– Summary –
Director : Michael Bay
Year Of Release : 2014
Principal Cast : Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Stanley Tucci, TJ Miller, Jack Reynor, Kelsey Grammer, Li Bingbing, Sophie Myles, Titus Welliver, Voices of Peter Cullen, Robert Foxworth, John Goodman, John DiMaggio, Ken Wantanabe, Reno Wilson, Frank Welker, Mark Ryan.
Approx Running Time : 165 Minutes
Synopsis: Four years after the events of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, a mechanic and his daughter discover a deactivated Optimus Prime. Meanwhile, a powerful, ingenious businessman and a group of scientists attempt to learn from past Transformer incursions and push the boundaries of technology beyond what they can control.
What we think : Excruciatingly uneven, overblown event film delivers gratuity and car-porn like you’ve never seen it, and makes Dark of The Moon’s climactic battle looks like a minor skirmish; Age Of Extinction is mostly a dirge, a flatly written, expensive showreel for ILM that offers little depth or meaning other than to showcase the effects. If that’s all you want (and I did), even then you might come away wishing somebody had spent just a single percentage of the bloated budget into a better script. Age Of Extinction will – perhaps unfortunately – not spell the end of Transformers, but it should make whoever directs the next installment just a little more thoughtful about what they do with it.
The Kingdom of The Crystal Skull of Transformer Movies.
I’m sure anyone who ever had the chance to scrutinize an Ehren Kruger Transformers screenplay would note that the pages and pages of sound effects like “______ explodes” and “________ transforms” inevitably outnumber lines of actual dialogue or plot. Unless explosions and transforming metal now counts as plot, in which case I’d fail at Screenwriting 101. Nobody expects things like plot or character or even a point in a film about giant fighting robots, and as laughably silly as these films are, there’s no denying their success at the box-office – the haters continue to rail against Bay’s familial raping of the Transformer legacy (whatever that means, because the whole point of the original cartoons was to sell toys!) while he laughs all the way to the bank. Age Of Extinction, the fourth of the cinema franchise which kicked off with 2007’s Transformers, continued through Revenge of the Fallen, and supposedly concluded under Bay’s watch in Dark Of The Moon, is a lengthier, even more extravagant installment designed once again to showcase the power of ILM’s digital artists and starlet Nicola Peltz’s considerable lack of acting talent. Or whatever. Because Autobots will continue to roll out, and Decepticons will continue to be indistinguishable bundles of moving metal parts with zero actual development other than to “destroy everything”.
Bay decided to step up to direct this “soft reboot” of the franchise, doing away with Shia LaBeouf’s stuttering teen character and trying for something new, casting Mark Wahlberg as the lead and surrounding him with newcomers to the saga. Typically, Age Of Extinction was hinged on adding more familiar characters to the roster – aside from Optimus and Bumblebee, exactly who the new Decepticons and additional Autobots would be remained somewhat of a mystery, and with each Tweet or media interview given by Bay and his team, one thing became exceptionally clear: there would be only the most minor cosmetic changes to this “reboot” to differentiate it from the original trilogy, and that Bay’s predilection for explosions and gargantuan action set-pieces would remain the top priority for “storytelling” process on display here.
It is four years since the battle of Chicago in Dark of The Moon. Humanity now fears all Cybertronian lifeforms, Autobot and Decepticon alike. A climate of fear has allowed a secret CIA black ops team to hunt down and dispose of the remaining combatants, particularly Optimus Prime, who remains in hiding. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) is a bonkers inventor (and overprotective father *coughclichecough*) living on his soon-to-be-repossessed home in Texas, with his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), and tinkering in his barn with partner Lucas (TJ Miller). After recovering an old truck from a disused cinema (yeah, it sounds as stupid as it is), Cade discovers than the vehicle is actually a dormant Transformer; not just any Transformer, however, this one is Optimus Prime (Voice of Peter Cullen), the leader of the Autobots. When CIA director Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) sends his team, led by Savoy (Titus Welliver) to recover Prime, naturally the Autobot commander refuses to go peacefully. Cade and Tessa, along with Tessa’s secret boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor), team up with Optimus to uncover the truth about what is happening to the Cybertronian expatriates: after capture, they are taken to KSI Industries where they are disassembled and melted down to provide businessman and entrepreneur Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) with the raw metal – Transformium – to make robots of his own, in order to supply the US military with unstoppable robotic soldiers. Also on the hunt for Optimus is a new Transformer, Lockdown (voice of Mark Ryan), who wants the Autobot leader for his own nefarious purposes – purposes which have little to do with remaining on Earth. With KSI unleashing their prototype Transformer in the form of Galvatron (voice of Frank Welker, Yay!) and inevitably coming unstuck in trying to control him, Optimus Prime and the remaining Autobots on Earth must once again wage war to protect humanity from themselves, lest the apocalypse be unleashed on out planet.
