Worth A Look: 4.35%
Just Average: 8.7%
Pretty Crappy: 56.52%
3 reviews, 5 user ratings
|Transformers: Age of Extinction
by Brett Gallman
Thereâ€™s a moment early in â€śTransformers: Age of Extinctionâ€ť when the owner of an abandoned, small-town theater (Richard Riehle) chides modern audiences for only clogging multiplexes for reboots and sequels; itâ€™s meant to be a casual wink from director Michael Bay, but you can almost feel the contempt here: weâ€™re the ones to blame for his helming a fourth â€śTransformersâ€ť movie, so he feels the need to excuse himself right up front. However, this clumsy attempt at humor might as well double as his announcement that he also doesnâ€™t give a shitâ€”not that he needs to explicitly broadcast it or anything, considering he spends the next 150 minutes (!) hammering the point home.Contempt has often been at the center of this franchiseâ€”as I understand it, Bayâ€™s take has been far from faithful to the source material (if toys count as â€śsource material,â€ť I guess), so any kind of residual good will is long gone. Even ignoring that, itâ€™s clear that Bay and company seem to hold some kind of contempt for audiences in generalâ€”I donâ€™t know how else to explain their decision to continually unleash films that exhibit such a blatant disregard for decency and good taste. In the past, these efforts have been laudable on some strange level, with the two sequels especially feeling like star-spangled â€śfuck yousâ€ť from Bay. You almost admired his ability to double down on just about everything that garnered criticism because you at least felt like he believed in it. With â€śAge of Extinction,â€ť even that pretense is gone: no longer willing to shoot for the moon in terms of sheer badness, heâ€™s resigned himself to cashing a paycheck. It turns out that $200 million can buy a spectacular-looking movie, but not Bayâ€™s interest.
"All pain, no gain."
Despite the director tossing around the word â€śrebootâ€ť (a term that has come to mean â€śplease just forget about the bad movies that have come beforeâ€ť), â€śAge of Extinctionâ€ť is a direct sequel to the original trilogy. Set some years after the catastrophic war in â€śDark of the Moon,â€ť the Autobots find themselves on the run, hunted down by a shady government outfit headed up by Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), a career military man looking to cash out with some elaborate scheme. Heâ€™s aided by a new Transformer, Lockdown, and itâ€™s important to again point out heâ€™s new to these proceedingsâ€”the way he just casually strolls in virtually unannounced, itâ€™s easy to assume heâ€™s a leftover from a previous film. But no, heâ€™s a newbie with a vaguely nefarious plot to capture Optimus Prime, the Autobot leader who was recently wounded in a between-films shootout in Mexico (itâ€™s one of the few instances of narrative mercy).
With only just enough juice to make it to Texas, Optimus apparently decides to crash into the side of the aforementioned vintage theater (thus providing visual confirmation that Transformers do cause the death of cinema). There, heâ€™s found by local hayseed inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), who rescues him from the scrap heap and returns the Autobot to working order just in time for Attingerâ€™s goon squad to conduct a raid on the Yeager homestead. He attempts to channel his inner Cliven Bundy, but Yeagerâ€™s resistance if futile; with his home smoldering in ruins, he goes on the run with his 17-year-old daughter (Nicola Peltz), her older boyfriend (Jack Reynor), and the remnants of the Autobots in an attempt to clear his name and unravel a conspiracy involving the governmentâ€™s deep ops and a Chicago-based tech firm founded by an eccentric inventor (Stanley Tucci).
Thereâ€™s also some stuff concerning the discovery of some metallic dinosaur skeletons in the arctic, plus Megatron is lurking in the distance, once again up to something. Itâ€™s all nonsense, of course, but donâ€™t worryâ€”in true Ehren Kruger fashion, thereâ€™s a massive exposition dump about halfway through that finally clears just about everything up, especially Lockdownâ€™s motivations (heâ€™s apparently a bounty hunter working for â€śthe creators,â€ť an uber-vague menace that serves as inevitable sequel-fuel). Granted, much of â€śAge of Extinctionâ€ť isnâ€™t nearly as incoherent as its predecessors (progress!), but it still gets tangled up in its own conspiratorial asshole at times. Between this and the lionizing of Tea Party platforms (Cade Yeager eventually does become a fantasy-version of Cliven Bundy, a gun-toting everyman who stands up to government corruption), Iâ€™m not completely sure that â€śEhren Krugerâ€ť isnâ€™t just a pen name for Bob Orci, the franchiseâ€™s not-so-dearly departed screenwriter/paranoiac.
