by Patrick Bromley
I'm on record as being no fan of Michael Bay's Transformers series. I have found them to be mostly loud and stupid, devoid of any story, characters or entertainment value. They are movies that have no interest in being good, only marketable. They are Michael Bay's fuck you to the audience; where once was a director who made obnoxious movies that at least tried to be good now stands a director making obnoxious shit that doesn't even try to be movies.
That's ironic, because these are some of the busiest, loudest, most expensive blockbusters ever made, their every second meant to "entertain" us with something, whether it's the explosions or the car chases or the stupid jokes that have passed as character development or the shiny things that turn into other shiny things. Any semblance of narrative is gone, replaced by the fetishes of 13-year olds, nostalgic 35-year olds and Michael Bay. Like I said, I'm just not a fan.
With that in mind, I think I've been more than fair to the franchise. I watched the first one twice before I really made up my mind about it (I made up my mind about it after a single viewing, but so many people were giving it a pass that I had to take a second look to see if I was just being an asshole). I tried to find things to like in the third movie, 2011's Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which I thought improved on the previous two installments and showed me a couple of things I hadn't seen in a movie before. I went into Age of Extinction expecting to not like it, but not looking to not like it. The distinction matters.
I'm still waiting for the Transformers movie that feels different from the others, where Michael Bay gets out of his own way or tries to develop the robot characters or does something that breaks the shitty mold he created in 2007. This was the movie that had the best chance of doing it, too, as it introduces all new human characters and is designed as both a sequel and the start of a new trilogy. That it's probably not the best movie in the franchise is a disappointment. That it's not the worst movie of the summer is a pleasant surprise.
The Last Airbender, orange and dead-eyed), but the Yeagers are rescued by Tessa's secret boyfriend (Jack Reynor, handsome and dead-eyed), which sends CADE into stupid dad panic because he can't stop worrying about his daughter's vagina even when secret government agents and ROBOT ALIENS FROM SPACE are trying to kill him. Eventually, they all cross paths with Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), a tech company guru who is mining TRANSFORMIUM, the metal of which the robots are made, to create his own transformers to be controlled by him.
Wait! I forgot to mention Lockdown, the robot alien bounty hunter working with the American black ops to team to hunt and kill the remaining Transformers! And Kelsey Grammer as the embittered CIA agent leading the public charge against the Transformer threat! And Hound, the Transformer John Milius voiced by John Goodman! And Galvatron, the Transformer being built from pieces of Megatron's destroyed head! And the fucking DINOBOTS, which would be a spoiler if the entire fucking ad campaign wasn't built around them despite the fact that they have about 10 total minutes of screen time. Their inclusion is pointless, there only for those nostalgic for the toys and wishing Bay would bring robot dinosaurs to the screen despite the fact that robot dinosaurs make even less sense than robots that transform into cars. And I should probably mention TRANSFORMIUM and CADE YEAGER again, because never forget.
Pain & Gain, which even movie geeks seem to think is pretty good (it isn't). There's
less of his brand of racist, misogynist humor -- unless you count a
brief appearance of the tiny Sambo-bot from previous movies and the fact
that the samurai Transformer is voiced by Ken Wantanabe (though at
least he gets the movie's best line: "I was expecting a giant car.") There's less a temptation to always go for the "joke" here, even though the movie does it more than I would have liked. In every scene, I found myself getting angry that the characters aren't allowed to be people. They have to bicker about stupid, trivial shit while the fate of the world hangs in the balance. An alien ship crashes into a car and the first thing the driver (a nerd out of central casting) says is "I hope you have insurance!" Everyone is a shithead, no one is a person. Imagine how much more compelling these movies could be if the humans were allowed to really react to the things happening around them. Steven Spielberg is an executive producer on these things. How have we learned nothing from him?
Age of Extinction also does a better job embracing the big sci-fi angle of the Transformers universe. This is, after all, a series about giant robots from outer space fighting a war on Earth. In this movie, we get a fairly cool alien bounty hunter and giant ships that the characters get to board and escape from and at one point even fly. We've come a lot way from the robots hiding on a suburban lawn in the first Transformers. It doesn't automatically make Age of Extinction a better movie, but it does make it one that better delivers on its own premise. There are a lot of giant robots fighting one another. If this is your only criteria for enjoying a Transformers movie, you're probably going to really like Age of Extinction. And very few other movies.
Bay continues to attract impressive casts for these Transformers movies
(in the character roles, at least; the leads are almost always
painfully bland) and hardly any of the actors embarrass themselves. Some, like T.J. Miller, Titus Welliver and Stanley Tucci, are actually kind of fun. By the time Stanley Tucci is standing in a room full of people screaming "Algorithms! MATH!" you either have to embrace the ridiculousness or give up on the Transformers movies. I would not blame you for choosing the latter.
What's perhaps most frustrating about Trans4mers is that despite his unlimited budget and resources, despite the sheer amount of spectacle and destruction on display, Bay never bothers to stage any actual set pieces. There's nothing as memorable as the 360 shootout or crazy car chase of Bad Boys II, or even the crazy car chase from The Island that's really just a copy of the one from Bad Boys II. Even Dark of the Moon had a handful of standout sequences that felt as though some care went in to making them work as standalone action scenes. But Age of Extinction just features endless variations on robots shooting at each other as humans run away screaming from explosions, often in slow motion. It's only been 24 hours since I saw the film and I'm incapable of remembering any of the action. One scene, in which CADE YEAGER and Tessa and her douche boyfriend have to climb across some wires thousands of feet in the air, threatens to be tense or exciting, but then everyone stops acting like people and just start bickering again. These movies constantly ruin their own moments.
It being a Michael Bay movie, the product placement is beyond
obnoxious, the most egregious of which is setting the climax of the film
in China for no other reason than to shore up big overseas grosses
(Surprise! It worked!). There is no brand, no corporate entity to which
Bay will not sell out. It is product based on a product and designed to sell more product. Back in the days of The Rock and Armageddon, he used to try to include a movie inside that package, but has now dispensed with that pretext. There's no need to bother. People come see these things anyway.
And, of course, this is the start of a new "trilogy" (which itself suggests the first three movie comprise a proper trilogy, an idea so ludicrous I would laugh if I wasn't crying), one that appears to borrow a page from Prometheus in that it pretends to explore the origins of life (of Transformers) and suggests creators (of Transformers) that have turned on their creations (Transformers). The movie ends on a cliffhanger of sorts, suggesting that there is
more story to be told (he said, suggesting that this one tells a story
and choking back blood). Between that and the fact that it's going to
make a fuck ton of money, we must resign ourselves to the fact that
there are going to be more Transformers movies. I hope another director takes the series over from this point, not because I'm all that excited to see Bay move on -- he makes Pain & Gain when he does -- but because I've now seen four fucking Transformer movies from the guy and don't ever need to see another one. He has nothing more to say about a property that required him to say very little to begin with.
I'll just do what I always try to do, which is report my honest reaction to the movie I saw. I didn't hate Trans4mers. That's not a recommendation. The movie still isn't good and I
wouldn't actually suggest anyone go see it -- particularly if
they haven't enjoyed any of the other movies in the series. Michael Bay has made worse movies, even worse Transformers movies. I've seen worse movies this summer, though that's probably just a function of affection for the source material. When Marc Webb makes a terrible Spider-Man movie, it breaks my heart because I like Spider-Man. When Michael Bay makes his fourth bad Transformers movie, I can't really get my blood up.
I knew the motherfucker was a scorpion.