As expected, Michael Bay’s latest Transformers film, Age of Extinction, is a complete mess, but the most egregious thing about it is that there is a solid Transformers story in there somewhere, it’s just that Bay buries it under unnecessary noise, characters, and general stupidity.
Warning for anyone who cares: SPOILERS throughout.
The basic problem with Bay’s Transformers films is that he still doesn’t understand that they are called TRANSFORMERS, not “Humans in Close Proximity to the Transformers.” Too much focus is put on the human characters, ultimately detracting from the story involving the robots. In this installment, the useless humans are Mark Wahlberg’s Cade Yeager, his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), and her boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor). These characters are supposed to form the heart of the movie, but Michael Bay doesn’t get the fact that the characters that the fans are supposed to care about are the Autobots. Yes, in the cartoon, Spike and Sparkplug and the rest were along for the ride, but the stories centered on the war between the Autobots and Decepticons and how it affected the people of Earth, but the focus never left the Transformers. So, Cade and his family sitcom problems take up a large portion of the story, but in the overall scheme of things, their issues are just filler in a movie that is already nearly three hours long. It’s pointless. Cade finds a wounded Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), patches him up, and then gets swept up in a shadow war between the Transformers and the CIA. After Prime leaves Cade’s farmhouse, that should have been the end of his involvement in the story. Instead, he and his family hang on and demonstrate their latent superhuman abilities as they manage to be in the middle of battles between robots as big as buildings and escape without a scratch. In fact, at one point, Cade fights off villain Lockdown (Mark Ryan) with his sheer strength. Yes, a human fights off a giant robot killing machine. I know Wahlberg’s got some big guns, but come on. I can buy into a race of sentient robots fighting a war on Earth, but these three fragile human beings surviving the ridiculous feats they do is a bridge too far.
Another problem with this Transformers film in particular is that it suffers from a comic book movie problem of too many villains. You have the evil CIA guy, Attinger (Kelsey Grammer); his right-hand man, Savoy (Titus Welliver); the aforementioned Lockdown, who is neither Autobot nor Decepticon; the Steve Jobs-esque Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), who is more of a gray character, but starts out as a villain; and Galvatron (Frank Welker), who is created by Joyce when he and his scientists crack the code of the metal the Transformers are made of, “Transformium.” Yes, that is a real plot point and no, Unicron is not in this movie to change Megatron into Galvatron—epic fail. Still, Galvatron is basically Megatron resurrected, but it is treated as such a throwaway plot point it’s ridiculous. Basically, Galvatron’s involvement amounts to him being the big bad, then throwing a tantrum like a 12-year-old girl, and then going to his room to cry about it. Seriously. Anyway, that’s five villains right there that have to be dealt with in some way in the course of this excruciatingly long film. Too many spinning plates and too many threads to tie together.
This leads to the plot of the film and what passes for a script by Ehren Kruger. The screenplay is literally filled with characters just saying words that have no impact or meaning in the context of the story. They just say things to fill the time—it’s just noise. Nothing that’s said in the dialogue carries any weight at all and there are several instances of characters just regurgitating the rundown of what happened in previous scenes. When you see the Black Ops team Cemetery Wind hunting a Transformer down, they just say things that sound cool to Michael Bay instead of being silent killers. When Lockdown explains the Transformers’ origins to Prime, Prime doesn’t react in any way and then spouts off the information later as if he knew it all along. It’s one of the most incoherent and stupid scripts I’ve ever seen put to film. Half way through the movie I turned to Dirty A and said, “What the fuck is this movie even about?” He could only shrug. Age of Extinction was supposed to be a fresh start for the Transformers brand, but instead they made a film that was even more convoluted than before.
This confusion extends to the characters themselves. I don’t know what character Peter Cullen is playing in this film, but he sure isn’t Optimus Prime. All Prime does besides spout exposition is scream that he’s going to kill everyone. That’s not the Prime I remember from the cartoon. Prime was always about peace and using violence as a last resort. But, this is a Michael Bay film and peace is for pussies.
Bay does succeed in finally making the robots look different enough from each other that the audience can tell them apart in a lineup, but the characteristics he gives them are so ridiculous, they boggle the mind. In making the robots more human, he exaggerates the wrong attributes in an attempt to make them relatable. Ken Watanabe voices Drift, who is literally a samurai Transformer. Why the hell would an alien being look and act like a Japanese samurai? I have no issue with Watanabe voicing the part, but to make an alien robot adopt an ancient piece of Japanese history and culture as his primary persona is beyond stupid. You know what’s dumber than that? Having Hound (John Goodman) be a pot-bellied robot that smokes a bullet like a cigar and has a shaggy beard. Does the car he transforms into have a pot-belly? Noo…. Then, there’s Crosshairs (John DiMaggio), who has a duster coat built into his body. Really? This all goes to the major problem I have with Bay as a whole—the man does not understand subtlety at all. When Cemetery Wind goes to question Wahlberg about Optimus Prime, they show up looking all badass and threatening everyone from the start. Why not try talking to the guy first instead of instantly intimidating him? Because this is a Michael Bay movie and intelligence is for pussies—sensing a pattern here? This extends to what passes for humor in this film—everything is played for obvious and cheap laughs, because if it’s too subtle the audience might not get it.
The biggest excuse I get from people about why these movies are so awful is: “But they’re made for teenage boys.” Bullshit. I could list dozens of films that are high-quality and are targeted at teenage boys, but I only have to pick one: The Avengers. The Avengers was a big-budget, action spectacular that didn’t talk down to its audience, was genuinely funny, avoided offensive and misogynistic characters, and had a coherent script. It appealed to everyone, and made a shit-ton of cash on top of it. Instead, with the Transformers films, we get lowest common denominator films that could have been great science fiction epics. It’s sad.
The acting is okay save for Reynor, whose Irish accent goes in and out at will, and Peltz, who achieves Kristen Stewart levels of “constipation face.” Tom Lennon shows up as the President’s Chief of Staff, who is so over-the-top in his comic relief that his character is made to be unbelievable. Compare that with his doctor from The Dark Knight Rises, who was slyly funny, while also appearing to be competent at his job. Well, this is a Michael Bay film and competency is for pussies. The Dinobots show up for the last fifteen minutes of the film, but their inclusion is so inexplicable I can’t even go into it.
The most maddening part about this whole exercise is that there was a decent Transformers film to be made here. The problem is that Bay buries it under a ton of unnecessary story elements and characters with a massive helping of stupidity thrown in for good measure. It’s almost as though he was willfully making this movie as incoherently stupid as possible. There’s about 90 minutes worth of necessary story here and Bay added another 75 minutes to it. This film just would not end. But still, it wasn’t as bad as Revenge of the Fallen. Do not waste your time with this one. If you want a good Transformers film—nay, the ONLY good Transformers film—check out 1986’s Transformers: The Movie.