A Totally Biased Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction

Four films in and they’re still only getting it half right

The Transformers franchise is an interesting one, a sort of bizarre dichotomy and microscopic view at both the best of what modern cinema has to offer, as well as some of the worst. On one hand, it’s been at the forefront of grandiose, larger-than-life action, and even pioneered it, rather successfully. On the other hand, it shows how a poorly woven story and weak characters can undercut the action and lessen the overall film experience. This fourth installment in the series, Transformers: Age of Extiction, once again helmed by Michael Bay, sticks to the same formula of spectacular action and mediocre drama. And what’s most interesting is that even after four entries, for better or worse, the same formula has still stuck.

Set five years after the, nearly, apocalyptic events of Dark of the Moon, Age of Extinction picks up with the heroic Autobots hunted nearly to… well… extinction… ahem. The drama is shown largely from the viewpoint of the series’ new human protagonist, Cade Yeager. He’s a quirky inventor type, with bulging biceps, deltoids and pectorals, who’s struggling to make ends meet, both literally and figuratively, because almost none of his inventions work and even fewer are actually useful. His daughter is introduced with one of the most cringe-worthy lines I’ve heard in quite some time (and as a rule, I watch Arnie films over and over), and soon finds another denial for the request of student aid in the mail. Cue the melodrama. Dad can’t support them, can’t afford to send her off to school, and can’t even afford the mortgage for the farmhouse they’re living in. Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, for them he just so happens across an old, beaten down Mack truck while looking for spare parts as he goes through a building full of junk… A lot of the films problems, namely the human characters and the length, could be easily fixed by trimming some of the fat and some of the horrendously cheesy dialogue.

That’s right. This film is long. Clocking in just a hair under 3 hours, don’t expect to bring your kids and make it through without multiple potty breaks, wandering attention spans, or even to stay awake. Bring extra cocaine, and make sure to do a line or two once you start to feel drowsy. Trust me. I’m a professional.

Anyway, back to the Mack Truck, you see where this is going? I swore I heard someone shout, “Whoa! Do you think that’s Optimus?!” when the truck first appeared onscreen, but then I realized it was my own blaring inner monologue, drowning out the cheesy dialogue like a siren. The story is predictable, uninspired, and just a series of places robots fight, for better or worse. Period. That being said, there are robots fighting, and a lot of them. So. Points there, because the writing team isn’t winning them anywhere else. I’m not ruining anything for you at all when I say I lost count of the times the heroes escaped being caught after a major action sequence by just driving around or driving away. #NoBullshit

Although, there WAS that quick, clever Big Lebowski reference… $5 to anyone who catches it!

Leftover publicity photo from Shooter, Contraband, Max Payne, Planet of the Apes, and The Big Hit.

Leftover publicity photo from Shooter, Contraband, Max Payne, Planet of the Apes, and The Big Hit.

As an aside, anyone who knows my taste in movies knows I find Mark Wahlberg particularly offensive. That is to say, bland and unexciting. He has next to no range for dramatic acting, plays Mark Wahlberg in every role he’s cast, and can’t accurately or effectively render a range of emotion larger than friendly-but-desperate, desperately¬† desperate, and angrily desperate. Is he enjoyable in the right role? Absolutely. Is he enjoyable here? Not terribly. He simply doesn’t fit the archetype which was written for Rick Moranis in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and looks completely out of place with his Abercrombie stubble and bulging muscles, and the arc of his character is so forced and contrived I actually threw up in my mouth a little at the end of the movie. It was to be expected, but he turns in another atonal performance here, which is entirely serviceable, and acceptable, for the film.

The story and dialogue come across as though they were written by preadolescent boys. The action comes across as though written by a fratboy hyped on Red Bull. It’s interesting to have the two sides of the coin showing at once, and being able to thoroughly detest one while thoroughly enjoying the other.

