By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Kelsey Grammer, Sophia Myles, Bingbing Li, Stanley Tucci, TJ Miller, and Jack Raynor.
Fooled you!!! Three years after director Michael Bay declared his involvement as director of the Transformer films over and done with, here he comes with Transformers: Age of Extinction, his fourth installment in one of the most lucrative ($2.6 billion and counting) & bizarre film franchises to ever come from the Hollywood money-making machine, and the first film of a supposed brand new trilogy. Since the days when franchise executive producer Steven Spielberg made the term ‘blockbuster’ a common household denomination, the Transformers films have defied logic. While the majority of Spielberg and Lucas’ 80s work within franchises was embraced by critics, film director Michael Bay, with crude humor and explicatory shots of his actresses, has not been so welcomed by critics, which has not deterred their audience one iota. Truth be told, I feel caught right in the middle. Because when I first heard that Bay and Spielberg were going to team up to bring the robots that are more than meet the eyes to the screen, I was quite excited. I didn’t think that there was a better fit to produce and direct a film about robots that fight. With his deep pockets, Spielberg would be the money man. With his keen eye for art direction and sense of action, Bay would be the money-maker. There was no way they could lose. And then, midway through 2007’s first film, prior protagonist Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) hid his bigger then houses robot friends from his parents in their backyard. With the exception of an admittedly fun 40 minute sequence near the end of 2011’s Dark of the Moon, the franchise has not recovered any hint of credibility with me. Does Age of Extinction do anything to change my mind about previous ill will I have held about the stupidity felt while watching the previous three Transformers films? No. But even though Bay’s latest installment feels like more of the same, something tells me it won’t matter come box office time.
One thing that Bay has made a full career of is making the ‘everyman’ his films’ heroes. His characters and what side they play on has always been quite easy to identify. A character gets out of a nice car and wearing flashy clothes? He is a white-collar enemy. A character works hard for his money, sweats every single day and comes home dirty; he is the blue-collar hero of the story. That tradition continues with Age of Extinction, as Bay has replaced LaBeouf with his new mainstay Wahlberg. Wahlberg plays Cade Yaeger, a broken down Texan planning on breaking down a newly arrived truck for parts in order to put his daughter (Peltz) through college. Little does he know the truck in his possession is the one we know as Optimus Prime (once again voiced by Peter Cullen). Even though he and his Autobots helped the human race win the last battle with the Decepticons (which involved a plan to turn Earth into their former planet of Cybertron), government officials (the bad guys, see) have seen fit to declare them a danger. A Decepticon bounty hunter named Lockdown tracks them all down and the chase ensues. Meanwhile, Joshua Joyce (Tucci) heads a firm that is set on building a brand new, better race of second generation robots using Megatron’s head for reference. Prime puts together his team of Autobots, which includes Bumblebee, Ratchet, Hound, Drift, Crosshairs, and later, Brains, to fight the good fight (because, you know, these robots have souls too).
Each and every one of the new robots (yes, even those of the dinosaur variety) get their day in the sun, and even though he waits a good forty minutes to stage the first fight, Bay makes those coming to the film for that sensation not leave upset. However, before we get there, there are a few things Bay apparently has to get off his chest. Once again bringing back screenwriter Ehren Kruger (previous two Transformers installments and Scream 3), the script is peppered with self-referential and self-serving humor with lines about crap sequels ruining the film business and dings at Bay’s own 1998 film Armageddon, making the viewer envision Bay laughing solo behind the camera. While 22 Jump Street was able to do these types of sequences with their tongues firmly in cheek, Bay wants us to know in a non-inexplicable way that he too, can laugh at himself. But here it borders on obnoxious. Which, knowing Bay, he would likely take as a compliment.
Perhaps unironically, Bay decides to throw Wahlberg’s character of Cade in almost the same exact storyline that the Bruce Willis character from Armageddon was also in. See, he does not approve of his daughter’s rebel boyfriend either, and the result is some of the worst dialogue Wahlberg has had to utter his entire career. Yes, this includes the M Night Shymalan scripted The Happening. There are empty story threads and uttered exposition tossed all over the place, yet as soon as Bay feels there is too much thrown at his audience at once, he puts in a derriere shot to keep them hooting and hollering. Gotta love his confidence in attention spans, which he tests with an almost never-ending loop of returning composer Stephen Jablonsky’s score for the entire film.
Out of the human characters, Tucci comes the closest to having a character arc. In his beginning scenes, he was doing everything to declare himself evil, shy of twirling his mustache. But after the hamming was done, he thankfully shows more class than John Turturro ever showed for his entire run in the series.
While I hesitate to declare them good, there were a few decent parts of Age of Extinction. People can say what they want about Bay’s dialogue sensibilities. But the guy has a deft eye for art direction, and it was a nice choice to set the majority of the film’s final leg in beautifully luminated Hong Kong. While Guillermo Del Torro was able to take his robots there for a dance of destruction himself, it seemed they were fighting more in any big city Chinatown then the actual place itself. But Bay isn’t shy at showing and destroying all he can of the beautiful Chinese landscape. Also, while they were obviously included in the Star Wars tradition of being placed on a toy shelf & little else, the little boy in me enjoyed seeing the Dinobots realized onscreen. Even the film’s opening prologue, which last time took place on the moon, now takes itself to prehistoric times, even going as far as declaring what killed the dinosaurs. It was a bold yet exciting introduction. Finally, I really enjoyed the potential Li’s character had to being an impact player. This being a Bay film, she’s not here to do much more than stand, make expressions, and look pretty. But it was nice seeing a powerful woman in a film of his for once. Also, it seems that Bay and all the effects artists have finally heard the cries of each robot being tough to decipher while they were in fights. Each and every Transformer has features and nuances that make them stand out from the other.
Overall though, it would be tough to call Transformers: Age of Extinction as anything other than more of the same. No matter what I say however, chances are you have already made up your mind as to whether you are going to see it or not. But I honestly thought that Bay coming back would make him sense that audiences might want something more. More than a film that spends the budget of Jon Favreau’s comedy Chef on tanning oil alone, which is the only explanation as to why everyone here is so damn orange. Yet, you can’t fault Bay for not knowing his audience. You want robots fighting in a loud, crisply edited film full of the best effects and foley artists in the business? You’ve come to the right place. You want….ahhh, hell. Bay knows you don’t want THAT, so I am not even going to bother mentioning it.