But of course the plot is a convoluted messâ€”at this point, Iâ€™m almost in awe of how much these films manage to over-complicate the spectacle of giant robots smashing the shit out of each other. The more pressing issue is whether or not the actual staging of these tussles makes sifting through the nonsense worthwhile. In short: no, not really. In what may be the most disconcerting side effect of Bayâ€™s absolute indifference, the action sequences are a complete letdown; sure, many shots clear the bar of technical competence (more progress!), but Iâ€™m not even nine hours removed from the film and can barely remember anything of note emerging from the endless parade of empty mayhem.
Stuff happens to an exhausting degree, and so little of it is bound by any connective tissue, be it narrative or logical (for example, one episode gives the protagonists seven minutes to escape from a spacebound craft, but the countdown is completely dropped mid-sequence). Actual battles between Transformers are even more scarceâ€”for whatever reason, Bay saddles viewers with an anonymous, mechanical collection of chase sequences and shootouts involving the human characters, most of whom are a complete waste of time.
Wahlberg is a definite upgrade over Shia LaBeouf, whose twitchy act wore out its welcome about halfway through the first film. With Wahlberg, the film at least finds an earnestly okay persona at its center, even if he's playing an almost psychotically overbearing father. Having lost his wife some years earlier, heâ€™s apparently dedicated his life to making sure his daughter doesnâ€™t enjoy hers by having her swear off relationships with boys and whatnot. When he meets her boyfriend (who conveniently shows up in the middle of the governmentâ€™s raid and proves to be a professional driver because of course he does), thereâ€™s an obvious friction that leads to some uncomfortably misogynist places.
Because the fate of the entire world isnâ€™t enough, the film has to feature a subplot where the two men in her life clash over whoâ€™s better suited to protect her (spoiler: both are useless dopes!), thus resigning Peltz to the Megan Fox role of being objectified and impossibly bronzed. With Bay, you sort of expect his camera to leer and gaze at her, and it does without fail, just as it did with Fox. But at least her predecessor had some sort of function in the storyâ€”maybe Foxâ€™s role as a mechanic only offered ample opportunities for her to lean over a car, but at least she had something to do. In comparison, Peltz is a complete non-entity, the third wheel in a bizarre triangle thatâ€™s constantly reinforcing her helplessness. Even her rare moments of triumphant agency feel brushed aside and incidental to her father and boyfriendâ€™s budding bromance. Weird shit for a movie about giant fighting robots, I must say. (And speaking of Bay et al excusing themselvesâ€”thereâ€™s a brief diversion where the screenplay dabbles in Texas consent laws to explain why itâ€™s okay for the 20-year-old boyfriend to be dating a 17-year-oldâ€”Iâ€™m almost impressed at this commitment to being completely horrible).
Deigning to such levels seems to be an across-the-board goal, as even the heroic Autobots canâ€™t escape the filmâ€™s vacuum of hate. You have to wonder if Bay took stock of the complaints leveled at the callous amounts of destruction in â€śMan of Steelâ€ť and set out to show the world what a truly sociopathic collection of good guys really looks like. At any given moment, the Autobots (some of which once again hew to racial stereotypesâ€”thereâ€™s an Asian one thatâ€™s naturally named â€śDriftâ€ť), are either discussing or fantasizing about killing someone or something. One of Optimusâ€™s most supposedly rousing moments involves him vowing to murder the man responsible for the captivity and slaughter of his fallen brothers. Such bizarre hatefulness is symptomatic of the filmâ€™s cock-eyed worldview, which posits that violence can only be met with violence and that surrender is never an option (so of course the boyfriend is made to be a goof when he lays down his arms)â€”itâ€™s the American Way for the hawkish set the film is meant to appeal to, I suppose. I mean, thereâ€™s a joke about waterboarding, for Christâ€™s sake.
