also, Australians attempting a Southern accent are about as convincing as me trying to adopt an Australian accent. Stop it.Although Man-Thing debuted on the Sci-Fi Channel, this DVD has the full R-rated version of the movie, complete with a little bit of silicone-enhanced nudity and plenty of profanity. Some of the special effects wound up looking reasonably nice, and it’s unflinching about lingering shots of mangled corpses and skewering much of the cast. Doesn’t do much to redeem the movie, tho’. If I were watching Man-Thing on television, I’d have given up before the opening titles.  There’s no sense of tragedy or emotion or fear or excitement or…anything. Man-Thing isn’t unendurable or unwatchable, but the movie’s so bland, so uninteresting, and so sluggishly paced that it’s nearly impossible to recommend.

REVIEW: TRANSFORMERS 1-4

CAST

Shia LaBeouf (Eagle Eye)
Megan Fox (New Girl)
Josh Duhamel (Las Vegas)
Tyrese Gibson (2 Fast 2 Furious)
Rachael Taylor (The Darkest Hour)
Anthony Anderson (The Departed)
Jon Voight (Mission Impossible)
John Turturro (Barton Fink)
Michael O’Neill (Secondhand Lions)
Kevin Dunn (Vicky Cristina Barcelona)
Julie White (Monsters Vs Aliens)
Zack Ward (Bloodrayne 2)
Travis Van winkle (Meet The Spartans)
Bernie Mac (Bad Santa)
Tom Lenk (Angel)
J.P. Manoux (Birds of Prey)
Odette Annable (The Unborn)
Peter Cullen (Transformers Prime)
Mark Ryan (Black Sails)
Darius McCrary (15 Minutes)
Robert Foxworth (Omen II)
Jess Harnell (Wall-e)
Hugo Weaving (The Matrix)
Reno Wilson (Mike & Molly)
Colton Haynes (Arrow)

Searching the galaxy for a troublesome energy cube, the Autobots, lead by Optimus Prime (voiced robustly by legend Peter Cullen), have arrived on Earth. Teaming up with a teenager named Sam (Shia LeBeouf) and innocent bystander Mikeala (Megan Fox), the Autobots set out to complete their mission; but when government agents interfere (led by John Turturro and Jon Voight, with soldiers played by Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson), it awakens the wrath of the Decepticons, who free their leader Megatron (Hugo Weaving) from his ice prison and put Earth in their crosshairs as they challenge Prime for control of the all-powerful cube.

Granted, these aren’t your granddaddy’s Transformers. Souped up to resemble high-tech living robots while fighting and the latest in automobile trends in car form, Bay and the producers have mucked around considerably with the look of the Autobots and Decepticons, putting the infamous flames on Optimus Prime and turning Megatron into an alien jet. Supporters of the all-holy “G1” have every right to scoff, but “Transformers” has a wonderful way of making these ludicrous alterations fit into the bigger, slicker picture, pressing down hard on the extraterrestrial angle of our visitors. It’s only a matter of moments before you buy these reinvented incarnations of popular characters and another few seconds before you start to root for their victory and defeat.

Running at 140 minutes, Transformers never runs out of juice.

 

 

CAST

Shia LaBeouf (Eagle Eye)
Megan Fox (New Girl)
Josh Duhamel (Las Vegas)
Tyrese Gibson (2 Fast 2 Furious)
John Turturro (Barton Fink)
Ramon Rodriguez (Need For Speed)
Kevin Dunn (Vicky Cristina Barcelona)
Julie White (Monsters Vs Aliens)
Isabel Lucas (Red Dawn)
America Olivo (Bitch Slap)
Eric Pierpoint (Alien Nation)
Peter Cullen (Transformers Prime)
Mark Ryan (Black Sails)
Hugo Weaving (The Matrix)
Reno Wilson (Mike & Molly)
Robert Foxworth (Omen II)
Jess Harnell (Wall-e)
Tony Todd (Wishmaster)
Frank Walker (The Simpsons)
Tom Kenny (The Batman)
Michael York (Logans Run)
Kevin Michael Richardson (The Cleveland Show)

A sequel to the 2007 movie that brings us back to the main characters from that. Two years have passed for then. Sam is off to college and is getting along nicely with girlfriend Mikaela. He’s also trying to distance himself from the whole alien robots whom he got involved with in the first film. The good guy Autobots are helping the military destroy the evil deceptions. But the latter have a whole new plan that involves a figure from their history. As that kicks into action, nobody is safe, and it’s time for Sam and Mikaela to help save the world again.

This builds things up to a much greater scale than the first film, and it brings in a lot more of the robots, both good and bad ones. This is the right decision but there’s so many new characters, few of whom get anything other than cursory introductions, that those who don’t know the transformers characters from other media might be a bit confused. There were times when I thought a scorecard would have helped. Some have rather silly voices and some are used for comic relief, but these ones do at the same time have a fair amount of character as a result, so they work.

The plot also being move involved means you do have to work at it, a little more than you might expect from a piece of escapist entertainment. And yet, whilst it’s not as focused as the first film, it does come up with a big action battle climax.  As humans and alien robots alike battle evil forces and strive to do the right thing and are quite prepared to put their lives on the line, it’s not hard to find yourself rooting for them all the way.

