I’m just going to come out and say this right from the start. If you want a spoiler free review it’s best to go elsewhere, or at least not past this first paragraph. Age of Extinction is such a horrendous, vile and horrible film in so many ways I just have to go into all of it. So, here’s a mini review. It is not as bad as Revenge of the Fallen. It actually does a few things right. Excels at times even. I just think that, perhaps, my resistance to the works of Michael Bay has finally worn out and as a result I have to pick this film apart. You’ll see what I mean about the film being horrible and yet being capable of excellence as I go along. Shall we get started?
Around 5 minutes into Transformers: Age of Extinction Cade Yeager (Marky Mark) and his comedic apprentice Lucas (T.J. Miller) meet up at an old cinema to buy scrap from it’s owner. The owner is gay. We know this because he has a comically limp handshake, wears tight fitting camp cowboy clothing, has a hip mini goatee and harbours resentment to his father. He is funny because he is gay. People who aren’t Michael Bay, or whatever actor he is vicariously living through in his films, are either funny because they are different or evil. Sometimes both. I don’t expect subtlety from Michael Bay. Not at all. I don’t even expect class or tact. But I’d like him to at least try.
Later in the film we are introduced to an Autobot called Drift how looks vaguely like a samurai and talks with a thick Japanese accent, complete with Haikus and calling Optimus “Sensei”. He is like this because Michael Bay wanted a Samurai one. He is voiced by Ken Watanabe because he is the only Japanese Actor Michael Bay, and seemingly the whole of Hollywood, has ever heard of. Did you know that Ken Watanabe’s English is pretty strong and doesn’t have a comically thick Japanese accent. He has an appropriately thick Japanese accent, but not comically. Someone told Watanabe to sound more Japanese. Now, from a design point I really like Drift’s look and the fact he’s the first triple changer in the movies. But did he have to be so cartoonishly, offensively stereotyped? Also, if you’re gonna have a Transformer that turns into a car and a helicopter why the hell isn’t it called Springer?
One new Transformer I liked was Hound. He isn’t the Hound of the cartoons, but he’s a decent enough interpretation. Most of the time. Voiced by John Goodman he is designed to be fat. There are jokes made about this because being fat is funny. Hound follows in the Autobot tradition established in the first Bay Transformers of threatening to kill the hero human characters because that tells you he’s trigger happy. He reminds you multiple times that he wants to kill stuff. Now, when he’s getting on with the killing, of Decepticons, he comes across as quite heroic and cool. Having a tank shell in his mouth like a cigar helps too. About halfway through this incredibly long film Hound sees a vagina monster. The vagina monster spits on him and Hound declares the monster to be “too ugly to live” and then shoots it and he laughs cos it is funny. It’s funny because he just shot a ugly vagina. This film is based on a range of children’s toys.
Are you getting the sense that I am tired of the same problematic crap in every Michael Bay Transformers film yet? If he wants to show how much of a bigoted idiot he is, that’s fine. But Bay should be doing it in films aimed at adults that have the ability to process these moments and say “that’s fucking offensively stupid. The director must be an idiot”. Transformers is a film that will be watched by a lot of children. When you show the kinds of tasteless stereotypes and scenes I just mentioned and present them as funny you are sending children a harmful message. You are teaching them that gay people are weird and should be laughed at. That cartoonish stereotypes are totally cool. That ugly things, specifically vaginas in this instance, should be killed. This is the same issue as could be taken with many characters from the previous films and you may find many of my issues with this film can be taken up with any Michael Bay film. And they should be. But to excuse them is to act as if it is OK for a director to have infinite resources at his wealth, produce utter crap and then ask us to pay a premium, especially with 3D tax, to be subject to this nonsense. We should be asking for better. We clearly don’t.
The thing is with Michael Bay is that part of us knows he may actually be capable of making a good film. He managed it with The Rock after all. He’s had a few close scraps with quality along the way. I even quite enjoy the first Transformers film but that is mostly due to it being the only one with any sense of wonder to couple with the initial feeling of seeing my childhood heroes depicted on screen for the first time. Quite often, even in this film, Michael Bay will present a beautiful shot. He has a strong eye for a postcard visual, it has to be said. He knows how to make a singular action shot look fantastic. He knows how to shoot and nail exactly the shots he’ll need for the trailer. It’s everything else he gets wrong.
