Transformers: Age of Extinction

transformers age of extinction.jpg
UK Release Date 5th July 2014
Director Michael Bay
Starring Big Shiny Toys
Runtime 165 Minutes (!!!!)
Certificate 12A
Reviewer Si
Reviewed 6th July 2014

I’d kind of given up on Michael Bay. The initial fun of Bad Boys and The Rock had long since given way to the bloated nonsense of Pearl Harbour and, well, Transformers to be honest. Then along came Pain & Gain and I sided with the people who thought the entire exercise was a great piece of satire and duly heaped praise on the director for his knowing look at the American Dream. Bay was once again back in my cinematic consciousness. It took a bit of You Tubing to remind myself that I hadn’t even registered the last Transformers movie, let alone seen it but I’m not convinced this lack of knowledge contributed to my lack of enjoyment here. Bay you see, is well and truly back on non-satirical territory for his latest. Or is he?

From what I can gather from the trailer for Dark of the Moon, there was some kerfuffle between mankind and the Autobots in the last instalment and from what I can gather from the the early parts of Age of Extinction, it didn’t end well for Chicago or the Autobots. Age of Extinction begins with some pretty unconvincing dinosaurs being wiped out by a familiar looking robot foe and some modern day explorer types locating what looks like the fall out from that event buried deep in some ice. We then pick up with Mark Wahlberg’s Cade Yeager on his permanently magic hour lit farm in the middle of Texas (Paris to be precise). Cade is an inventor. And by that I mean scrap merchant. One with a wife who died of non-specified causes some while ago, a 17 year old daughter (Nicola Peltz) whom he seems determined to emotionally suffocate and an employee who appears to be a surfer. I mention the surfing bit not because it’s a crucial plot point, more because I bothered to look up Paris, Texas and it’s 350 miles from the coast.

Whilst out on a scrap hunt one day, Cade and Lucas the surfer dude find a truck, inexplicably parked in an otherwise structurally sound looking cinema building. Purchasing it for a bargain price, Cade takes the truck back to Sunset Farm so he can strip it down and sell the bits in order to pay a mortgage he’s six months behind on. Whilst fending off the local estate agent with a baseball bat, he discovers that <drum roll> the truck is in fact an Autobot. And not just any Autobot, Optimus Prime himself, presented in a fanboy pleasing form to replicate the original toy, rather than that horrendous big rig he became in part 1.

As it turns out though, the CIA have been tracking down and killing all the robot aliens (Autobot and Decepticon alike) in contravention of the agreement reached at the end of Dark of the Moon. Pretty soon the ruthless bastards (mostly in the form of Kelsey Grammer’s super-bastard Attinger) are threatening Cade’s daughter and her boyfriend (who appears to have been waiting just outside Sunset Farm in his souped up, decalled rally car for just such an occasion) has to rescue everyone. Cade does not know that Tessa has a boyfriend and the appearance of an Oirish ‘driver’ as such does not please him. Meanwhile, shady tech guru and inventor Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci - filling the John Turturro role of an actual actor in the movie) is busy mining a substance he has branded and trademarked Transformium (the stuff what the robots is made of) in order to create an army of Transformers he controls in order to establish World Peace. Which rather goes against the CIA’s current aim. Although they seem to be working together. Of course, all of this cannot end well.

The sheer length of that plot ‘summary’ gives you some idea of one of the main problems with this movie. Much like Verbinski’s escalating running time festival that is Pirates of the Caribbean (143, 151, 169 and, when Verbinski bailed, blessedly 136 minutes respectively), Bay has no concept of how much can fit into an essentially mindless special effects spectacle. This is the longest one so far and rarely have I spent so much time watching so little. It’s largely pointless to pick plot holes and berate actors for contributing so little to these movies, likewise the erstwhile hack who happily trotted out as many bizarre grunts as he thinks the characters need to speak in order to move on to the next whizz bang effect (favourite line from this one: ‘My face is my warrant!’) but somebody has to shoulder the blame for this boring, boring movie.

And that is Age of Extinction’s biggest sin beyond it’s woefully bloated running time. Set piece after set piece after set piece whizz by without a moment of peril being formed. Once Ensign Expendable is despatched (you’ll spot him early), we’re never really troubled by who’s going to survive and who isn’t because frankly, we could care less about any of them. And that unfortunately leaves us picking at the usual trope of Michael Bay special moves. It’s like a horrible checklist hovers over everything he touches. Fluttering US flags? Skimpily dressed jailbait girl? Endless magic hour lighting, intertwined with normal lighting for a different shot of the same thing? Buff hero everyman? Swirling cameras around buff hero everyman? Sinister corporation? So much slo-mo? Utterly incomprehensible fights? You betcha. It’s all here, writ in big shiny metallic letters. The boyfriend of the jailbait even has a card to prove it’s okay for him to be with the jailbait. And no, I’m not making that up to make a point.

And the last point brings me on to the question I raised at the start of this review. Is Bay actually just taking the piss with all this? Is Transformers: Age of Extinction just one giant ‘fuck you’ to anyone who thinks he’s wrong with this style of film making? Is he spewing cake out of his grin as he eats his way through it, pointing to the massive pile of cake still available to him? The movie treks right across the world from Chicago (domestic market) to Beijing and Hong Kong, which were a massive market for Dark of the Moon - $175 million (between the two, the biggest outside the States) for no real plot reason beyond Tucci’s crush on his colleague - isn’t Bay just almost literally printing the money as he goes? How long before all movies are spread around the globe specifically to welcome box office from different regions? It's like a geographical product placement. Look ma, I can see our high rise slum from here!

Sigh. It’s not really worth getting worked up about is it. This review has already flown dangerously close to a therapy session for somebody who just spent the worst part of three hours watching this tripe. Let’s end on good points then. There are two. The lesser of the two being the fact that the effects are pretty impressive. Long gone are the days when you can separate the humans from the effects in these things and at times, it makes for a genuinely dizzying spectacle. The other being Stanley Tucci. Having an absolute whale of a time as the unscrupulous then scrupulous tech boss, one minute balling out his employees for all he’s worth, then just a few hours later (actual screen time) cowering under a table hilariously shrieking about how good a hiding place a greenhouse is during a robot apocalypse. May whichever lord he believes in bless Mr. Tucci because I’m pretty sure he was the only thing keeping my shit together in this staggeringly poor, noisy, incoherent, godawful mess of a movie. 

At the time of writing Age of Extinction has a box office take of $212,800,000 in one territory. Want to take a punt which one? Yup, Bay has the drop on all of us. He’s called our bluff and we’re the ones left picking up the cheque. And we’re queuing from Chicago to Beijing to do it. Sequels five and six will soon be upon us. So much cake.....

Check out the trailer here.

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