Transformers: Age of Extinction Review
Wow. Transformers: Age of Extinction is not bad. It is aggressively awful. With an opening statement like that, I know the Transformers apologists (who actually exist) will say, ‘oh, he hates the franchise’ or ‘it’s just a summer blockbuster’, but both of those excuses are complete bullshit. Firstly, of course I don’t like the franchise. And why would I? — Every single one of the Transformers films suck: they range from the silly (the first) to the downright awful (Revenge of the Fallen); you show me a person who has Transformers marathons and I’ll show you a person who has diminished mental capacities (or at least, is into self-flagellation).
Secondly, when did being part of a blockbuster franchise give a film a free pass to be dumb? Was it The Twilight Saga? Or maybe The Fast & Furious Septuplicate? The Indiana Jones and Back to the Future films certainly weren’t brainless, they were fun, and yes, there is a difference. The modern cinematic landscape isn’t an excuse either, as we have had three blockbuster films this year alone that have been whip-smart: Edge of Tomorrow; Captain America: The Winter Soldier; and X-Men: Days of Future Past. So, what did I expect? Well, I sure as hell didn’t expect the Age of Extinction to be a Mensa graduate, but I was genuinely appalled at its aggressive anti-intellectualism masquerading as populist art.
Set four years after the catastrophic ‘Battle of Chicago’ in Dark of the Moon, this fourquel/soft reboot (same world, different cast) finds both the Autobots and Decipticons being hunted indiscriminately by the government. Not willing to hurt those that they swore to protect, the Autobots find refuge whereveer they can. Enter Mark Wahlberg’s beer swilling, redneck, single dad, Cade Yaeger. The down on his luck Yaeger catches a break when he buys a beat-up truck that happens to be a deactivated Optimus Prime. Did I mention that Yaeger is a Robotics Engineer? Well he is, and he nurtures the noble leader of the Autobots back to health. Soon the government comes a knockin’ and Yaeger finds his family’s fate intertwined with that of the Autobots. Cue action. Lots of action.
While the contrived logic of that synopsis is enough to make anyone who’s been to a screen writing class faceplam themselves, it at least sounds like a functional film. Pity then that that’s just the first 30 mins. In actuality, Extinction is less The Diary of Optimus Frank and more Horny Twelve-year Old Smashes His Toys. Again. Once screenwriter Ehren Kruger hits his bare minimum quota of character establishment, the wheels come off Extinction’s plot quicker than a pit-stop. What follows the first act is nothing less than an endurance test — the unrelenting orgy of product placement, indecipherable action, and head-scratching creative (haha!) decisions reduces audience participation to ‘How far can slide down your seat in 157 minutes?’ Honestly, the only recent film that has given me this level of discomfort in the cinema is Steve McQueen’s harrowing 12 Years a Slave. With all of the exploding Porsches and Lamborghinis that its $180 million dollar budget affords, Extinction feels like the cinematic equivalent of big game hunting (especially when a large portion of the action happens in a country where the minimum wage is $2 an hour).
Michael Bay has always treated his actors like meat puppets, and here they get little to do except dance to his ballet of explosions. As for the change of leading man? It is a bust. I like Mark Wahlberg, but if acting is the art of disappearing into another characters skin, then by that definition, Wahlberg is a woeful actor. Few would (or could) argue that Wahlberg is chameleonic, but, given the right role (The Fighter, Boogie Nights) he can be hugely effective. Here he is not. If Yaeger was a failed quarterback I could buy it, but as a robotics engineer? Yikes. The last time Wahlberg played smart we got The Happening. His cinematic daughter, newcomer Nicola Peltz, is even worse — when she was told her character needed ‘layers’, Peltz must have reached for the fake tan. In fact, the only actor to walk away from this film unscathed is Stanley Tucci. Tucci is used to challenges, he has played everything from paedophiles (The Lovely Bones) to flamboyant ringmasters (The Hunger Games), but here he does the cinematic equivalent of a 1000kg deadlift — he gives a character in a Michael Bay film an arc.
While Extinction’s crimes are legion (including stealing the beginning of Prometheus), some are just downright unforgivable. The product placement in this film is so overt that it made me squeeze the bridge of my nose (Transformers fans must really love themselves some Budweiser). Also, the racial stereotypes are back in full force (including a samurai transformer who talks like Sun Tzu). But even worse is the Chinese subplot that is shoehorned into the film. For those of you that are not Hollywood bean counters, China has recently become the world’s second most lucrative film market. That’s the reprehensible reason this film lurches from Texas to Hong Kong, not because the script demands it, but because Bay (and his army of producers) wants to fuck as many people out of their $10 as possible (or $27 if you are dumb enough to see this in IMAX). I love how Bay has no problem pandering to the Asian market, yet he still offers nothing to female viewers who make up 52% of movie goers (except, maybe, Marky Mark’s biceps).
Sometimes it is good to finish an argument just so no one gets hurt. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m giving up. I can feel my blood pressure rising just thinking about how bad this film is. The funny thing is I didn’t want to hate Age of Extinction, in fact I purposefully avoided all reviews before seeing it, and I even hoped that it might be fun. It isn’t. Trust me. But, if you want to go and see a film where robots smoke cigars (note: they have no fucking lungs), young lovers carry a card excluding them from statutory rape (no shit, this actually happens), and a bad guy says, ‘My face is a warrant’, then go ahead. But don’t fool yourself: you are actively contributing to the death of creative cinema.
One Star (for Stanley Tucci)