CAST

Shia LaBeouf (Eagle Eye)
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (Mad Max: Fury Road)
Josh Duhamel (Las Vegas)
Tyrese Gibson (Fast 2 Furious)
John Turturro (Barton Fink)
Patrick Dempsey (Grey’s Anatomy)
Frances McDormand (Burn After Reading)
John Malkovich (Red)
Kevin Dunn (Vicky Cristina Barcelona)
Julie White (Monsters Vs Aliens)
Alan Tudyk (Firefly)
Ken Jeong (The Hangover)
Scott Krinsky (Chuck)
Peter Cullen (Transformers Prime)
Mark Ryan (Black Sails)
Hugo Weaving (The Matrix)
Leonard Nimoy (Star Trek)
Jess Harnell (Wall-e)
Robert Foxworth (Omen II)
James Remar (Flashforward)
George Coe (The Entity)
Reno Wilson (Mike & Molly)
Tom Kenny (The Batman)
Frank Welker (The Simpsons)
John DiMaggio (Futurama)
Keith Szarabajka (Angel)

The story,  involves a Transformer named Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy), who crashed on the moon in the 1960s and is re-awakened by Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen) in the present day. This sets in motion a chain of events that build to a Transformer war, with Megatron (voice of Hugo Weaving) on one side, and Optimus on the other, with the fate of the human race dangling in the middle.

Eventually, we are returned to Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), the protagonist from the last two films, and his girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). Sam is irritated that after his participation in the battle between Autobots and Decepticons, he’s been out of college for a few months and still doesn’t have a job with the military, or with anyone at all, for that matter. LaBeouf makes these scenes work. Carly’s boss, Dylan (Patrick Dempsey), ribs Sam by referring to a car as “trying to evoke the curves of a woman,” while both Dylan and the camera stare lecherously at Carly.

Ultimately, Bay’s primary success here is casting. In addition to Dempsey (pleasingly cynical), Dark of the Moon boasts an elaborate roster of recognizable, exceptional professionals, like John Malkovich (ridiculous), Frances McDormand (deadly serious), Ken Jeong (psychotic), and Alan Tudyk (over-the-top), who give the film color around its big silly edges. McDormand in particular adds a level of gravitas to the first half of the movie that really greases the wheels, and even though she’s relegated to the far back in the last third, she shares her time with returning player John Turturro, with whom she has amusing chemistry. Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Kevin Dunn, and Julie White also return.

Everything else is action, action, action. This time, Bay is better with his action geography and choreography, illustrating fights from a distance and turning down the dust clouds a little bit. The 3D often helps, adding a dizzying sense of height to moments such as several characters leaping out onto the side of a tilting glass building, or troops in gliding suits diving out of falling helicopters and soaring an improbable distance across the city.

 

 

CAST

Mark Wahlberg (The Lovely Bones)
Stanley Tucci (The Hunger Games)
Kelsey Grammer (X-Men 3)
Nicola Peltz (Bates Motel)
Jack Reynor (Macbeth)
Titus Welliver (Lost)
Sophia Myles (Underworld)
Bingbing Li (The Message)
T.J. Miller (Deadpool)
Thomas Lennon (17 Again)
Erika Fong (Power Rangers Samurai)
Cleo King (Mike & Molly)
Peter Cullen (Transformers Prime)
Frank Welker (The Simpsons)
Ken Watanabe (Batman Begins)
Robert Foxworth (Omen II)
John DiMaggio (Futurama)
Mark Ryan (Black Sails)
Reno Wilson (Mike & Molly)
John Goodman (Red State)

After the monstrous success of his first Transformers trilogy, Hollywood outlaw Michael Bay parted ways with star Shia Labeouf and began a new chapter in his franchise. Mark Wahlberg joins the cast and gives an agreeable performance.

The United States Government no longer supports the Autobot/military alliance, and a shady CIA unit dubbed Cemetery Wind is responsible for hunting down the Decepticons hiding on Earth. Blue-blood inventor Cade Yeager (Wahlberg) struggles to support his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) without a steady paycheck, but discovers a rundown semi-truck cab in an abandoned theater that turns out to be a heavily damaged Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen). Optimus reveals that the CIA is using Deception bounty hunter Lockdown to kill the Autobots, and helps Cade and Tessa escape a Cemetery Wind ambush. They rejoin Autobots Bumblebee, Hound, Drift and Crosshairs, and discover that multinational corporation KSI has recreated Transformium, the unstable metal found in Transformers. This leads KSI head Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) to create his own warriors from Deception leftovers, including deadly Galvatron.


As expected, Bay creates a film on a bigger scale than his last outing, Transformers: Dark of the Moon. The practical sets and action sequences are absolutely immense, and Bay again shoots heavily in Detroit, which doubles for Hong Kong.

These films have always been pretty funny, and, while Kruger’s writing will not be winning any awards, it has improved from the Mudflap/Skids jive-talking nonsense of Revenge of the Fallen. Tucci is always funny in tense situations, and comedian T.J. Miller gets some laughs as Cade’s borderline annoying best friend. Wahlberg is a different he gives a committed performance here, and makes the dialogue believable. I like that Bay and company made Cade a single dad, and Peltz’s Tessa is surprisingly not annoying.

The first hour, set at the Yeager homestead in Texas, is my favorite. I enjoyed watching Cade and Tessa meet Optimus and flee from Cemetery Wind. Scenes on Lockdown’s imposing prison ship are also good.  This was intended to be the first film in a new trilogy,with transformers 5 already in the pipeline. The last scene opens the transformers cinematic universe, leaving it open for the fifth to explore further the transformer mythology.