The Rules Have Changed
Set several years after the last Transformers film, we find Earth a hostile environment for the robots in disguise. Chicago is slowly being rebuilt and the Autobots are being systematically hunted by a black ops unit run by the CIA. Enter Cade Yeager [Wahlberg], a plucky Texan single father and inventor (apparently) desperately trying to do odd-jobs to put his teenage daughter through college and on the right track. On one particular salvage operation, he comes across a beat up truck and purchases it for $150 in the hope he can break it down and sell the parts. After a bit of investigating, he discovers the truck is in fact Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots. Unfortunately, word gets out that Yeager may be harbouring alien fugitives and a hit squad is sent to search his premises. When Cade’s daughter is threatened, Optimus launches into action and the Yeagers go on the run from their own government, with the assistance of Tessa’s secret boyfriend, Shane. I have so much to say about these two but I’ll save it for later. The story progresses (well the runtime ticks along, there’s no real story) and we learn that the CIA are working with a tech company called KSI to create their own transforming soldiers – run by Joshua Joyce [Tucci] – and a transformer bounty hunter called Lockdown. It’s basically a big mess with a ridiculous ‘average Joe’ at the centre talking about protecting his daughter and how shit’s crazy right now. *sigh*
Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen (the second one, if you didn’t know) was ridiculous and obscene and offensive and a diabolical onslaught but Transformers: Age Of Extinction commits a sin some may not have even considered possible; it’s boring. In truth, these have never been good films, they’re money generating blockbuster monstrosities that capitalise on adult nostalgia and pre-teen stupidity. But at least the first instalment was fairly novel and the third provided a pretty decent final third action set-piece. This is just a gruelling marathon of nothing. Packed and bloated with filler, unnecessary character types and rather uninspired direction, it’s just wall-to-wall formulaic tedium. There is also a clear but strange desire to make this film ‘darker’. Unfortunately, according to the screenplay, ‘darker’ means torture and murder. Optimus’ first line of dialogue in the movie is, “I’ll kill you! I’ll kill all of you!” and by the end of the film he actually straight up murders a dude. I appreciate how ridiculous that sounds considering the death-toll that the severe amount of collateral damage generated over the last four films but this feels different. Even the murder in Man Of Steel can be argued and somewhat justified, this is just unnecessary brutality for the sake of it. And while we’re talking about Optimus, the movie version of Prime is weak. At no point have I seen anything that establishes him as a leader. Every film he turns up, makes a speech, gets beaten up and/or killed then comes back with a new look (and fresh model of toys to buy), tears another robot limb from limb, then finishes off by making another pointless speech. I’m not saying the 80’s cartoon was anything more than it was but at least Optimus had a simple function: strategy and command of his companions to protect human life and thwart the Decepticons. Another contemporary misconception that we’re forced to endure is that all will be revealed in the sequels. I’m a big fan of cinematic setup/payoff and the clever use of foreshadowing but it’s a skill that most screenwriters don’t actually possess. Teasing a series of questions and baffling events only to turn to the audience and announce, “Who are the creators!? Where did Galvatron go? Now the Dinobots are free where are they off to? Who were the knights? Why is Optimus taking the seed into space? Find out in the next exciting instalment of Smashy Crashy Robo Nonsense!” is neither intelligent nor subtle.
The mistake every Transformers movie makes is thinking audiences won’t be able to relate to robots and that there needs to be a human interest story. This may not be entirely inaccurate but it’s one of the biggest scapegoats used to shoehorn in a myriad of obnoxious douchebags. I don’t think anyone goes to watch a Transformers flick for the humans, we all know that they’re placeholders that are cheaper to film than having a team of talented people render giant digital automatons. And yet all the robots are equally stupid. None of them are given any personality, they’re just injected with an abundance of stereotypical attributes. For anyone unable to see the difference, a personality is a recognisable set of ethics, codes, drives, experiences and neuroses which manifest in psychological and physical form. But this takes a lot of time and effort, so what we’ve got is Optimus the leader, Bumblebee the hothead, Hound the fat guy with the beard and a cigar.. somehow.. for some reason (voiced by John Goodman), Crosshairs the kill happy rogue [John DiMaggio] and Drift the Japanese samurai who’s calm and up his arse about honour (voiced by Ken Watanabe). This is not a set of individuals, it’s a marketable set of voice-boxes for toys. What’s worse, the concept of “robots in disguise” has never been utilised well but here’s it’s flat out insulting. Rather than tricking children into using their imaginations and gleefully whispering, “I wonder if that car is a transformer!” the robot/car transformation is solely used so Bay can show off concept cars and slick paint-jobs. Seriously, how ‘in disguise’ are you as a massively expensive sports car in the middle of the fucking desert? And what the absolute fuck was with the ten minutes of dinobots!? Who were they fooling? Are we to believe that they’re in disguise on a world of metal dinosaurs or were they on Earth previously, breathing fire and doing their best to blend in!? AND WHY IN THE SHIT HASN’T BUMBLEBEE’S VOICE BOX BEEN FIXED YET! That whole sound bite sampling nonsense is beyond irritating and I can never really make out what the hell he’s supposed to be saying.
