Transformers: Age of Extinction
(165 minutes, Rated PG-13)
Now, I must admit that I was dreading the very existence of Transformers: Age of Extinction; certainly, it is a big summer tentpole picture, but I always assumed that 2011 would be the last time I had to spend almost three hours in Michael Bay’s masturbatory fantasy of explosions and chaos. But there are some positives in the midst of my near infinite doubt; while Shia LaBeouf is a talented actor, his character, along with the supporting cast, was always the nuisance of the original trilogy.
So in a way, this reboot, which takes place in the same universe as the original trilogy but with a different family, is a way for Michael Bay to start off fresh: a way to wipe the slate clean and fix the mistakes of the previous films. Yet, the first key misstep by Bay was bringing Ehren Krueger, the screenwriter of the two sequels, back. As a result, Age of Extinction suffers dramatically by the tag team duo of writer and director, who worsen the original’s flaws exponentially; and deliver a product that is excruciatingly painful, mind numbingly dumb and the worst in the franchise.
Now, lets start with the story; personally, I do not know if I can say that this 165 minute train wreck of rehashed ideas has a story. Does Ehren Kruger get more money if he reuses elements from his previous Transformers scripts: small things like the ‘allspark,’ which I am sure has a distinct meaning in the Transformers’ lore, is interchangeable with Age of Extinction’s ‘the seed.’ But like both movies, this ‘sort of’ MacGuffin does not get introduced until too late, causing a feeling of indifference among the audience.
Furthermore, the plot points and the characters in the film are just simply stupid: some of the characters’ decisions will even leave the viewers anguished. Normally, audiences suspend disbelief when watching a ‘popcorn summer flick;’ however in this fourth entry, it seems that Kruger consistently writes himself into a corner and only escapes by lazily using plot holes. For instance, throughout the entire film Optimus Prime cannot fly, but in act three he randomly has this ability, so he can save Wahlberg and his family: this skill would have been useful when the Autobots were getting their ass kicked in act one.
Also add, terribly written exposition heavy dialogue to every scene and by the thirty minute point, you will be checking your watch. Ehren Kruger is a worse version of Skip Woods: both are talentless hacks that could not ‘write themselves out of a paper bag.’ Every word uttered by a character will make the viewer wish for another nauseating action set piece. Meanwhile, the explosions, which are Michael Bay’s specialty, will leave any sane viewer numb after the first hour.
The one thing I do have to admit is that Age of Extinction does not waste any time to get going; in fact, it barely sets up stable protagonists before thrusting the audience into a bullet riddled scenario. And while this might make the average A.D.D. pre-pubescent teen happy, the filmmakers fail to lay any type of foundation for this new Transformers universe. And the result is my newly coined term, the Man of Steel syndrome: a movie filled with so many explosions and disregard for human life that by the final set piece, any sane individual will feel ambivalent about the final outcome. And the biggest travesty is that by the third act, even the introduction of the awesomely designed Dinobots cannot save this 165 minute slight to humanity.
And it is safe to say that the Dinobots was one of only a handful of cool designs in this heavily CGI film. The inability to see most of the designs and the ‘if it is not broke then do not fix it’ mentality results in a picture filled with blurs of silver and unimaginative robots. Again, the Dinobots are pretty cool and will be the highlight for fanboys and non-fans alike; but, besides John Goodman’s Hound character, who is a cigar-chomping fat transformer with a beard, the rest of the new characters are either forgettable or extremely racist.
On top of that, all of the ‘villain transformers’ look too identical to matter; personally, the insipid silver design prevented me from knowing the difference between Galvatron and Lockdown. But this problem blends perfectly into the biggest flaw of the picture; there are too many antagonists. The plot that holds this film is already spread awfully thin; but it seems that the fourth entry plays villain roulette between Kelsey Grammer’s Harold Attinger, Titus Welliver’s James Savoy, Galvatron (who is a new Megatron) and the real villain Lockdown. And what I mean by roulette is that these villains disappear for long stretches of Age of Extinction, only to be replaced by any of these previously named wrongdoers, which instantly makes any of the antagonists’ causes un-relatable and unintimidating; personally, I could not reiterate any of these so-called masterminds’ plans because they are all instantly forgettable and interchangeable.