In the years following 2007’s Transformers, I like to think I’ve grown as a film connoisseur, or at least developed my appreciation for things of a cinematic nature. I, like most, don’t mind the occasional swing past McDonald’s for junk food, but inevitably, I prefer some decent sustenance in my life. Age of Extinction is exactly like stopping for a Big Mac. It’s fast, usually shit, and satisfies only on the most base levels. There’s not an ounce of goodness within it, purely a sugar and salt combination designed to sate the appetite for a while until actual food can be consumed. I know, I’ve stretched this food analogy too far already. But some people don’t mind that kind of food, even though we know in our hearts it’s no damn good for us.
Age Of Extinction is, in these terms, like a horrid, dry, rancid Big Mac. It’s absolute garbage. You know as you’re watching that you’re gonna hate it later. There’s not one ounce of redeemable creativity here, not a skerrick of imagination or nuance that could reasonably be considered “worthwhile”. Instead of rebooting the Transformers franchise, like he said he would, Michael Bay shits all over his audience with a film so flat-out carbon-copy of the previous three, it’s stunning; like its predecessors, Age Of Extinction is an utterly mindless, soulless, cash-grab designed to do exactly what the iconic cartoon series did back in the 80’s – sell toys. Hasbro aren’t idiots, they’re a toy company, and so making a massive multi-billion dollar franchise like this is designed not to entertain on any cerebral level, but to move product from sweat-shop factories in deepest Asia who are right now trying to figure out the mechanics of a transforming dinosaur a la Bay’s Dinobots.
The rough assemblage of dialogue – some so risible it makes Revenge Of The Fallen look positively poetic – in amongst the explosions and sheer noise, is Bay’s attempt to cobble together enough dramatic impetus giving him license to string together some dynamite – but empty – action sequences. As far as plot goes, it’s indistinguishable crap of the lowest order, a miasma of diabolical Government agencies and the overhanging shadow-memory of Dark Of The Moon’s attack on Chicago, which gave humanity the greatest reason to fear both the Autobots and Decepticons. Bay throws any sense of continuity out the window about half way through this mess, as the action sequences just keep piling up and up, getting louder and louder, and effectively deafening anyone within spitting distance of a cinema auditorium. You’d expect that with a new cast of human characters, Bay might take the chance to put some thought or effort into developing them as actual human beings, but consider this an opportunity missed. Or wasted.
New leading man Mark Wahlberg is at least better looking than previous franchise lead Shia LaBeouf, who is now serving penance for plagiarism (hashtag whatadick), although as with The Boof, Wahlberg does little more than stare in shock and awe (and pleasant distraction) at his enormous on-screen robotic companions. But enough of Nicola Peltz, LOLZ! Seriously though, enough with her. Wahlberg looks more at home in this kind of nonsense film than the Boof ever did, although as with all the human characters, there’s little to do in the end but just simply stand there and let Optimus Prime and his cohorts do their thing. Stanley Tucci, an actor I admire perhaps more than any other going about today, reduces himself to some kind of farcical simpleton here, although he’s about the only one with anything resembling an actual developmental arc; Wahlberg, Peltz, chief villain Kelsey Grammar, Jack Reynor and Li Bingbing are all exactly the same at the start of this film as they are at the end – there’s no growth or learning or achievements of anything other than accomplishing the wholesale destruction of what seems like the entire East Coast of mainland China. Thanks Ehren Kruger, for giving us characters we don’t give two shits about. That makes watching Optimus Prime spouting on about humans and Autobots living peacefully together even tougher, as if his time on Earth wouldn’t somehow clue him into the fact that we really, really don’t like it when weird aliens come along and threaten the status quo.
