It’s quite telling that one of the main villains in Michael Bay’s latest metal and mortars magnum opus Tranformers: Age of Extinction travels by way of what appears to be a giant junk ship. The villain in question is a Transformer bounty hunter that sides with neither the Autobots nor the Decepticons, and as such his home away from home is filled with the violently scattered and now useless remains of all the prisoners who passed through his ship previously.
It’s the perfect on screen metaphor because Age of Extinction is worthless junk in every way. I do not mean that in a positive “fun popcorn blockbuster” sort of way. This film is the on screen equivalent of looking at a trash heap for an unconscionable amount of time and hoping and praying in vain that it will do something that won’t feel like a soul sucking waste of time. 2014 has been a terrible year for films so far, so this one astoundingly might not be the worst of the year, but it comes pretty darn close. It can be said with all certainty that it’s the worst Transformers film yet and the worst film that Bay has created. Considering the franchise includes Revenge of the Fallen – one of the worst franchise films ever created – and Bay has made Pearl Harbor and every previous installment of the Transformers series, that’s saying something. It almost gets awards points for being so toxically vile that I almost couldn’t make it through the whole thing.
Set some time after the Chicago destroying events of the previous film (which I think is the best of the bunch), Trans4mers follows an entirely new cast of humans than the three previous films and somehow it manages to be worse even though every casting choice looks like a step up on paper. Mark Wahlberg stars as Cade Yeager (an insult to both Chuck Yeager and the vaguely similar name for robots in the infinitely superior Pacific Rim), a Texan inventor and robotics expert (who somehow lives on a farm for no real reason other than to show how much of an everyman he is) with mounting debts, an imbecilic surfer dude business partner (T.J. Miller), and a teenage daughter (Nicola Peltz) who is so smokin’ hot that he obviously has to keep her pretty much locked up. He’s also the “suffering widow” type, so all we know if his departed wife is that she’s dead and never spoken of again after two lines of dialogue.
I don’t know why the fuck I would even try to explain the plot of this thing because if you’re seriously going to see this it won’t be for the story, but I can assure you that it’s the most incoherent, nonsensical, unfunny and contradictory thing that frequent series scribe Ehren Kruger has cooked up to date. The Autobots are on the run from a US military hit squad following the Chicago disaster, led by CIA bagman Kelsey Grammer. The military no longer needs the Autobots because they’ve hired an eccentric billionaire tech type guy, played by Stanley Tucci, to create their own fighting robots out of the element Transformium (no, really, I didn’t make that up to be glib), the same matter that created the Transformers. It has been on Earth since the dinosaurs went extinct and it turns everything into metal or some shit like that. I don’t fucking know. Anyway, the bounty hunter I mentioned before, the mercenary robot Lockdown (voiced by Mark Ryan), wants the thing that the Transformium came in, which is known as “the seed,” which can make the human race extinct and bring about a new age of Transformers. Also, Megatron is back because the science type guys basically cloned him from his severed head, only know he’s known as Galvatron and he looks the exact same pretty much. He does fucking nothing.
As for the humans, well, since Cade and his family saved Optimus Prime from certain destruction and there are only 4 Autobots left standing in the world, they just tag along to do what they can. They’re too dull to spend a full hour with them, forcing us to watch the normally Wahlberg amiably fumble his way around his wholesome all American good old boy routine more unconvincingly than he was in The Happening .
They’re so underbaked that Cade’s daughter’s secret boyfriend (played by Irish actor Jack Raynor, an underrated talent who is thanklessly wasted here) only shows up to randomly save the humans mid-fight before he can even be introduced. His character is just some guy who happens to be there and who happens to be banging his teenage daughter even though she’s 20.
If there’s one positive to take from this, it’s that Tucci and Grammer are pretty good. Tucci’s working overtime to make his character’s eventually conflicted nature feel like an earned arc, and Grammer doesn’t have shit to work with, but at least he can shout and glower nicely. Thomas Lennon also delivers the few genuine laughs in the film as a weasly White House Chief-of-Staff.
So yeah, it’s not a movie where you go for the story, but for the first 75 minutes, Bay and company earnestly think that this bullshit actually stands for something. These are humans with simple problems. Hell, even the Autobots have a simple solution to their problem in that by the end of the film you can see they can clearly leave the fucking planet and the whole movie Optimus keeps complaining about how much he hates humans now for what they’ve done to his kind.