Bay humour. Bay direction. Bay intelligence. None of it works. I don’t know who sits down to watch a Michael Bay film and laughs solidly at all the terrible jokes and horrendous one-liners but I desperately do not want to meet them. I know I allocate part of my review to a highlighted quote but there are so many terrible lines of dialogue that even the most desperate of screenwriters wouldn’t admit to authoring them: “My face is my warrant” “I’m a wicked warrior robot” “You’re an inventor like me, so I know you have a conscience” “Whenever you look to the stars, think of one of them as my soul.” Some of them don’t even make sense, it’s as if a group of self-congratulatory eight year olds got drunk and started scribbling all over the script. “Then.. then! The dying Autobot’s all like I’ll never tell you! And then the bad guy, the bad guy says, Never is here! And stick his.. his hand in the.. in the dying Autobot’s chest and he’s all like Nooo! Blerrgh! Arghh! And then he dies and the bad guy just walks away.” It’s absurd and it’s a wonder that it goes through X amount of drafts and actually makes it to the final cut. Incidentally, I’ve been doing the maths and the way I see it, this movie wastes the talent of four Oscar nominations, six Golden Globes, 8 Emmies and 1 BAFTA – and that’s just between five actors. So with all that money spent and the talent involved, you’d think something half decent could be produced. And I know that Bay is capable of making unique cinema because he managed to slip out Pain And Gain which, while pretty mediocre, demonstrated that the man has a few experimental directorial ideas left in his head.
But surely there must be a handful of positive elements to raise this trash from a damning 1/10 to the 3/10 I settled on? Indeed. As with its predecessors, the visual effects are very impressive when you actually get to see them, as is the sound editing and design. The music is regrettably background, void of anything remotely resembling a theme but the Imagine Dragons track works well and is actually a decent song. Furthermore, the concept of humans being xenophobic of alien life after it was directly responsible for wiping out half of Chicago is a very interesting thread to follow. And the use of Kelsey Grammer is particularly praiseworthy, feeling reminiscent of his appearance in the thoroughly underrated Boss. Having said that, District 9 did it better and didn’t need nearly three hours to do it.
Age Of Extinction is somehow more than just another journey into an amber hued shaky-cam nightmare (that only stabilises when there’s some product placement to flaunt), it’s the death rattle of this franchise. I know there will probably be another two sequels but in the same vein as Pirates Of The Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the studios pushed the franchise too hard and audiences were just fatigued and unimpressed by the lack of originality (which actually takes a lot so that’s saying something). By all means bemoan Transformers for being an explosion-happy immaturity fest but at least it was watchable from start to finish. This is just an exercise in tedium and you can only ask so much of the paying public.
11th July 2014
The Scene To Look Out For:
In order to track the villains .. wait .. that’s not true. That’s the fallout of the action. I don’t think there was any motivation. Sorry, I appreciate I’m having an openly private ramble on a review but I’m actually trying to break down a mind-boggling setup. While the CIA’s hit squad blow up the Yeager residence, they broadcast back to the director, Attinger [Grammer] via little spy-cam helicopters. One of which, Cade manages to grab.. then reverse engineer to pilot and do their bidding. It’s a premise that doesn’t make a lot of sense and it’s only used twice – the first time is to arrogantly test police response times at an ATM, the second is so they can go to the manufacturer’s headquarters and thirdly to take a picture of a KSI staff member’s ID tag. I have a great deal of issues with all of this. Side-stepping the ridiculous biometric security steps most companies have to go through, a blurry picture of a badge wouldn’t cut it, furthermore, no one reported it but all of this is a genuinely moot point. You can suspend disbelief or argue the plausibility of any of it but right from the get-go you need to convince yourself that an inventor in name only has the ability to steal CIA tech that is apparently untraceable. It shouldn’t matter but enough excuses are made for big dumb action films (I myself make some of these excuses from time-to-time) and it’s this kind of stupid writing that is responsible for the film’s weakest element: the plot.
Tessa and Shane. Just utterly deplorable irredeemable characters played by actors who are probably quite capable but are asked to do so little. What can I say that hasn’t been said countless times before about these types of individuals? Pretty faces employed to do the bare minimum; to look good and grunt or scream their way through the film. No real emotional drive, no arc, no redeeming features and no point in caring about them.
“I’m a fat ballerina who takes names and slits throats”
In A Few Words:
“I’d say more of the same but while the other Transformers films managed to be polarising, they were arguably entertaining.. or thoroughly offensive.. this instalment is lacklustre and uninspired”