I’ve spent the better part of this website’s existence actively enjoying almost every film Michael Bay puts out – with the exception of Bad Boys II, a movie I didn’t like and really should review here one day – but Age Of Extinction tipped me over the edge. No longer can I consider these films “mindless entertainment” events, not with such a deplorable lack of effort on the part of Bay and his cronies to produce product that so routinely sucks dogs balls, but swirls it in its mouth and spits it in my face like a scorned lover. Bay’s big middle-finger to haters is that a film like this will make a billion dollars, or at least enough to “reward” us all with more sequels. This isn’t so much the Transformers film we need, but most assuredly the one we deserve. Knowing that this is the fourth in a series of increasingly more tone-deaf mega-films just makes swallowing the fact that they keep making money all that much harder. The first Transformers was excellent, a terrific action/effects extravaganza. The second, well, more of the same, only without the fun, or the quirky Bay-esque tone, and with far less Optimus Prime. Dark of The Moon was at least on par with the first for excitement, particularly during the final third act, but Age Of Extinction somehow eschews all the good from the previous films and shoehorns in all the bad, only enhanced to the extreme for more IMAX goodness. No, Age of Extinction is not a good film.
The parts that are good are the moments Bay excels at – namely, explosions and action. I’ve always said the man is one of the best action directors living today, at least from a purely visual perspective. His films are usually bloated with excessive dialogue, off-kilter human interaction and a somewhat nihilistic view of life, but when it comes to blowing up stuff and making a car chase seem like the greatest thing ever, Bay’s hard to beat. Extinction’s prime reason for existence is, in large part, to blow stuff up, so I guess it’s fate accompli that the film prides itself on gargantuan destruction and carnage, usually amongst the skyscrapers and suburbs of major cities – why can’t Transformers ever fight in a desert…. oh wait, Revenge Of The Fallen – and to that extent, Bay delivers all you could ask for and then some. The action and effects in Extinction are sublimely executed, a seamless cutscene of interacting CG robots and the obligatory human rag-doll accomplices. While it’s obviously difficult to get an explosion to emote in just the right way, let alone ten thousand of them, there’s no denying the Bay and the hundreds of people working at computers in a building somewhere have achieved the impossible: bringing the robots into our world with believable weight and realism. And I should mention the work of the sound designers on this film, who somehow manage to make an audio track that’s thunderous, diabolically overworked and utterly contemptuous of human hearing, feel as organic as a film with inorganic beings possibly could be.
Bay’s fetishistic directorial nature is, and I’m being kind here, deplorable in this fourth outing. Product placement is not only apparent, it’s in-yo-face-momma bad. I now have a real hankering for Bud Light, and I freakin’ hate beer. And by God I’m gonna buy the missus some Victoria’s Secret apparel. Because dammit, this film told me to. Bay’s upskirt filming of Nicola Peltz is expected, and again becomes a little awkward to continue watching. Peltz’ nubile frame skitting about the debris and detritus of destruction, coupled with Bay’s apparently-patented sweaty-look sunset lighting, gives this film a sexualized, phallic-styled hard-on in terms of visual impact. As with the majority of his films, everyone seems to be shot from the floor up, as if somehow the sky makes a cheaper and more convenient backdrop. His camera lurks throughout every nook and cranny, with some glorious money-shots of sweeping destruction mediating the frantic, shaky-cam he once again employs for the close-up battle stuff. If you thought the first two films were incomprehensibly filmed, you’ll f@cking hate this one a lot of the time. By the time we’re through with Extinction, I’ve seen more of the sky over Chicago, Hong Kong and Beijing than I have seen over my own home. Dammit man, how about alternating your angles!