Of all the characters, both robot and human, only one manages to be somewhat engaging and consistent. That being Kelsey Grammer’s CIA head man Harold Attinger. He has plans to rid the Earth of all Transformers, even the Autobots and he’ll be using tech mogul Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) to achieve it. Joyce has figured out how to utilise the metal the Transformers are made of to construct man made Transformers to act as military weapons. Yep, that old plot. Attinger manages, throughout the film, to stay fully focused on his goal and acts like the same character from one scene to the next. The same cannot be said of many of the other characters.
Optimus Prime acts all wise at times but mostly just wants to blow stuff up and be the Autobot equivalent of a Jersey Shore meat head shouting “come at me bro!”. He even proclaims that he is going to kill Attinger even though he made a promise to not kill any humans. He says this not long after crashing himself through two CIA vehicles that explode with at least one body being thrown from the wreckage. In another scene he has freed the Dinobots, or legendary warriors as they’re called here, and wants to command them. Apparently being freed by him isn’t enough to earn his trust. So after walking out of the ship calmly with Optimus, Grimlock and the Autobot leader fight because action. During this fight Optimus, the robot that once said “Freedom is the right of all sentient beings”, smacks Grimlock in the face, shouts “I AM GIVING YOU FREEDOM!” and then mounts the Dinobot whilst holding a sword to his neck and threatens to kill him if he doesn’t obey. Remember when Optimus Prime wasn’t a psychopath? No? You only remember the time he decapitated Megatron for helping and executed Sentinel Prime as he begged for his life? OK, fair enough. By the way, Optimus straight up shoots Attinger to death.
Thinking about it, there is another fairly consistent character. That being the Transformer mercenary Lockdown. He’s helping the CIA track down Transformers to collect a bounty on Optimus Prime’s head. Why he needs the CIA I couldn’t tell you. He, much like Attinger, stays singularly focused on his goal and that’s nice to see in a Michael Bay film. There’s plenty of argument to be made for his character being just a placeholder for the eventual arrival of Galvatron, who himself is merely here as a tease for what will come next. Lockdown is pretty much that but his demeanour and tone make him at least a little bit interesting to watch. Also, his face turns into a gun. Which probably would have made more sense on Galvatron thinking about it. What is good regarding Lockdown is that he represents a wider scope to the Transformers movie universe. He’s also given a chance to actually shine in the final battle which is something neither villain got in the previous film. If there’s anything this film has actually managed to do well in terms of story it is provide 2 solid villains in Lockdown and Attinger. Shame shaky motivations and plotting keep getting in the way of them really being stronger characters.
Age of Extinction has to be one of the most sloppily paced films I have seen in a long time. The first 20 or so minutes is spent hopping from one location to the next establishing characters and that’s about it. Eventually something resembling a plot sneaks into the film and you realise that we still haven’t met Galvatron of Joshua Joyce. Although, I suppose, if you’re going in blind you won’t be expecting them. From here on the film’s plot is there purely to act as connective tissue between action scenes. This is one of the most blatant examples of plot serving action I’ve seen recently. There’s a point where Joyce has a MacGuffin called The Seed, which is what he wanted all along, dangers are getting too real so he decides to relocate to China. This is because the studio wants to appeal to China so a large amount of the film must happen in Hong Kong. Also Chinese products and celebrities must appear.
Oh, the product placement. Oh man the product placement. When one of the early trailers came out I mentioned how in one shot alone I had spotted 8 company logos. I think in the entirety of the film there is maybe 8 scenes that don’t turn into an advert. I’m not exaggerating when I use the phrase “turn into an advert” either. In one of the first Hong Kong scenes moderately famous Chinese actress Li Bingbing, here as Joyce’s assistant Su Yueming who, fo course, knows kung fu, drinks from a bottle of some Chinese water whilst in a car. That is the establishing shot from the scene. Li Bingbing, in close up, with a bottle of branded water, with the logo pointed directly at the camera. Wait… Oh my God! I just remember the Oreo Transformer.
