Of all the movie franchises that are being initiated these days, the one summer piece of blockbuster entertainment that the world always comes back to is Transformers. And on paper, why shouldn’t they? It’s a series about giant robots fighting other robots who are trying to destroy the human race. It’s awesome, and the Transformers themselves (by way of the action figures or the animated series or whatever else) have a fan base to die for. If this was the first in the series, I would completely understand why it would make $100 million on its opening weekend. But it’s not. This is the fourth, count it, fourth entry into the incomprehensibly stupid franchise that Michael Bay has tried to make relevant. Critics seem to hate it, and even a lot of the audience are starting to hate it, but it continues to make money, so they keep getting made. And what a shame it is. But Michael Bay may stop you there and say “No, no, no, look! This is a reboot of sorts. We’re getting Mark Wahlberg in the place of Shia LaBeouf, the Transformers look kind of different, and the story is set in the future!” So that means it’s going to be different right? Surely it has to be better now that Shia LaBeouf isn’t running around screaming like a little girl. Surely! Right? Not at all. Because this is still Michael Bay, and as Michael Bay has proved time and time again, he just doesn’t know how to do anything meaningful behind a camera. This is the exact same movie as the previous three. It’s big, loud, overlong, and painfully stupid.
But let us delve into the plot of this 157 minute “reboot,” which does take place some years later. The Transformers aren’t needed anymore and now they’re all in hiding (most of them have fled the planet.) The government is attempting to build their own robots and the Autobots are deemed extinct (which is essentially what the title Age of Extinction refers to as opposed to the marketed inclusion of Dinobots, which are barely seen in the movie at all.) Mark Wahlberg plays Cade Yeager (and the filmmakers will claim this has nothing to do with the Jaegers from Pacific Rim… give me a break) who is a down-on-his-luck mechanic working out of his barn. He collects junk, you see, and when he finds an old beaten up semi, he decides to buy it for junk in order to make enough money to send his daughter to college (yawn.) But alas, this semi is not a semi at all, but actually Optimus Prime, badly injured from the battle that took place in Dark of the Moon. Soon, the government is tracking them down, and then the Bots are back at it again, and what follows is about two more hours of nonsensical action scenes that go absolutely nowhere and take these characters with them.
I saw Transformers 4 on its opening weekend and did so in a crowded theater. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t bring myself to review this movie. Every time I sat down to write it, I just couldn’t. The movie sucks, as is obvious by its 17% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes (only 5% of top critics liked it.) That’s terrible. And quite embarrassing when you consider the fact that so many people saw this thing right when it opened. It begs the question “Why?” There are clearly more impressive films being released in the cinema, especially this year, which has been strong for movies (looking at you Edge of Tomorrow). So why are audiences still flocking to the theater to see this garbage? Maybe it’s that Mark Wahlberg is the lead now, which is absolutely awesome given my love for that guy. He is one of the most entertaining actors working today but even he can’t save this movie. He made the movie more enjoyable, sure, but he couldn’t pull it up over his shoulders. And I didn’t expect him to either because he’s working under Michael Bay’s direction which we already saw an example of last year with Pain & Gain that proved to be offensively vile, whilst easily better than this movie. All my Bates Motel fans out there know Nicola Peltz (you can say that terrible actress from The Last Airbender but I mention Bates Motel because I found her to be pretty good in that series.) Do you think Michael Bay and the screenwriters choose to present her like Edge of Tomorrow presented Emily Blunt’s character? Strong willed and kick ass? Nope. Bay once again takes the route of objectifying his lead female star. She is always looking sexy in her meticulously conceived makeup that is always applied perfectly even when her character clearly has no access to makeup. Amidst all the destruction and high voltage action and running through the streets you would think she would look a little disheveled. Not on Bay’s watch. He has her looking like a supermodel at all times and there’s always a shot of her from the lower backside that reminds you this is a Michael Bay film. There’s even one scene where Mark Cade makes a comment on how short her shorts are, all while Bay keeps the camera focused right in on her butt as Cade talks. It was a moment that had me literally rolling my eyes. But what about T.J. Miller from Silicon Valley? He’s hilarious in that show, but once again, the script for Transformers gives him nothing to do. The only real performance that comes to close to being “good” is that of Stanley Tucci (The Lovely Bones, The Hunger Games). He’s clearly placed in the role of John Turturo, and he provides some genuinely good moments throughout the film, that is until the third act in which he becomes a typical Michael Bay character who screams annoyingly in terror at the smallest things.
In addition to Stanley Tucci and the entertainment factor of Mark Wahlberg there are other pros to this film. First of all, it looks great, as could be expected. No one (not even the hardcore haters) ever looked at one of these movies and said “Golly, these effects look awful.” They aren’t the greatest, but they’re pretty good. In Transformers 4, the effects look a bit different and below standard, whether it be the Transformers themselves or the explosions that happen to go off every few minutes in every Michael Bay movie ever. I don’t know why exactly, but it all looked a bit more cartoonish than the previous three films did. That being said, on its own the movie looks cool, specifically the character of Grimlock, who looks so incredible on screen, even down to the last detail. However, you get the cool looking effects and the Grimlock in the first half of the movie, and then the movie keeps going and that is exactly why the effects and a couple fine performances alone cannot save this movie. Whenever there aren’t explosions going off in the background, there is utterly ridiculous and uninteresting dialogue going on between government officials that really struck a chord with The Phantom Menace. This is a Transformers movie. We want to see giant robots fighting other ones, and maybe have Mark Wahlberg deliver some cool lines in his high pitched voice. But instead there is so much dialogue going on that it just becomes so dull and honestly, boring. And once the boring dialogue ends, we get lots of action. So much action, in fact, that even it becomes boring. The movie comes very close to three hours long, and by the time the Dinobots arrive (which is the last thirty minutes, mind you) you’re just too exhausted, bored, and ultimately burnt out to even care.
Of all the movies Michael Bay has made, this is the most Michael Bay-ish. Everything you have come to expect from various Bay movies exist here. There’s a handful of camera shots from the ground as people step out of cars, blocking out the sun. There’s dozens upon dozens of action scenes that never end, and when they do, there are a few more to take its place (after the boring dialogue, that is.) There is prevalent female objectification. There is a hilariously bad product placement of Bud Light towards the end of the film that had me laughing so hard for all the wrong reasons. There’s even a scene in an abandoned movie theater early on in the film in which characters discuss the state of current movie sequels and their quality. It’s like Bay is trying to tell us something. That message makes no sense here because this is a sequel that’s a big failure and a prime example of what those characters were talking about. It’s a mess. But it’s Transformers. Those who liked the first three will certainly like this one. It’s not as bad as Revenge of the Fallen, but at 157 minutes, it’s actually an excruciating cinematic experience.
Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language, and brief innuendo Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, and Peter Cullin Written by Ehren Kruger Directed by Michael Bay