June 25th 2014. Argentina defeated Nigeria in their World Cup match. The music world acknowledged the fifth anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death. Iggy Azalea and Charli XCX’s “Fancy” continued its battle over the airwaves for the title of official summer song of the year against Chris Brown and Lil Wayne’s “Loyal”. I had a Mario’s mini-Hawaiian-special pizza for lunch and washed it down with a medium Coke (talk about eating healthy). Oh, and “Transformers: Age of Exploration”….oops, I meant “Age of Extinction” came out as well!
Yes, ladies and gents, three years after the debacle that was “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” (one of the worst movies I saw in 2011), action director extraordinaire Michael Bay and executive producer/ iconic filmmaker Steven Spielberg gives us yet ANOTHER installment in their metallic ass-kicking, explosive-detonating, blowing-money-fast….ing, live-action “Transformers” movie franchise. Now if you ain’t up on thangs, “Transformers” is based on both the Hasbro toy line and CLASSIC TV cartoon series of the same name. The first “Transformers” movie, which came out a mere seven years ago, delivered incredible visual effects, well-crafted sound design, human characters that the audience can care about, BAD-ASS robot characters that the audience can root for (whether Autobot or Decepticon), a somewhat cohesive plot, genuine moments of fun and humour, and of course, SUPERB action sequences. The second and third Transformers movies (“Revenge of the Fallen” and “Dark of the Moon”) however gave us incredible visual effects, ear-numbing sound design, human characters that the audience didn’t give a shit about, walking piles of garbage masquerading as BAD-ASS robot characters that the audience couldn’t root for (since it’s hard to discern who’s Autobot or Decepticon), incoherent plots, failed attempts at humour and of course, mindless action sequences.
Like its three predecessors, “Transformers: Age of Exemption”….oops, I meant “Age of Extinction” is a commercial success. It already passed the $400 million mark in the global box office, and is expected to hit $600 million by the end of the July 4th weekend. However, like “Revenge of the Fallen” and “Dark of the Moon”, it has been the target of negative criticism, with many critics and viewers making mention of its long running time, redundant action scenes and muddled plot. But after years of making mindless action movies, Michael Bay seems to be the least bit concerned with what critics think of his latest film. When asked about the critics in a recent interview, Bay said, and I quote: “They love to hate, and I don’t care; let them hate. They’re still going to see the movie!” Ironically, his statement couldn’t be more true. I knew I’d probably loathe this movie with every ounce of my being. I knew I shouldn’t have spent my hard-earned money to see it in 3D. I knew I should’ve stayed home yesterday afternoon and watched the Netherlands vs. Costa Rica World Cup quarter-final match (I did watch the Argentina vs. Belgium match though). But nope. I left the house, went to the nearest movie theater, paid $38 for a ticket, got a pair of cheap-ass 3D glasses, paid for an extra-large bag of popcorn and extra-large cup of Pepsi (talk about eating healthy), got an extra-large bag of popcorn and two small cups of Pepsi because the concession stand ran out of extra-large cups (no comment), and sat through “Transformers: Age of Enlightenment”….oops, I meant “Age of Extinction”
And now the moment at least TWO of you were waiting for! Here’s my review of one of the most highly-anticipated movie releases of the year; the “Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull”, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”, “Jaws the Revenge” (maybe), “Batman & Robin” (could be), “Fast & Furious” (yeah, I hated the SHIT out of that movie), “Underworld: Awakening”, “Spy Kids: All the Time in the World (in 4D!!!) – or any other unnecessary Part 4 of a movie franchise that you can think of – of 2014: “TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EMPIRES”… you know what? Fuck it! Imma just shorten the title! “TRANSFORMERS: AOE”!!!! There! That’s much better!
