Michael Bay’s Transformers series has oft drawn the ire of film critics since it’s debut in 2007. A target to rant and rave over as each critic to the next tries to out hyperbole the last.
Patrick Dane writes for Bleeding Cool.
This competition of ‘Bay trashing’ as I’ll call it, spread to film buffs and it is now hard for anyone to have a meaningful conversation about the franchise that goes past the word ‘explosions’.
I point that out now, because there is nothing wrong with explosions. Explosions are great. Explosions have nothing to do with why the Transformers movies are bad. There can be interesting conversations had about the these movies if you engage with them (even if they are about how Bay has previously got everything wrong).
I rarely see proper criticism of why these films are terrible. And they are terrible. The fourth in the series, Age of Extinction is no better either, actually becoming the second worst in the franchise. Though it still deserves criticism past “lots of explosions”.
Sadly, despite a reboot of the human characters and the our relationship with Autobots, Age of Extinction becomes a total mess as it tries to reset the stakes. With the Witwickys out of the picture, the impressively named Cade Yeager and his family are the new focal point for the franchise.
Mark Wahlberg plays the aforementioned Yeager, an inventor who struggles to make ends meet while looking after his daughter. Trouble arises when he finds a broken down Optimus Prime, as well as when he finds out that his daughter has a racecar driving boyfriend, who soon gets caught up in the journey himself.
Meanwhile, the Autobots are being hunted down by a shadow organisation lead by Kelsey Grammer. While he tells the president that he is just hunting down the Decpticons, after the destruction of Chicago in the last film, he has taken onto himself to kill all Transformers. He has hired the mysterious Transformer Lockdown who claims to be working for the creators of Transformers, who, in turn, is calling for them back.
Stanley Tucci meanwhile plays a Steve Jobs-like genius who has also gotten into a pact with Grammer in order to obtain transformium (really) to create his own Transformers. On top of that, there is a subplot about those Transformers becoming infected by a previously deceased Decepticon (no prizes for guessing who).
There is also some business with Dinobots too, although they are much less impressive and prominent than the marketing would have you believe. There is also a geologist, hitman and Chinese body guard thrown in there, but their purpose is completely lost in all of the running threads.
If you couldn’t tell by that run down, the plot is convoluted and in dire need of streamlining. A lot of the incredibly indulgent 165 minute runtime is dedicated to trying to wade through (before eventually drowning in) all of its own plot and subplot.
One of the few joys of the movie come from the film’s endless stream of actors actually committing to their roles as they play up their performances in order to compete with the loud smashes and crashes happening around them. Tucci is a highlight, clearly having more fun than he should be as a self obsessed tech CEO.
New additions John Goodman and Ken Wantanabe also get to have fun as the voices of new Transformers Hound and Drift. Wahlberg does fine as the lead, but due to his character’s tyrannical grip over his daughter, he is ultimately unlikeable. Also, with all these sub-plots going on around him, he comes dangerously close to becoming lost in the shuffle of the film’s weight.
There is a misconception about the entire Transformers franchise to factor in here that is quite important to understanding the destruction happening on screen. While film buffs often hide any good will for the Transformers franchise, if they concede any positive it is almost certainly that it has “great action”. This always bewildered me. One of the key reasons the films fall apart is that the action is, frankly, dreadful.
Age of Extinction‘s action is an improvement, but it is only slight. Bay’s composition has some of the strongest of the entire franchise. These are the scenes of action that have much longer shots that give a competent sense of place.
It is when a cut is made during an action sequence, that this sense is extinguished as you are tossed around entire cities (and times of day) from one shot to another. Bay and his editing team tragically eviscerate many of his action scenes, making the destruction nothing but a montage of buildings being wrecked and metal punching seven shades of hell out of another piece of metal.
To see the most egregious example of this, pay close attention to the first car chase scene and report back how many times the time of day and location changes inexplicably from shot to shot. If you aren’t looking for it, you may not notice these things, but they do matter to our subconscious understanding of what is happening on screen. A good action scene will invite you in and sit you down to watch the destruction. A bad one will beat you over the head as mayhem ensues.
Michael Bay can be worthwhile, I think, as shown by his last effort Pain and Gain. That only makes Age of Extinction even more frustrating. The film even takes a more mature approach to its themes than in previous films in the franchise. Much of the jingoism and military porn has been lost, with the US government mostly being portrayed as the bad guys and the last third of the film having a decidedly Chinese feel to it.
He also keeps exploitative eye candy shots of women down to a minimum as well (despite one of Nicola Peltz rear end, that Bay scolds us for looking at in the very next shot).
But the themes are crushed by the exhausting weight and excess of Age of Extinction. The film is a chore to sit through, draining any good will you gain for the enjoyably hammy performances and anything worthwhile that Bay is trying to say. On the other hand, many will call this “everything that is wrong with Hollywood”. This is not that. That would have at least been exciting to talk about and witness.
Instead, the very worst sin Age of Extinction commits is that even with all of its spectacle, it is exhaustively boring. For a movie that is 165 minutes long, boredome is inexcusable. Although there is still hope. Despite being the worst in the franchise since Revenge of the Fallen, somewhere in Age of Extinction, amongst the dust, rubble and metal, is a tiny glimmer. It is fleeting, but if you look close enough and through all the noise, you might just catch yourself thinking, “Bay is getting better.”
Age of Extinction is released in the UK on July 4th. It’s already playing to packed houses in the US.