Finally, though the main characters are not as annoying as the Witwicky family, the daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) and boyfriend Shane are equally unlikable and irritating. The boyfriend played by Jack Reynor is written as a twenty-year-old dating Cade Yeager’s (Wahlberg) seventeen-year-old daughter, which is a normal occurrence but somehow the writing and directing make it seem creepy. Furthermore, the trio’s interactions with each other are odd, out of place and become downright infuriating. As previously stated, the downtime or ‘talking scenes,’ which are rare in a Transformers movie, are so bad that the audience begs to go back to the action: and the action itself could be seen as downright atrocious.
And this is a shame because Cade Yeager is actually an extremely likable main character and Wahlberg’s charisma is a big improvement over Shia LaBeouf; his magnetism even made the idea of Wahlberg as an engineer ‘semi-passable.’ But all this likeability gets bogged down by terrible dialogue that should not make it out of any first draft, shared time with unappreciative daughter/boyfriend characters and annoying supporting roles that will make anyone contemplate self-affliction. Talented cast members like Stanley Tucci, T.J. Miller and Sophia Myles are either wasted or terribly misused. I never had a problem with T.J. Miller, but I was praying that his character Lucas would be killed off; and to have Tucci utter lines like “how the fuck do you say move in Chinese,” severely hurt my film snob sensibilities. While the film did not contain the Witwicky family, which is the Michael Bay equivalent to Jar Jar Binks, Transformers: Age of Extinction has plenty of infuriating characters to pick up the slack.
And speaking of the wonderful director, Bay has the habit of either immersing me in his flawed but entertaining world or making my skin crawl: for every The Rock there is the terribly contrived Pearl Harbor. And unfortunately, after the surprisingly entertaining Pain & Gain, Transformers 4 uses every single one of the terrible tropes that made the previous sequels unbearable. The racism, which was blatantly over the top in Revenge of Fallen, is present with an Asian transformer dressed as a samurai and a jive-talking robot who nearly sings ‘free at last.’ On top of this, his movies lack any real cohesion because he seemingly was never taught how to transition a scene; he either plasters words across the screen or leaves the audience to wonder ‘what the hell is going?’
Furthermore, the CGI problems of previous entries are not improved in any way. As previously said, it is impossible to distinguish between good and bad transformers during action scenes. Even a robot like Optimus, who is distinguishable with bright red and blue colors, is impossible to make out with Bay’s shaky cam approach. And this truly hinders some beautiful China rooftop shots, which mixed practical and CGI effects seamlessly: however, when they take one step forward by using a steadicam, it seems that they take five steps back by shaking the camera until a near nauseating effect.
Now, add slow motion that is as inappropriate as the slow motion during the World Cup or the Olympics and an ‘angsty’ alternative rock soundtrack reserved for early teens, and one has the Bay formula for a terrible damn flick. But wait, lets not forget the blatant product placement from Victoria Secret, Bud Light, the Beats Pill and plenty more; placement that is so in your face that it caused the whole audience to release a collective sigh.
Again, this is a true shame because I love some of Bay’s previous efforts, but it just seems that the director has become a parody of himself: blowing things up because that is what people expect from his movies. After this debacle, I hope that he attempts to do smaller films like Pain & Gain, which was still loud, but not as ‘in your face’ as the Transformers franchise. With that said, is this really what we are supposed to expect from summer films? It cannot be because this summer delivered one of the greatest comic book films ever with X-Men: Days of Future Past.
Perhaps if this was my first ever spectacle, it would impress, but Transformers: Age of Extinction just has that ‘been there done that feel.’ And the worst part is that it has been done better: even by Michael Bay himself. I recommend that you avoid this like the plague: unless you want to spend a ridiculous amount of money to be bored for 165 minutes.