Transformers: Age of Extinction
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor and Titus Welliver
Directed by Michael Bay
From Paramount Pictures
Transformers 4 looks a lot like Transformers 1-3
by Michael Clawson of Terminal Volume
Michael Bay is just trolling critics now.
When it was announced he was making a fourth Transformers movie with a new cast and new storylines, there was a suggestion in the tone of the press releases and other news that the quality and style of the film might change. People were batting around the word “reboot,” which is a word that intrigued me after the painfully awful first trilogy, in which Shia LaBouef spent nearly 8 hours bathed in digital calamity.
But after seeing Transformers: Age of Extinction, it’s obvious Bay has no desire to tinker with his formulas. Really, though, it’s not about desire, because I don’t think Bay really cares. It’s more about ability: Michael Bay can’t make a better movie. It’s beyond his talent and scope. He’s the Walmart of film directors. He makes expensive stupid movies that appeal to people who can be suckered into paying for the same thing four times. He’s settled on that career path. It’s time we all accepted this as well.
That’s a hard thing to do, though, especially when you’re three hours deep in a movie filled with what is essentially the same exact imagery over and over again. How many times can you watch low-angled shots of a hero Transformer shooting at an enemy Transformer? Here’s a whole movie to determine your breaking point.
Starring in this Transformer outing is Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeager, a name that is supposed to conjure the spirit of adventure and bravery that is Chuck Yeager, the test pilot that first broke the sound barrier. Cade is a penniless tinkerer and inventor in the most wholesome town in America, where screen doors, windchimes, rocking chairs on wooden porches and American flags are seen so prominently they deserve below-the-title billing. It’s as if a Toby Keith song vomited all over a Cracker Barrel.
Trucker-hat-wearin’ ‘Murican patriot Cade — whose oblivious customers actually pay $20 for Discman repairs — makes a trip to a local condemned theater to scavenge for invention parts. He meets the theater owner’s son, an effeminate man with a wobbly handshake (gay joke?), who sells him an old 35mm projector and a demolished big rig that turns out to be Optimus Prime, the Transformer leader who has gone into hiding after the destruction of Chicago in Transformers 3. Later, because the plot demands it, a CIA strike team descends on Cade’s farm to search of Optimus.
And then the movie delivers its first double rainbow of awfulness: Cade tells a government goon he doesn’t have a warrant to search his farm. The agent points at his nose and says, “My face is my warrant.” What does that even mean?! Was his face drafted by a lawyer and signed by a judge? Or does he mean that his face is so mean-looking that doors just open for him? I’ll buy you tickets to a better movie if you can explain this line in a reasonable manner. Anyway, Cade’s daughter Tessa — wearing an outfit only worn by exotics dancers on Western Night at strip clubs — turns up so she can be threatened, kidnapped and thrown into danger only to be saved by men. To Bay, women are useless sex objects that would cease existing without male heroes. But don’t take my word for it; watch his movies. Any of them.
Optimus and his human companions eventually escape using a five-story rally car death-drop that is so implausible it makes the transforming robots seem kind of pedestrian and normal. They drive 20 minutes or so, from Texas to Arizona, to meet up with other Transformers including a fat one (voiced by John Goodman), a samurai (Ken Watanabee) and Bumblebee, the yellow one who talks using clips of other Michael Bay movies.
A plot starts coming together, but it mostly resembles the other films. The CIA has aligned itself with a Transformer, whose face literally turns into a gun, to hunt down all the other Transformers for some kind of space zoo. In the deal, the humans get alien technology that will allow them to make their own transforming robots in the style of Megatron, the villain who has been killed in three movies, yet still lives on. The metal used in Transformers is revealed to be Transformium, which is inexplicably dumber than the Unobtanium of Avatar. Kelsey Grammar and Stanley Tucci have minor roles, including a kung-fu break with Tucci as he waits for an elevator that never comes. Seriously, someone should check that elevator because it made this scene really awkward, especially when the female kung-fu warrior just stood there, as if she forgot her lines and Stucci had to mouth her dialogue to her off camera.
All of the action is mostly identical to the action of the other movies. Someone could make a game show out of that premise: Which Transformer Movie? You’d have better luck looking for differences in two versions of a Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. My point is proven perfectly in a battle scene here in Age of Extinction, when a Transformer ship destroys the top of the exact same building similarly crunched in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. I guess the CGI artists already had a composite for that building built, so why not reuse it. Every scene is vaguely similar to something already done in previous Transformers movies, be it Gunface and Optimus sword fighting, Bumblebee swooping ragdolled human bodies out of the air, or of Transformers blasting their armguns in heated battles. I will say Wahlberg’s gunsword was new, and also ridiculous. But still new.
All this eventually leads up to many, many product placements, including an Oreo and Waste Management Transformer, more Chevy’s than have ever (or will ever) exist in Detroit, an exploding Victoria’s Secret bus and a shameless scene involving Tucci turning some Transformium into a Beats speaker. As if that weren’t bad enough, Wahlberg can’t even finish a major battle sequence until he swigs from a Bud Light. The biggest product placement, though, might be its final location, China. Remember when Iron Man 3 shot China-specific scenes to help promote the film to that huge market? Here we are again with the final act taking place entirely in the most populated country on the planet. This isn’t cultural outreach; it’s money seeding.
Oh and dinosaurs. There are dinosaurs. Transformer dinosaurs. Nothing more be said about this.
Transformers: Age of Extinction is a terrible movie. All the Transformers movies are this bad. But you know this already. You either know it and don’t see them, or you know it and see them anyway. No one is arguing that these are great or important movies. Bay has his apologists; they’re anyone who buys a ticket. If these movies thrill you and excite you, then I’m glad a film has that power on you. Movies have that power over me — just not these movies. I don’t want to spoil your fun, but I do ask you to consider how many times you would pay for the same thing.
Because Michael Bay is trolling. And your wallet is the victim.