But despite the seemingly perpetual outlandishness (wait until you get a load of Tucciâ€™s turn, which seems to have been imported from another planet altogether) and the somewhat fascinating peek it provides into the minds of lunatics who have disconnected from reality, it canâ€™t be stressed enough that the most amazing thing about â€śAge of Extinctionâ€ť is just how boring it is. Somehow, a film where Mark Wahlberg brandishes an alien sword-gun is a complete and utter void of entertainment; in fact, I might prefer the aggressive, psychotic awfulness of â€śRevenge of the Fallenâ€ť to this. At least there was something confrontational about Bayâ€™s nihilistic disregard for the conventions of cinema thereâ€”it was almost like a grueling, â€śClockwork Orangeâ€ť style endurance test, but you at least felt like a goddamn survivor for having endured it. By the end of â€śAge of Extinction,â€ť I mostly shrugged all the way to the lobby, where I was surprised to discover sunlight since it felt like Iâ€™d been in the auditorium for half the day.
With this fourth outing, it feels like this franchise has done the unthinkable: itâ€™s crushed Michael Bay and reduced him to auto-piloting. Say what you want about him, but heâ€™s always been a hell of a shooter and has had a hand in defining the cinematic language of blockbusters for over a decade. You know a Michael Bay film when you see one, but you usually also feel it in the unabashed, juvenile glee of the breathless amount of carnage he often perpetrates. â€śAge of Extinctionâ€ť might resemble his signature styleâ€”it looks like a billion dollars and is extraordinarily glossyâ€”but it feels so slick and pre-packaged that it might as well be fit for hanging on a peg in a toy aisle. Iâ€™m already nostalgic for the halcyon days when Bay decided to remind us of what heâ€™s capable of with something like â€śPain & Gainâ€ť; his decision to commit seven years to glorified toy commercials feels like a waste.
Still, credit is due to this franchise for moving the goalposts and completely distorting the spectrum of quality. Technically, â€śAge of Extinctionâ€ť is probably an improvement over previous sequels: the characters arenâ€™t quite as grating, the plot isnâ€™t as muddled (but no less terribly pacedâ€”characters and subplots disappear for lengthy stretches), and the action seems to be more coherent. And yet itâ€™s arguably the worst â€śTransformersâ€ť film yet in its ability to suck the joy out of kidâ€™s stuff because even the coolest moments are subjected to Bay and Krugerâ€™s heavy hand.
Even the Dinobots, which have essentially headlined the promotional/apology-for-the-last-movie tour, are footnotes in the massive run-time: itâ€™s not enough that Optimus has to refer to calling for reinforcementsâ€”he has to unload these ancient warriors, tame them, and force them to serve the Autobots, all while promising them their freedom. When you canâ€™t even make robots riding robot dinosaurs fucking awesome, itâ€™s probably time to reconsider your approach.
Thereâ€™s going to be an opportunity for that in theory since â€śAge of Extinctionâ€ť leaves the door wide open for a follow-up (despite it already feeling like it contains enough plot for part 4 and 5 already). Usually, Iâ€™d take a film to task for essentially giving up (seriously, the big bad who spends the entire final act destroying most of Hong Kong just decides to wander off and ensure audiences that heâ€™ll be back via voiceover), but the abrupt ending feels like an act of mercy here. Never let it be said that Bay didnâ€™t do us some favors because one of this filmâ€™s redeeming values is that it ends (itâ€™s a victory made all the more Pyrrhic by the strains of Imagine Dragons that shuttle you out of the auditorium, though).Another inspired moment (thatâ€™s quickly snuffed out, of course) supposes that it was actually aliens that killed off the dinosaurs, hence the filmâ€™s subtitle. However, if Bay continues to churn out â€śTransformersâ€ť movies unabated, â€śAge of Extinctionâ€ť may well refer to the future of cinema.
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originally posted: 06/28/14 02:11:10