Transformers: Age of Extinction Review
Extinction is too good for this awful franchise
Any kind of critical appraisal of a Transformers film is virtually impossible.The franchise long since gave up trying to be actual films - with coherent plots, believable characters and an emotional core. They are simply extended toy adverts designed to make the viewer feel like they're on an amusement park ride in the middle of a firework display. Age of Extinction isn't the worst entry, that honour still belongs to Revenge of the Fallen - but it is the longest and at 165 minutes it begins to feel like a cruel and unusual punishment. This fourth film film in the franchise is intended to be a reboot, of sorts, but really it's just more of the same - $200 million dollars of effects wrapped around a 10 cent script.The plot, such as it is, makes very little sense and the human characters are so thinly sketched that you almost miss Shia LaBeouf. Almost. Instead we get Marky Mark and his jail bait daughter, who along with her Irish boyfriend, try and help the Autobots from being destroyed by the CIA and an alien bounty hunter. There's a sub-plot about the dinosaurs being wiped out by aliens, which makes no sense, doesn't go anywhere and is clearly there just to sell Dinobot toys. Along the way Chicago gets another kicking before everyone ends up in Hong Kong in a blatant attempt to cash in on the growing Chinese market.
Originally Michael Bay said he was done with the franchise after Dark of the Moon but clearly the critical and commercial drubbing that he received for Pain & Gain, along with a ton of cash, convinced him to go back to what he does best - sell stuff. At least after watching Age of Extinction we now know why he had his meltdown at the Samsung press conference at CES back in January. After being introduced as a 'filmmaker' he suddenly realised he had completely sold what little soul he had left and wasted the last ten years of his life on this rubbish. There was a time when he actually was a talented filmmaker but now all he has to look forward to is an eternity in hell, forced to watch these appalling films on a continuous loop.
For those that are interested, the plot of the film revolves around the aftermath of the Chicago battle that was the end of the previous movie. Officially the US government is hunting down and destroying all the remaining Decepticons but in actual fact, the head of the black ops section of the CIA that is responsible for this task, played by Kelsey Grammer, is intent on wiping out all the Transformers - good or bad. He is being helped by an Autobot bounty hunter called Lockdown, who it determined to capture Optimus Prime for reasons that, as usual, are never really made clear. That's where Mark Wahlberg's Cade Yeager comes in, he's an inventor and tinkerer, who finds Prime (in truck form) in a derelict cinema. Quite why or how Prime got there is never explained but it does allow for some jokes about how modern films are rubbish.
At 165 minutes long, Age of Extinction should be classed as a cruel and unusual punishment.
The film's attempt to be ironic by making jokes about sequels and modern films might have worked in the hands of a talented writer and director but here they just fall flat on their face. Michael Bay knows absolutely nothing about irony or self-deprecation, all he understands is arrogance and contempt. He's also not too clever when it comes to sexual politics because the film is often uncomfortably sexist, as best evidenced by the character of Cade's daughter Tessa. He is understandably protective of his 17-year old daughter but despite his requests that she wear more clothes, that doesn't stop Bay's camera from leering at her. She's played by Nicola Peltz, who looks like a teenage stripper and has the acting abilities of one as well. She also has a secret boyfriend called Shane who is a racing driver (handy), Irish (for no obvious reason) and 20 years old. So cue some highly inappropriate 'jokes' about statutory rape.
Every Transformers movie stars at least one quality actor who really should know better. The first three had John Turturro, whilst the third also had Frances McDormand and John Malkovich. Picking up a pay cheque this time is Stanley Tucci, who plays a technology billionaire called Joshua Joyce. He has discovered the metal that the Transfomers are made from, which is called 'transformium' - well we did say they only spent 10 cents on the script. This metal ties in with the extinction of the dinosaurs, the creation of the Transformers by some mysterious alien race and a cyber-forming device called the 'seed', which could destroy all of mankind. Joyce plans to use 'transformium' to make his own transformers for commercial exploitation - much like the franchise itself which is always populating these films with new Transformers to keep the toy line fresh.
As The Lego Movie proved, it is possible to make a film based upon a line of toys whilst still being entertaining and emotionally engaging and even finding time to poke fun at the whole idea. Of course, Bay and writer Ehren Kruger aren't clever and frankly, even at a cost of 10 cents, Kruger was overpaid for this cobblers. We've spent longer writing this review than he did on the script of Age of Extinction. Aside from the obvious intention of selling Transformers toys, the film is also full of blatant product placements and on at least two occasions the film literally stops so that characters can drink these products. Again, it might have been funny in the hands of someone talented but here you just feel dirty and slightly ashamed.
Of course none of these things - incoherent plots, cookie-cutter characters, sexism and product placement - are new in a Transformers movie but what is new is a blatant attempt to cash in on the growing Chinese market. The final third of the film takes place in China and in order to gain favour with the Chinese government, the filmmakers have added scenes that border on pure propaganda. So whilst the Americans are seen as incompetent and callous, the Chinese government is shown rushing to the aid of Hong Kong, as they scramble fighters to "protect it at all cost". Not that those jets ever turn up of course. You also get the usual travelogue shots of the Great Wall and a brief scene in Beijing before everyone drives to Hong Kong which, for the record, is a four hour plane journey.
The pro-Chinese propaganda, sexism and product placement take the franchise to new lows.
In fact anyone with even a basic knowledge of Chinese geography will wonder why at one point a spaceship crashes in mountains outside Hong Kong that are actually hundreds of miles away. If you're familiar with Hong Kong at all, you'll laugh as people move from one side of the harbour to the other in the same scene and the 'Hong Kong' set that was built in Detroit for one battle scene is very shoddy. Still Transformers movies have always treated their audience like idiots, earlier in Age of Extinction the characters leave their town in Texas and are suddenly in Monument Valley, which is on the Arizona/Utah border. Still it isn't as insulting as watching the characters in Revenge of the Fallen go out the back of the Smithsonian in Washington DC and find themselves in a desert!
As a director Michael Bay is fast becoming a parody of himself, with his usual low angle shots, 360 degree pans and characters getting out of vehicles in slow motion. At least the film is technologically impressive, there's loads of big explosions and state-of-the-art special effects but they're wasted on incomprehensible and utterly boring fight scenes. On the plus side, some of the 3D shots look cool and the soundtrack is amped up to eleven, so if nothing else the film will be a great demo disc on Blu-ray. However in the cinema it just feels like being smashed around the head with a giant multi-coloured boxing glove for nearly three hours.
Despite the hope offered by the film's subtitle, the ending sets up yet another sequel and given that Age of Extinction has already made nearly $600 million worldwide, the fifth entry in the franchise is probably in pre-production right now. In the meantime, we've got Transformers: Age of Extinction in all its contemptible glory - avoid like the plague or they'll just keep making them!
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