I guess expecting anything different in a Bayformers movie is akin to wishing the sun might expire tomorrow, so in that sense I can understand why a film like this exists; I just wish it had the same sense of wonder as the original film (which, upon recent reflection, is still the most heartfelt of all the entries thus far in this series), if not the brains. Transformers films aren’t meant to be intellectual, I get that, but at the very core they should make some kind of sense. It’s like Kruger – a man I rate as worse than Prometheus scribe Damon Lindelof as one of the biggest Hollywood hacks working today – just decided to throw every single idea for the Transformers he could into a single script, without bothering to distill it into something coherent, or vaguely emotional for us, the audience. The link between the viewer and the human characters just never develops; the lopsided humor and the overbearing nature of Wahlberg’s character during the opening act become tiresome and annoying, instead of cute or endearing. Yeah, we all know a widowed father who loves his kid should tug right at everyone’s heartstrings, but by the umpteenth time Wahlberg tells Peltz that she’s not dating anyone until after graduation, I just rolled my eyes and prayed for sweet, sweet death. So we’re forced to try and latch onto the one remaining emotional tangent this film strings us along with: Optimus Prime. But because Prime is so preoccupied with being pissed at humanity for much of the film, it’s little wonder he’s more aloof and distant than ever before – so we’re left with nothing emotional to attach to.
The film just throws a slew of ideas and concepts at the screen, as if trying to hide the fact that nobody quite understands what’s going on behind a veil of screaming, running, driving and robotic maneuvers which defy the laws of physics. There’s a plot about the “seed”, a method of Cybertronian (I think) destruction which creates more of the Transformium (seriously, that’s what they’re calling it?) to build more robots. There’s the mysterious “creators”, primordial beings who – from what I could gather amidst the hurly-burly of the destruction and visual bedazzlement – have a mad-on for the fact that Optimus appears to be reneging on some hitherto unheard orders about doing something blah blah blah screw it. It’s all too hard. This film throws so many ideas at the wall, the wall simply topples and reveals the termite infested wooden scaffold behind. I can see the basics for some franchise building and sequel-baiting here from Kruger, but it’s poorly thought out and only serves as a MacGuffin to a film essentially built on one. Just pick one idea, and run with that, Kruger. One idea is all you need in any good film, but apparently it’s bad screenwriting if you don’t have several plot-balls in the air at once. And the set-up for the sequel (you know it’s coming) is perhaps a pause for an even more audacious, mind-bendingly huge follow-up to come. Goddamit, if they don’t have Unicron in the next one, I’m handing back my film critic card.
Age Of Extinction delivers exactly what Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise is known for. It’s brainless, mindless, cheesy, ball-slapping action on a scale no other franchise has yet to achieve. It’s like being penetrated by Bay in the most testosterone-laden way possible, a Bay-gasmic delight of swirling incomprehension and utterly inane chatter – frankly, I think John Goodman’s Hound, a military-esque Autobot who looks like he’s stepped of the beaches of Normandy half the time, is the best character of all the robots, although even he stoops to dialogue so dire, so middle-ground, I had clenched teeth for much of his time on screen. Grating, poorly written dialogue almost single-handedly ruins this movie. I’m not one to look a gift horse in the mouth when it comes to gratuity (hell, just read my reviews of many other tentpole blockbusting films to know I really love a good cheese-fest), but Extinction is like a Transformers parody of Weekend At Bernies – there’s no life here, no soul (no matter how often Prime talks about it) and in the end, it’s as meaningless as the countless robot and human lives lost through this film. Instead of being filled with horror at the impending destruction of our race and way of life, all I could think of was whether I’d be calling into McDonald’s on the way home for a Bic Mac. So f@ck you, Michael Bay. Thank-you for ruining one of the more stupidly entertaining franchises Hollywood had going.
For a more (slightly) positive review of Age of Extinction, you really should check out Vivek and Colin’s convo/review over at The Cinematic Katzenjammer. Follow the link here.
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