Bay seriously treats his film as a sort of meta-commentary on the state of the economy and the war on terror, but just like when he tried to be self reflexive and satirical in the last film, he quickly abandons any pretenses and just goes back to what he allegedly does best. An opening scene where Cade finds Optimus broken down and hiding in a movie theatre offers a brief glimmer of hope that the film at least understands its place in the world of entertainment, but that’s once again tossed away in favour of self-serious indignation for the audience combined with unfunny sexist, racist, and xenophobic jokes that somehow escaped the last entry and made it straight to this one like leftovers from Revenge of the Fallen rewrites.
The racism is back front and centre once again with jive talking robots, a boorish All American Transformer voiced by John Goodman in the most annoying performance of his entire career, a caricature Samurai Transformer voiced by Ken Watanabe, sassy and bottom line minded fat African American landlords, Chinese people who are funny because you can’t understand what they’re saying, and a bunch of other shit I probably forgot because I stopped caring.
Bay gets his pervert on thanks to shooting Peltz like a sex object and then chastising his audience for viewing her as such, before finally giving his audience the most ludicrously reassuring pat on the back to tell you it’s cool to ogle teens. She’s basically only there so Wahlberg can break down and punch the ground in slow motion when she gets captured and so Raynor can bicker with him over who actually owns her. (Literally, they argue over ownership of a human being.)
The only people who are good are All American take charge types like Marky Mark, and everyone else is a shitty coward (Optimus included, even though he has no problem straight up murdering humans here, even speaking openly about it like a sociopath). If a character looks sad, it’s only a matter of seconds before Wahlberg has to deliver a speech about how someone’s being a little bitch and that they need to grow the fuck up and defend the good old USA. That is, until they need help from the Chinese. Then the Chinese are awesome and Americans suck. It was enough to make me wish the flag waving militarism from the first couple of films returned here. At least that felt earned.
But for those of you who see a Michael Bay film for the spectacle and carnage and don’t care that the story in his films are often insipid and filled with horrid dialogue, then you’re also going to be disappointed. Filming “quiet” moments from baffling angles with more obvious lens flaring and magic hour shots than J.J. Abrams could attempt in his entire lifetime, the non-action sequences look okay, but the action sequences are the dullest and most repetitive of the franchise.
Most of the action scenes are fight sequences between Transformers or against the military, so there aren’t very many great chase sequences or scenes of mass destruction like the other entries. For what it’s worth, Bay has learned to finally hold a shot for more than five seconds at a time, and while the last film actually showcased the robots quite nicely in action sequences, everything here once again moves too fast to be anything more than a blur or metal writing around as bullets and rockets whiz by them. Not one acting sequence in this film is memorable and the chaos combined with its overstuffed plotting isn’t just taxing. It’s masochistic to sit through.
But I know what you fans of the franchise are thinking and you’re probably wondering about the much beloved Dinobots. I hope you are willing to wait a punishingly long 140 minutes before they even show up, and I hope you’re prepared for them to do precisely jack and shit because if that’s what you’re looking for, you won’t be disappointed. The fact that they hold off on using them for so long makes no sense because the climax of the story actually begins about an hour into the film. They have maybe 6 total minutes of screen time and most of it involved Optimus single handedly beating the shit out of them because he calls them cowards before we can even see what they’re capable of doing.
I desperately wanted to walk out, but writing a review from a film you couldn’t make it to the end of is a shitty thing to do. So with about ten minutes left, I just took off my 3D glasses and started dismantling them by hand to see if I could fashion monocles out of the lenses. I was kind of bummed that they didn’t work, but it did prove the film’s core thesis that some things just shouldn’t be invented quite nicely. I learned that you can’t yet make 3D capable monocles. It’s a simple lesson, but that’s the only thing about this reprehensible piece of shit that didn’t feel like I pissed away 166 of my life that I’ll never see again.
This movie will make a shitload of money, but it also thinks you’re a fucking idiot. It’s nearly three hours of watching people laugh their way to the bank with your money; the cinematic equivalent of an email from a fake prince in some exotic country who promises you riches but is really just a nerd looking for cash in the flashiest possible way. I’m actually ashamed that I had to sit through it, but I’m even more ashamed that I’m angry with the results. I should have known by now, and maybe my anger is proof that Bay has won. Maybe I’m an idiot. I probably am. At any rate, this movie fucking blows. I’d rather watch the video for “Turn Down for What” for three fucking hours. Fuck this. I’m done.