During an action scene within Joyce’s company headquarters, where the Autobots break in and shoot loads of stuff scaring a whole load of workers who are just there to do a job and likely not inherently evil, we briefly see and Oreo vending machine and stood next to it is an Oreo branded Transformer. I can’t remember if it gets shot or does anything. All I remember was being amazed that the film took the time to show a Transformer covered in Oreo branding. Now, I get all the vehicles in these films are product placement. You need the Transformers to be real world vehicle in order to sell the world it is set in as being just adjacent to ours. But when you stop the film to show us a Transformer that is covered in Oreo logos you are taking the fucking piss. Also, why don’t I have any Oreos? Oh my God! The scene where Marky mark stops to drink a Bud light after threatening a nerd! NO! I must move on.
The first thing Joyce shows his “Transformium” creating is a Fucking Beats ipod dock thing. Then a gun. Arrrghh! How does this pass? How did these scenes not get cut from the UK version? We’re meant to have tighter product placement rules here. Right, I’ll get off this subject now.
What else is wrong with this film? How’s about the way the camera pervs over the 17 year old character of Tessa Yeager (Nicola Peltz) despite us constantly being reminded that she’s considered a minor in many US states. They even go to lengths to explain the legal loophole that allows her to date a 20 year old guy who’s defining trait is that he can drive. Also, he has an Irish accent occasionally and, despite being introduced as a badass racer by saving the Yeager’s and instigating a big car chase, he then flip flops back and forth between action guy, coward and lecherous douche-bag. Mark Wahlberg’s character dismisses the idea that some things shouldn’t be invented and then says that’s how it should be at the end. This character arc happens because he shoots some things with his alien gun. In an early scene we’re meant to laugh as he threatens to assault an overweight black lady and an overweight couple who were brought up to his house to buy it because Marky Mark hasn’t been paying his bills. This is funny because they’re fat and aggression is how you should react to everything.
The film loves to tell you what has happened as it happens despite 100% of the people that view it being able to see what happens. Blind people technically aren’t viewing the film so I guess the audio description helps there. Although I’d love to know if the official audio description track says what has happened just as the characters say what has happened. Wonder if that would piss blind people off. Pisses me off when I’m watching a film. SHOW DON’T TELL YOU HACK! Sorry. There’s a number of times during action scenes where characters teleport locations and forms between shots. Sometimes from one shot to the next. During a car chase early on, for example, Optimus is in cab form and the next time we see him he’s fighting Lockdown on top of a building as the camera follows the Yeager’s in the fully sponsored rally car the boyfriend what’s his name is driving. This is bad. That is not how you cut action scenes together. This is how you cut together random parts of a complete action scene so as to achieve the effect of confusing viewers as to each characters current location and role in the scene.
I’m really not sure what else I can say about this film. Mentioning anything such as how long the film feels, how it could end at any time and no-one would care, how Optimus can suddenly fly in the last scene of the film, how the Dinobots are utterly wasted… all those things and more do not need mentioning. I believe I have accurately conveyed how bad this film is. I’ll reiterate that it is still not as bad as Revenge of the Fallen. That film is nigh on without merit in any way, shape or form. This at least has some nice shots, some competent villains and Mark Wahlberg seems to be at least trying. It’s everything else about this film that sucks and I just can’t put up with this sort of tripe being passed off as entertainment anymore. I always hear people say “oh but it’s a popcorn flick”. So was Jaws. So was Jurassic Park. So was X-Men Days of Future Past. You know what they all had in common other than being popcorn flicks? They didn’t suck. They were made to be films and to tell an actual story. Every scene had a purpose and the films were all accomplished without having a character shoot a vagina monster. Many film each year manage this feat. Why can’t we have just one Transformers film that isn’t horrible in almost every way. Someone, please, let Guillermo Del Toro make a Transformers film. Let anyone make a Transformers film. Anyone but Bay. He clearly has no interest in making these films be even remotely decent. This year (2014 if you’re reading in the future) is the 30th anniversary of Transformers. We celebrate it with this film and a line of toys that have one step transformations. Where the hell did this all go so wrong?