Movie Review: “Transformers – Age of Extinction”

28 Jun

In my more lucid moments, I hate that I saw this movie. The entire bloated “Transformers” franchise ranks with Diet Mountain Dew, “Supernatural,” Britney Spears, etc. in the “things that I rather enjoy but simultaneously am appalled by” category. And yes, it is beyond question that director Michael Bay is the Monsanto of Hollywood, and that this movie series is symptomatic of everything wrong with contemporary entertainment and global society.

But man, say what you will, I like to watch giant robots beat up on each other. And there is something to be said for the delirious, epileptic grandiosity of watching an alien robot warrior ride a gigantic fire-breathing mechanical tyrannosaurus into the midst of a city-destroying battle.

This time around, the human cast is substantially different. Shia LaBoeuf (who will not be missed) has been replaced by Mark Wahlberg in the role of a down-on-his-luck inventor. (Remember when “The World Is Not Enough” cast Denise Richards as a nuclear physicist? Wahlberg is about as believable as a “quirky science type”). After the Chicago-clobbering events of film #3, public opinion transformed against all aliens and the Transformers have faced systemic genocide. Wahlberg, however, manages to find the heroic Optimus Prime disguised as a run-down semi. Cue lots of explosions and showdowns with angry government officials, who (by virtue of the ubiquitously sinister military-industrial complex) have been working to assemble their own synthetic Transformers. Oh yeah, and there’s also a bounty hunter Transformer prowling around with motives of his own.

No one short of an outright masochist watches this series for plot coherence, so the less said the better.

But what matters, naturally, is not this film’s story, but rather its pyrotechnic special effects and massive levels of destruction. And this series does its action very, very well.

Last summer’s “Man of Steel” was intolerably destructive, vaguely nihilistic, and ponderous. The same cannot be said for this series: the last couple of “Transformers” movies have served up plenty of mesmerizing slo-mo images and gleefully kinetic action scenes, all designed specifically to appeal to one’s repressed inner child. It’s cheesy but also kind of great, like the Roger Moore era of Bond films. Very few other film franchises are willing (or have the budgets) to serve up this level of visual delirium, and things just keep getting more spectacular.

Most of this franchise’s egregious vices remain present. For instance, the product placement is so extreme as to be laughable. A full minute is devoted to watching robots blow up a Bud Light truck, after which Wahlberg pops open a bottle and takes a long drink. Moreover, it’s abundantly clear that Bay is pandering to the lucrative Chinese market – instead of relying on the patriotic tropes of its predecessors, “Age of Extinction” sets its final conflict in Hong Kong and pulls in a host of local film stars for cameos.

Yet oddly, “Age of Extinction” becomes watchable through its over-the-top commitment to the ludicrousness of its own central conceit. At this point, four movies in, it really wouldn’t be a “Transformers” film without relying on gratuitous absurdity and shameless cash-grabbing. It’s the Krispy Kreme Donuts of cinema – yes, you might have a stomachache afterwards, but it’s weirdly comforting in the moment. (As a plus, there’s far less crass humor and quasi-racism than in previous “Transformers” installments. It’s indulgent and bludgeoning, but not particularly offensive.)

If you saw the other movies, you’ll probably see this one. If your tastes are exclusively of the highbrow variety, you’ll stay far away. Maybe, just maybe, I still can’t believe I went to see this movie and am now writing this as a sort of cathartic absolution.

But still, robot dinosaurs. Enough said:

By this point, you probably know what you’re in for. It’s pretty satisfying, so long as one’s expectations are set at the proper level.

Normalized Score: 1.6

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Posted by on June 28, 2014 in Sci-Fi


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