Directed By: Michael Bay
Written By: Ehren Kruger
Although the Transformers live-action movies have been a financial phenomenon, they have been critically lambasted and shunned by many of the franchise’s hardcore fans. Transformers: Age of Extinction is somewhat of a new start as it has new faces and new characters—but the same old director in Michael Bay. Clearly the aspiration to improve was not very strong, because Age of Extinction not only repeats past mistakes it expands upon them and adds a few more just for kicks.
It is not surprising a Transformers movie would have a narrative so riddled with pot-holes it creates a time vortex you could easily get lost in, or be filled with such soul-crushing dialogue it makes you pity the English language. What is surprising is how dull the spectacle is this time around. Perhaps it is a common case of diminishing returns, but the ‘turn you brain off’ excitement is practically absent.
That story involves a Government agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) who feels the planet will never truly be safe until the world is free of Transformers. With the help of his CIA Black-Ops military group and secret alien asset he has be riding the world of all Transformers including the heroic Autobots. Optimus Prime and the few remaining Autobots will have to rely on some unlikely human allies to overcome their ever mounting foes.
Unlike the past three films that human ally is not Sam Witwicky. Many have complained about Shia LaBeouf in the past films, but the truth is his presence was sorely missed. The personality and more importantly the levity he brought worked as a counter balance to the over seriousness of everything else taking place. There was a connection between his characters and the gigantic robots that surrounded him. All those elements were gigantic successes compared to what we got with this installment.
In this installment Mark Wahlberg stars as Cade Yeager a struggling mechanic and single father of a teenage girl. In an attempt to earn extra cash he purchases a beat-up truck in hopes of salvaging it for parts. That beat up truck is not a truck at all, but the Autobot leader Optimus Prime. Quickly Cade finds himself and his family in the middle of a war they were not prepared to enter. Still, he will do what he must to keep his love ones safe.
This summer has been full of blockbusters that have struggled juggling human drama with gigantic over-the-top spectacle. All the issues with movies like Godzilla are nothing compared to this awfulness. Mark Wahlberg as an over bearing father was a painful miscast. Trying to make him a would be scientist was a mind boggling choice. You can have him say the words, “I’m an inventor”, all you want it (As this script does) it does not make it any more believable. His performance just added to the ultra-seriousness that made this such a chore to get through.
The actors that surround him include his daughter played by Nicola Peltz, who is not much more than a glorified Megan Fox stand-in. She added little except for some occasional screams. Her race car driving boyfriend was a larger dud. Apparently Jack Reynor went to the Sam Worthington School of charismaless acting. The only person who provided any life was T.J. Miller as Cade’s colorful best friend, but he was not in it long enough to have much of an impact. However, with this material it’s hard to put much blame on the shoulders of the actors. Even the finest thespians could not make the horrid dialogue not sound laughable.
As has been the case with this franchise the Transformers are almost background characters. These supreme beings from another world have devolved into emotionally stilted revenge machines who lack the keen ability of critical thinking. Once you have a samurai robot voiced by Ken Watanabe it is evident ideas are running thin. Special Effects wise they look as good as ever. Michael Bay certainly knows how to put the big budget on the screen. You just never get the sense these characters are in fact more than meets the eye.
Those issues, while worse than before, are not all that surprising. The hope is that in exchange for storytelling that feels like it was lifted from two four year olds playing pretend you get finely crafted action set pieces that are awe-inspiring to witness. There are moments where it feels like that is going to happen. A high wire walk above the Chicago Skyline has great potential but it does not lead to much. All this action feels tired, recycled, and derivative of everything that came before. All this robot carnage is mind-numbingly boring to witness. Once the Dinobots show up things do pick up slightly. The energy that was previously absent begins to take shape. Nevertheless, by the time that happens it is nearly impossible to not already be checked out. Halfway through most will be praying for it to end, which is simply refuses to do.
For a film to be this poorly constructed it requires a strong level of laziness and lack of desire to create anything of merit. At times it is a huge rush to get absolutely nowhere. Editing is so frenetic it’s difficult to ever get your bearings to what is actually happening. Sure there are moments that look fantastic. Michael Bay knows how to set a scene and use a camera. If this was a car commercial, and let’s be honest much of it is, you could appreciate some of its craftsmanship. Unfortunately it is designed to be a movie—at least I think it is.
Transformers: Age of Extinction is a twenty minutes of story with a hundred and sixty-five minute runtime. When people complain about the commercial waste that is put out by major studios it is films like this that are the problem. Why the term blockbuster has such a bad reputation. This is more than a bad movie. This is an embarrassment. An embarrassment that will probably make a billion dollars.