I went into the fourth installment in the Transformers movie franchise, “Transformers: Age Of Extinction” (AOS) as a Michael Bay Transformers movie veteran. Gone was the awe and childlike wonder of seeing the heroes of my youth recreated on screen in all of their majestic, high-definition glory. Long gone was the hope of experiencing a transcendent sci-fi movie that could do for this toy franchise what “Guardians Of The Galaxy” did for Marvel’s D-list group of space adventurers. As I apathetically strolled into the movie with my expectations set lower than an ants scrotum, I found Transformers: AOS to be a decent, if unspectacular experience.
“AOS” takes place five years after the previous film (Transformers: Dark of the Moon). In the aftermath from the destruction of Chicago, the American government has taken up a zero tolerance stance against both Autobots and Decepticons, driving each side into hiding. Much like the previous films, the emotional core of the movie centers around a group of human characters whose lives get thrown into disarray with the arrival of the Autobots. The leader of this film’s unlucky band of schmoes is Cade Yaeger (Mark Wahlberg). Cade is a down on his luck engineer whose creations always seem to be one Lannister twin shy of an incestuous hook up. Cade spends his days and nights tinkering away in his barn/ ramshackle lab so that his sheltered teen-age daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) can have a life free of the mistakes that ensnared him in his youth. Cade’s latest endeavour involves him unknowingly bringing home a dilapidated autobot fugitive (Optimus Prime), in turn attracting the wrath of a covert government agency which is in cahoots with a tech company that is reverse engineering fallen Transformers to be used as military weapons. Chaos ensues.
AOE begins to feel less like its own movie and more like a 2 and a half hour, Transformers greatest hits montage. Bay seems to be playing it safe when he resorts back to his old tricks such as throwing in an actor who common sense would say should be too good to star in this movie (formerly John Malkovich, insert Stanley Tucci), a dreamy rebel with zero personality (formerly Josh Duhamel, insert Shane Dyson) and some low brow humor that’s probably going to fly over the heads of the movies target audience (formerly Sam’s parents discussing masturbation, insert jokes about Cade’s jailbait daughter). To be fair, at this point I was not going into Michael Bay’s Transformers movies seeking deep characterizations, witty banter and possibly the meaning of life (42). We go to Michael Bay Transformers movies to see him blow shit up, because he blows shit up REAL GOOD.
The visual effects and attention to detail on display in AOE is far ahead of the previous films. In earlier movies, AutoBots and Decpticons entwined in battle were almost indecipherable. In AOE, as the Transformers plow their hulking frames through traffic, you can make out tiny flailing humans, ejected from their cars and hurtling through the air amidst the carnage. With so much going on all over the screen I found myself suffering from adrenal fatigue long before the movie reached its climax. By the time an evil alien spaceship’s death magnet launched into its vicious assault by lifting cars, boats, buses and even giant robot dinosaur Transformers (WTF?) and violently plunging them back down toward the earth, the only observation that my shell-shocked mind could muster was, “well that’s certainly cool”. At 165-minutes, this film may demand a little too much focusing on one thing for today’s ADHD generation to handle.
I suspect that in order to find acceptance, one of the most difficult hurdles this film must conquer is viewer expectation. In 2014, the movie-going public is more savvy than ever, and a Hollywood blockbuster film with “4” in the title definitely screams cash grab. We know going in that Transformers 5 is already in pre-production. Perceptive fans are blissfully aware that producers had Sue Yueming (Bingbing Li) written into the film just so that they can slap her image on the foreign movie posters in order to sell more tickets in China. Knowing that the third act of the film takes place in China because the Chinese are Hollywood’s largest foreign market makes the audience feel as though this film is not even pretending to do anything but grab our hard-earned cash. None of us wants to step right up and be the poor rube suckered in by the Carney’s promises of the times of our lives. Once the audience begins to understand the techniques that the greedy studios use to get their hands into their pockets it becomes difficult for them to see certain films as having a single iota of artistic merit. The thing is that making movies is arduous, problematic and expensive. It takes teams of extremely talented people, busting their asses for thousands of hours to get a film through all the stages of production. There are so many points in which the process can so easily go wrong and when it does go wrong, the results are often horrible. Big budget summer blockbuster, set piece laden cinema is an art form and one of Michael Bay’s worst offence’s is making it look easy.
Given the option of going to the theatre to experience a “romantic dramedy”or alien car robots punching each other in the face, I’ll take the extraterrestrial fisticuffs every time. AOE never disappointed me, not because it was great but because my expectations were set pessimistically low and that is not necessarily a bad mindset to use to approach certain types of movies. Some days, I need a movie to make me laugh, some days I need a movie to make me question the world around me and then some days, seeing a movie featuring live-action versions of the toys from my youth engaging in well-choreographed nonsense is Exactly what I need.