Four years has past since the cataclysmic ‘Battle of Chicago’ (i.e. the final confrontation between the Autobots and Decepticons in “Dark of the Moon”). An elite CIA unit called Cemetery Wind (sounds like the name of a rock band, doesn’t it?). headed by agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), are assigned to hunt and destroy the last remaining Transformers. Assisting the unit is a vicious Transformer bounty hunter by the name of Lockdown (voiced by British actor Mark Ryan, who previously did the voice for the archaic Autobot Jetfire in “Revenge of the Fallen”). Meanwhile, in Texas, struggling inventor Cade Yeager (Marky Mark of Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch) and his mechanic friend Lucas (T.J. Miller) purchase an old truck so they can strip it for parts and make enough money to send Cade’s 17-year old daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) to college. Unbeknownst to the three Texans, the truck is actually a badly-injured Optimus Prime (voiced once again by Peter Cullen). Also unbeknownst to the trio is that Cemetery Wind caught wind (get it?) of Optimus’ presence and transportation to Yeager’s home, so with the help of Lockdown, they pay Cade, Tessa and Lucas an impromptu visit. Optimus comes to the trio’s aid, kicking ass in the way you’d expect a gigantic bot hiding in a barn to do and getting them to safety in the way you’d expect in a Michael Bay movie. Explosions, characters running away from explosions, car chases and dialogue spoken during car chases (“We gotta lose them in that cornfield”). Awww yeah! That’s that shit right there!
Now imagine for a minute that you’re Michael Bay. Yes, YOU! Now let’s say you weren’t interested in making another Transformers film. I mean, you’ve done three of these films before, and you’re tired. You want to move on and do something else, like “Bad Boys 3”, “Armageddon: The Reunion” or “Pearl Harbor 2”. But the higher-ups want a brand-new Transformers film trilogy, and they wanted you, and ONLY YOU, to get the ball rolling. Why? Because you’re Michael Bay, and NOBODY wants to see a Transformers movie NOT directed by you. So you set out to make the biggest, baddest Transformers movie ever conceived by a human being. You throw everything onto the screen – even the kitchen sink! You get a new cast. You get new Transformers. You add beloved characters from the animated series to get the fanboys hyped up over another Transformers film (*COUGH*Dinobots*COUGH). You expand the universe of the Transformers themselves from the original trilogy. But here’s the problem. YOU’RE MICHAEL BAY! Moviegoers by now know exactly what to expect from your films. If you don’t do that, your films won’t make $100 million dollars on its opening weekend. And with an ego as big as yours, you couldn’t give a rat’s ass what the critics have to say about your movie.
Herein lies ONE of the problems with “Transformers: AOE”. Structurally, it has the same narrative set-up as the previous films. Human hero is saved by a bot from getting killed by a bot in Act 1; a hodgepodge of sub-plots involving government secrets involving the bots and some device of great significance to the bots that the human hero has to get before the bad bots and the bad government guys get to it in Act 2; and BAYHEM (Michael Bay’s version of mayhem. This is a real term! Google it if you think I’m lying) in Act 3. In other words, this movie is the same ol’ same. I will admit that the plot of “AOE” is more interesting than the dreadful “Dark of the Moon”, but within the context of the film, it gets more and more convoluted when you really think about it – even when your brain is on the floor somewhere by the entrance of the movie theater making a bloody mess.
The main sub-plots include a corporation that creates its own Transformers (by means of a molecular metal called….wait for it………wait for it…….TRANSFORMIUM. You may stop reading and facepalm yourself at this point) for the simple reason stated by Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), the head of the corporation, that humans don’t need Autobots anymore; Lockdown himself, who kills Transformers as mercilessly as the gun that protrudes out of his face (believe me, it may sound silly, but it looks freaking AWESOME) allows him to, but has his own elaborate plan for Optimus Prime; and a device called a “seed” (the film’s MacGuffin) – with the power to wipe out life on Earth – that seemingly EVERY bad guy in the movie is trying to acquire. Now I get that Michael Bay and screenwriter Ehren Kruger (who, not surprisingly, wrote the scripts for the last two Transformers films) were trying desperately to add substance into their already-stylized movie, and expand the Transformers universe wide enough to warrant two more films in this new trilogy. Had they cut out at least ONE of these sub-plots from the script (more particularly, the Joshua Joyce one) and left it for the next film, they would’ve had a tighter, more cohesive story. But nope. This is a Michael Bay movie. Bigger…or should I say….bloated is “better”, right?