“Detest” is probably too strong a word, so I apologize for that. Much of the drama as portrayed through the actors is boring because their dialogue is so weak, which can’t be held against the cast. There’s a stomach-churning or groan-inducing line at every turn, it seems, and even the likes of Sir Anthony Hopkins or Daniel Day-Lewis couldn’t salvage what the writers phoned in. What can be held against the cast, however, is an almost complete lack of any characterization or vitality in the crew, and with the exception of the films two human antagonists, Joshua Joyce and Henry Attinger, almost everyone who appears onscreen comes across as flat and devoid of any unique characteristics. The two worst perpetrators are Marky Mark’s onscreen daughter, Tessa, who could be swapped out mid-scene with any other too-skinny teenage blond actress without anyone noticing, and her squeeze, Shane, who seems cast as a discount Chris Hemsworth, complete with foreign accent. The two of them have zero chemistry together and their relationship seems forced; a contrived plot device to spurn further action or dialogue that, mostly, comes across as pointless.

The transformers themselves, however, are much easier to invest in, and luckily even Optimus is back to his traditional sense of heroics, after !!!SPOILER ALERT!!! murdering Megatron at the end of the last film, an unforgivable lapse in the writers judgement, as far as I was concerned, and something Optimus from the cartoon and comics would never, EVER have done. /End nerd rant.

The action and special effects surrounding the CGI-characters is fantastic, frenetic, and frantic, but never resorts to what most blink-and-you-miss-it action sequences rely on these days, showing off the battles and action from a distance so as to let yournerdgasm flow uninterrupted, in all its splendor. And it IS splendid, mark me words,cully. Aye, every 3-dimensional, eye-popping effect is completely marvelous and seems to jump right off the scene at you in tremendous detail and brightness. It’s worth ponying up the extra dough and seeing the film in IMAX 3-D, as well, and the extra screen size completely adds to the immersion of the experience. On top of that, Michael Bays usual approach of “more is more” is, as usual, applied generously in three or four heavy-duty coats here and the spectacle and scale of the action is absolutely gigantic. As gigantic as a-Decepticon-teleporting-Cybertron-into-Earth’s-Atmoshpere-and-seeing-it-dwarf-our-planet gigantic? Well, decidedly not, but there are Dinobots, so. That always counts.

Dinobots. That's right. Fucking. Dino. Bots.

Dinobots. That’s right. Fucking. Dino. Bots.

And, actually, it counts for quite a lot. Since the Dinobots are about as big as the spectacle in the films gets, it lends a sense of urgency and focus to the action and dramatic tension, which would be missing if there were planet-size repercussions to the violence. Can one Marky Mark make a difference when a Decepticon is teleporting Cybertron into our atmosphere? No, and it would be hard to buy into him being able to make a difference, no matter how hard they sell it to you. But, can one Marky Mark make a difference when it comes down to Optimus and a Decepticon duking it out, robot to robot? Yes, you believe he can. It helps the action tremendously, even if the actors are completely interchangeable and arbitrary. The smaller scale is also nice here as the bloated and increasingly obnoxious mythology for the films sets the eyes rolling more and more. A sun-harvesting machine in the pyramids? Ok, Michael Bay… Fine… But now, Transformers killed the dinosaurs? What next? They’re responsible for the holocaust, the mullet and are causing global warming?

I know the picture I’ve painted so far is pretty dark and ugly, which actually isn’t too far from the truth here: the film is missing the typically goofy, awkward humor that accompanied Sam Witwicky in the trilogy that led to this film, and the story itself feels darker and more dire because of it. And although the human element is, still and for whatever bizarre reason, a definite weakness in the movie, the action and the Transformers themselves easily make up for it, turning it into exactly what it should be: a mindless, exciting summer popcorn flick.

In the industry, we also call those “This Year’s Michael Bay Film.”

PROs and CONs+ Awesome special effects and action

+ The Transformers KICK ASS! And LOTS of it!

– Weak performances and weaker script

– Way. Too. Long.

Comments
One Response to “A Totally Biased Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction”
  1. rob says:

    Shia sucks! Bring on the funky bunch.

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