Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)
There aren’t many franchises that could make me feel compelled to see the fourth instalment after the previous films were so completely awful that they seem less like entertainment and more like clandestine scientific studies into the limits of the human gag reflex. Still, I felt I needed to see this one, because the Bayformers sequels are fascinatingly bad and because they’re handy yardsticks in measuring how dumb Hollywood thinks people are. It would be gauche of me to not mention the fact that despite all this, I still kinda like Michael Bay, or at least several of his previous films, and want him to make things like The Rock and Bad Boys again.
“Fuck this film”
Inventor and robotics enthusiast Cade Yaeger (Mark Wahlberg) brings home a dilapidated truck for scrap and on closer inspection finds out it’s actually Autobot leader Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen). The CIA, under the command of Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) storm the Yaegers’ home and threaten Cade and his daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz), having a zero tolerance policy on alien robots since Chicago got totalled, causing mass civilian fatalities. Initially, Age of Extinction is probably the most coherent of the films since the original. The first 20 minutes or so were borderline OK. The story they were sketching out was dumb as fuck, but still decent enough to be forgiveable. Then it snowballs. Characters switch motivations and ideologies on a whim, practically everyone is a sociopathic arsehole and it became hugely unpleasant to sit through. Acting ranges from flat to actively bad. Marky Mark gives a weirdly earnest performance, but delivers his lines like he’s back in The Happening. The only decent presences are Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammer who are that damn good at acting they make the insane nonsensical shit they have to say seem legitimate.
I hate to sound like a bored, fusty old retiree writing into the Daily Mail, but this film is morally reprehensible. My expectations weren’t high. I’ve seen all the previous films and am aware that the very best it could be is a dumb action film based on a line of action figures. This film has racism, sexism and all the other kinds of “isms” peppered throughout. I’m not sure whether it’s down to Bay or writer Ehren Kruger or both, but there is some ugly shit below the surface. So, Cade has a daughter, a character we’re introduced to via a low angle crotch shot getting out of a car. She is kept on a tight leash by her dad, not allowed to date or express herself in any way. The script is at great pains to state that she is a minor at 17 years old and that all Cade wants to do is “protect” her. In fact, I’d say a good 30% of Yaeger’s dialogue contains the word “protect” or a variation. When shit hits the fan, Cade and Tessa are rescued by Tessa’s secret boyfriend, Shane (Jack Reynor) and cue lots of awkward moments. Thing is, the way the characters are written, it feels like Cade is in love with his daughter, spending most of the runtime competing for her affection with Shane. It’s a fucking creepy love triangle. It’s not as if it’s subtle, either. There is one part where they’re talking about her being underage and Cade being tempted to call the police on Shane for having sex with a minor (there’s all sorts of icky shit in here, especially concerning the Madonna/whore complex) and- I shit you not- Shane pulls out documentation on the Romeo & Juliet laws in his defence. This is meant to be a dumb, for the masses CGI abusing blockbuster- why the fuck are we even talking about statutory rape and underage sex, especially since the writing is so fucking stupid it can’t handle basic human characters, let alone a pointy and complex issue like that?
That aside, how does the rest fare? Not well. The humans are creepy and the Autobots are kill-happy jerks. They can’t shut up about how much they enjoy killing. It hardly makes you want to cheer for them. Basically, Kelsey Grammer’s character is right in wanting to destroy all the Transformers, regardless of allegiance. Too many people die when they’re around. They’re not heroes. The whole film is gravid with shit like this and it’s exhausting to watch. It’s nearly three hours long and it’s basically done with the simple story it wanted to tell halfway in. How about the Dinobots, eh? Yeah, they’re not in it much. Think of the ghost army in Return of the King. Few token scenes then show up in the final battle, only to fuck off afterwards.
I’m aware that not all people care about narrative, they want to see ‘splosions and lots of them. The arguments are always the same. “But I just want to turn my brain off and have fun” or “I just want to see giant robots beating the shit out of each other” etc. Thing is, even the action’s not great. Whilst it is possible to distinguish one robot from another this time, it’s just the same old shit with an over-reliance on slow motion shots to show off how “cool” everything is. The action doesn’t mean anything. There are no stakes. It’s just noise. I think even the most forgiving of violence junkies will be pissed off at how flat the action is and how much time the film spends on the incestuous love triangle instead.
Critics have said that by naming his play “As You Like It”, Shakespeare was taking a jab at his audience, frustrated that they just wanted knockabout comedies instead of his more serious work. I think Age of Extinction is Bay’s As You Like It. The Transformers franchise is way too much of a money juggernaut for Paramount to lose Bay. He’s a selling point. We know Bay has never had any qualms about “selling out” considering his background in advertising and the shameless product placement in his films. My guess is that they keep offering him embarrassing amounts of money to stick around and this is him accepting his fate. This film is a soft reboot and there are a further two films planned. He’s stuck. So, here he is, packing the film with all sorts of shit because he can and nobody is going to stop him. The worst part is that people are eating it all up and clamouring for more. That’s seriously depressing.
“Seriously though, fuck this film”
So yeah, Age of Extinction is pretty much the worst. It’s a cynical, hateful, loud film with absolute contempt for its audience.