Which brings me to the second problem with “AOE” – and this is the point that EVERY review of this movie will mention: the length! HOLY SHIT is this movie long!! It’s not as long as “Pearl Harbor” (183 minutes), but with a running time of 163 minutes, this movie is literally a mental exercise in tedium. Action sequences play out longer than necessary, from the film’s first chase scene to the grandoise, seemingly ENDLESS battle scene in the final act. Non-action moments play out like filler, with story arcs that you don’t give a shit about, and characters that you try to give a shit about, but CAN’T – and not because it’s a Michael Bay movie and you’re not expected to care about anything other than the action sequences, but because their dramatic needs are forgotten, and ignored, within the grand scope of the film.
Take the two main characters of the film: Cade Yeager and Optimus Prime. Cade starts off as an inventor who wants to send his daughter Tessa to college. His flaw is the over-protective attitude he has for his daughter (who, like all young female co-stars in Michael Bay films, looks REALLY HOT), which reaches a fever pitch when her purposeless idiot of an race car-driving Irish boyfriend Shane Dyson (Jack Reynor) shows up. Unfortunately, this bit of character set-up is blown to bits once the action starts. These bits are collected in the film’s filler moments, but are blown up once again when the action commences. The same goes for Optimus Prime. Hunted and hated by the very same humans he defended for THREE MOVIES STRAIGHT, Optimus starts off as being physically battered and emotionally frustrated. Even when he re-unites with his buddy Bumblebee (and thank goodness there’s no Shia LaBeouf yelling “BUMBLEBEEEEEE!!!! OPTIMUUUUUUS!” in this movie) and teams up with some new Autobots, he still harbours hatred for the humans who killed his Autobot brethren. Like Mark Wahlberg’s character, Optimus’ character set-up is pretty interesting, but once the fireworks begin, it stops being interesting. Matter of fact, it doesn’t even exist. In other words, characterization is ultimately sacrificed for flashy, large-scale action sequences – to the point that when the smoke clears, you really don’t care about the characters involved in all the Bayhem. Hell, you don’t even care about the DINOBOTS in this movie. “AOE” reduces these popular characters into primal beasts that Optimus and his team have to subdue – just so the Autobots can ride them like cavalry horses into battle during the film’s last twenty minutes. But hey, bloated is “better”, remember?
So what was good about “AOE”? Well, the spectacular action sequences, impressive sound design and PHENOMENAL visual effects are worth the admission price. I liked the bits of personality (both in appearance and character) given to the new Autobots (like the rotund Hound – voiced by John Goodman – the most memorable Autobot in that group), and I was very impressed by the way they worked together as a team in the second act. Lockdown was a decent antagonist, both in his menacing demeanour and battle tactics, although I couldn’t shake the fact that he reminded me a lot of the Winter Soldier character from “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”. With the exception of T.J.Miller and Jack Reynor, most of the performances were good, especially from Mark Wahlberg who, despite his two-dimensional character, really stood out as a better leading man in a Transformers film than Shia (“”BUMBLEBEEEEEE!!!! OPTIMUUUUUUS!”) LaBeouf.
In the end, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” is EXACTLY what you expect it to be – only bigger, longer and louder. It is WAY better than “Revenge of the Fallen” and “Dark of the Moon”, but it is in no way superior to the first Transformers movie. If you enjoyed the last two movies, you’ll enjoy the hell out of “AOE”. If you only enjoyed the first film (like I did), then you’ll be disappointed as hell by “AOE”. As a mindless, action-packed popcorn movie, it works, but the punishing length, monotonous action scenes, ideologically incoherent narrative, shameless product placement (Lamborghini, Bugatti, Victoria’s Secret, Bud Light and OREO…..WTF??!!!!….anyone?) and facepalm-worthy dialogue (like Nicola’s “There’s a missile in the living room!” line for example) WILL challenge the viewer’s patience. While it isn’t THE dumbest film I’ve seen in 2014, it is definitely the most entertaining dumb movie I’ve seen so far. Nicola Pentz said it best (in one of the most unintentionally HILARIOUS lines I’ve heard in a movie all year): “You can’t keep spending your money on junk”. So true. So true. Talk about eating healthy.
MY RATING: 1 1/2 out of 5 stars (“THAT SHIT CRAY!”)