“This is a bad idea – good thing I’m all about bad ideas!”
When John Goodman’s character Hound mutters this quotable tidbit before a climactic scene in Transformers: Age Of Extinction, I couldn’t help but picture director Michael Bay proclaiming the line himself. Since I missed my press screening, I’d heard nothing but negative remarks about how Bay’s fourth Transformers film succeeds only by default, but still isn’t watchable cinema. Basically, most critics believe Bay’s franchise should become extinct itself – but are these blockbuster extravaganzas really a bad idea? And if so, for who?
There I sat, in a sold out 9PM showing opening night, barely able to hear moments of dialogue because my crowd was cheering and roaring with glee for the entire *almost* three hours, capped off by a standing ovation. I couldn’t help but get caught up in the infectious enjoyment myself at times, imagining a press screening full of moaning, sighing, eye-rolling critics sick and tired of Bay’s frat-house filmmaking. You can call the director a misogynist, sexist, simple-minded, incompetent, braindead filmmaker all you’d like, but the fact is he sells ticks and turns a massive profit, and his latest cartoon adaptation is no different. There I was, prepared for a cinematic atrocity along the lines of, well, the worst movies I’ve ever seen, but instead I found myself coyly smiling at the numerous elated faces populating a sea full of moviegoers.
Then the movie concluded. I looked at my phone, realized three freakin’ hours had passed, spent the next 30 minutes commuting home with nothing but my own thoughts, and let the critical film analyst in me take over, balancing my inner child for a minute. You almost had me Mr. Bay – almost.
Introducing a whole new cast of human characters, Age Of Extinction introduces us to a world where all Transformers have been deemed dangerous, becoming targets of a secret governmental agency whose sole purpose is to eradicate all robotic entities – Autobot or Decepticon. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) is an unfortunate inventor who gets caught up in the unjust war after accidentally stumbling upon, and fixing, a dilapidated Optimus Prime, putting himself and those he loves in danger. Once Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) catches wind of Yeager’s discovery, his team makes them targets and chases them around the world, but not before Optimus Prime can meet up with his fellow Autobots. Of course, there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the Government’s methods of dealing with the surviving robots, as Optimus Prime and Cade work together in an effort to save the world from inevitable danger. Whose fault is it? Well, does it really matter when the apocalypse is at stake?
When Michael Bay makes a movie, he swings for the fences like a slugger with 75 home runs and a .150 batting average – meaning that the sporadic times he makes contact, that ball gets demolished. Jest all you want about the asinine amount of Bay-splosions (his own special brand of ludicrous pyrotechnic explosions), heavy reliance on non-stop action, pointless exploitation of visual pleasures, and absolute ignorance of story, but the man knows how to throw together popcorn worthy set-pieces. Between absolutely gorgeous Autobots oozing personality and design work that pops off 3D screens, Bay knows how to shoot a sleek, stylish, and strangely sexy action movie. Sometimes I just want to zone out and watch massive dinosaur robots battle other robots who can change into military artillery or the hottest, flashiest cars money can buy, and Bay delivers that miscalculated assault of insanity with the wild abandon of a wide-eyed kindergartener who just ate 27 Jumbo Pixy Stix – bigger, badder, and more explode-y than anyone else in the game.
Of course, then we dig deeper, and we sadly realize that Transformers: Age Of Extinction is nothing but a bit of sugary candy that’ll do nothing but rot your teeth out after sucking on the damn thing for three hours. I’d love to rave about how Wahlberg heroically utilizes his stunning machismo while newbie Jack Reynor makes us forget all about Shia LaBeouf’s pissy Witwicky character, but neither really matter. Ehren Kruger’s self-consciously throwaway script exists only to pad action scenes with advancing material that makes little to no sense, between Cade’s always impeccable skill of avoiding danger to some of the most HORRENDOUS, wooden, and scripted conversations in mainstream Hollywood history, as it seems as if Kruger banks completely on Michael Bay’s stereotypical tomfoolery to provide an ongoing distraction. Cue Wahlberg flashing his pythons by ALWAYS rolling his sleeves up, Nicola Peltz skimpily dressing as daughter Tessa, random cussing, and incessant action that actually wears you down to the point of exhaustion. Oh, and naming the Transformer’s metal element Transformium? Did Kruger just watch Avatar for the first time and attempt to out-silly the name Unobtanium?
Transformers: Age Of Extinction is the New York Marathon of movies, as an egotistically long runtime killed any hopes of lasting enjoyment for me. Yes, I’ll admit to being hypnotized by shiny, colorful transformers waging war throughout busy Chinese streets, but there’s no endurance test savvy enough to prepare viewers for such a long-winded and barbaric over-saturation of chaotic action, repetitively going haywire until all the thrilling entertainment leaves after being washed away by an overwhelming sensory overload. Randomly exploding buildings and vehicles might even be acceptable for two hours with a meaningful story, but three hours worth of destruction without any resemblance of credible writing? You’d better be the Pablo Picasso of filmmaking mixed with the directorial prowess of a Martin Scorsese type – something Bay is not. Don’t worry though, what Bay lacks in grace he supplements with shameless product placements, because someone has to fund all those fiery, befuddling explosions. Thanks Bud Light, Victoria’s Secret, Dodge, and many other generic brand names that are plastered everywhere but Marky Mark’s biceps!
But again, here’s where I’ll bite – the Autobots are actually funny, likeable characters voiced by some pretty killer talents (Goodman, Ken Watanabe, Frank Welker, ect.). These walking, talking gearboxes may spout some of the cheesiest one liners, as if they’re priming for a marketable catchphrase, but each one has their own breakout moment of badassery – be it Hound’s willingness for battle or Crosshair’s trigger-happy mid-air ballet. Bay pulls together a lineup of dream vehicles, from Bumblebee’s ’67 Camaro form to a lime green Corvette Stingray, favoring flash over practicality these days. Gone are Autobots who transform into Target racecars or ambulances – these randy robots are all about looking damn fine while kicking Decepticon ass.
While I can’t deny Bay’s unprecedented eye for outlandish action, I can only describe Transformers: Age Of Extinction as an “epic” failure. No, not an “epic failure” of a movie like Night Moves, which gave me zero enjoyment, but a failure that walks away with a head held high after going for broke and never looking back. With some massive editorial trimming and a script that doesn’t waste talents like Kelsey Grammer, Bay could have had a raucous summer hit on his hands. Instead, we get Stanley Tucci attempting to carry an entire production as a lowly supporting character, brutal machine on machine violence, and an inevitable sequel set-up which I’m sure will please the hordes of film critics happily tearing Bay’s signature “style” into teeny, tiny shreds – and I’m not sure Bay should care. He’ll be too busy laughing himself to gigantic box office numbers when this is all over, and we’ll be stuck sitting through Transformers 5: The Quest For Even More Money – and I doubt a single oily detail will change.