The things I do for this non-paying job…
I went and saw Tranformers: Age of Extinction. Or is it TransFOURmers? Because, you know, FOURTH MOVIE. Regardless, it pretty much puts the ‘stink’ in ‘extinction.’ It is, as with most of Michael Bay’s movies, designed to explode the head of anyone who has been in a sensory deprivation chamber. But hey, it’s not just loud. It’s also dumb!
The Transformers movies, especially when we’re talking about the sequels, are by and large the male Gen Y naval-gazing equivalent to Twilight. Anyone with any intellectual or cultural honesty at all has to admit that there is literally no value to them. Not even as fun. Because just they aren’t that fun. And yet they continue, against all sanity, to be huge hits that have racked up billions of dollars in revenue.
Eventually even explosions aren’t that great out of context and in the Transformers sequels, context is practically non-existent. It’s like on 30 Rock when they did the joke about NBC showing nothing but fireworks for a night of programming. Except there’s far less aesthetic value to the Transformers films. They’re boring. They’re poorly edited. They are insultingly ugly to look at. How is that fun? They don’t even work as camp, really. Though now I would like to make a movie about a guy getting ready for work filmed entirely in “Bay-Vision” so every shot is designed to look epic no matter how utterly mundane or stupid the action is.
[Camera pans left from under Bob. He is harshly lit in front of the sink brushing his teeth with a rightward motion in slo-mo. As this happens, we have a cup in the foreground with extra toothbrushes in it for a sense of scale and in the background, the door swings open, revealing his junior high-aged daughter (portrayed by a 28-year-old with fake boobs) in a negligee, dark, oily and glowing as though she’s just returned from rubbing herself down with 40-weight. A song by a past-its-prime buttrock band swells in the background.]
Bob: Theresa, I told you to cover yourself up!
[Camera moves around Theresa’s head in a 360 degree motion, in the background we have as many things happening as physically possible in a bathroom followed with a gut-wrenching plunge to a perfectly framed shot of her lacy boyshorts-swaddled ass on the right side and her father in the background to the left.]
Theresea: Gawd, daddy. What are you, the Tallybanned? Tee hee!
That’s about the level of substance you will get in Age of Extinction. And, like a X-Men comic book by Grant Morrisson, it decides to ignore any character precedent and just randomly throw personalities against the wall regardless of what sticks depending on the scene. I guess this is because Bay decided to make the Autobots all homicidal maniacs with a hankering for longpig. About the fifth time Optimus Prime says/shouts that he wants to kill humans, it becomes clear that these are not the characters that populated the 80s cartoon-cum-toy commercial. It’s not even the characters from the first three movies. And it definitely helps ruin the illusion of a kid-friendly franchise which has never really been true of the Bay movies, but has been sold as such by Paramount.
Extinction even squanders its biggest opportunity for fun by effectively wasting such a goofy, can’t miss concept as the Dino-bots on a ten minute action sequence that gives them little to do besides run into things and serve as Optimus Prime’s bitches. After he beats the crap out of them for their own good, of course.
Instead the bulk of the movie follows around the improbably named Texan, Cade Yeager, played in Happening mode by Mark Wahlberg. He is Texan (despite his New England accent) and the worst inventor in the history of the world. The Texan literally cannot build anything that works, even though most of his “inventions” are actually things that I’m pretty sure already existed in a much more refined form twenty years ago. Thankfully, he is able to be a Transformer doctor however, the same way a child who has cut open their teddy bear can magically perform open-heart surgery on a dog. Cade (the Texan) is obviously a terrible character, but he is eclipsed by “unfunny comic relief sidekick” and “teenage daughter who becomes less and less capable as the movie goes on.” Also Texans. Keep in mind, the amount of references I have made to the characters’ relationship to the state of Texas is still less obnoxious than how the movie beats you over the head with this information. Texas.
Later, we are inexplicably treated to “insufferable secret boyfriend/worst character I have ever seen in a movie,” who actually makes the dad character who obviously wants to have sex with his daughter seem like a wonderful romantic prospect in comparison. The guy carries around a laminated copy of a Texas statute that keeps him from being arrested for statutory rape. Obviously he’s every parent’s dream. He is apparently supposed to be Irish as Wahlberg keeps calling him Lucky Charms, which is fortunate because his accent is so all over the place that we would never know this otherwise.
These folks, through stupidity and convenience, become involved in a secret NSA plot to destroy all the Transformers, Autobot (good guys who want to kill humans) and Decepticons (bad guys who want to kill humans) alike. The reasoning isn’t terrible; Kelsey ‘Frasier’ Grammer, doing his best to bring gravitas to an impossible situation, is sick of the alien war that has wrought terrible devastation on the Earth, particularly America. To the film’s credit, that opinion is not completely unthinkable to anyone that hasn’t been told for three films that Optimus Prime is Robot Jesus. However, any possible moral grey area and questions about putting humanity in the middle of an intergalactic war that it shouldn’t be involved in are immediately forgotten through making the black-hat strike team a bunch of power-mad, thug buttholes. Their hobbies are long walks on the beach, ignoring people’s rights, threatening civilians and war profiteering. Because God forbid they actually present anything resembling a complicated idea when Bay can just make the bad guys Janine Garofalo’s idea of Haliburton. They are partnered up with a robot version of Xerxes from 300 who hates Optimus Prime… FOR SOME REASON… and Stanley Tucci, who is the other guy trying to save this movie, unfortunately by screaming through every nonsensical character change.
Tucci is a Steve Jobs-type who has figured out how the Transformers’ biology works and is trying to utilize that technology through the use of the metal they are made of, “Transformium.” This is still a less stupid name than Unobtanium, but just barely. He plays the role in a way that makes his work as Caesar in The Hunger Games seem incredibly nuanced and subtle.
There was a certain point when I thought the film was over because it felt like it had already been playing for three hours and everything was winding down. But it turns out there was still approximately a third to go as this was just the film picking up and inexplicably moving halfway across the world for the sole purpose of selling Chinese movie tickets. But that’s essentially what this film boils down to. It feels like the manatees in the idea tank from South Park pulling out balls with “commercially viable” ideas and then filming them without an inkling of a script. “OK, what have we got… Texas pandering, secret government agency, dinosaur robots, bad country music, changing an old-fashioned hero into a dark and gritty one, incest, obnoxious product placement, Chinese pandering, the destruction of Chicago… How’d that one get in there? It’s a leftover from last time. Oh well, why not… lots of graphic violence excused because it’s against robots and a girl named BingBing. Sounds good. We’ll fix it in post.”
And the worst part is, it’s working.
If you’re one of the people keeping this franchise viable, I’d love to know why. Why have you seen four of these in the theater? Why will you go see a fifth? And don’t say that it’s “dumb fun.” Because there are much better made fun movies with lots of bang bang which aren’t doing as well. Does nostalgia really have its hooks so deeply into people that they will completely ignore the contents of a so-called piece of entertainment if it has the right toy name on it? Because this is the fourth go-round. People have to know what they’re getting by now. And if this is what you want, I simply don’t understand you or your world view.
In the end, Optimus asks that when people see a star in the sky, they think of it as his soul. Tell you what, Optimus; instead, when I see a floater in the toilet that just won’t flush, I’m going to think of the Transformers franchise.
(One damn given out of five)