(Our friend Rohan Morbey sat through Transformers: Age of Extinction, and all he got for his pains was a cross-post of his intensely disappointed write-up. Rohan continues to write prolifically at Stop Thinking For Yourself UK; we strongly recommend that you follow Rohan on Twitter.)
During my screening of Transformers: Age Of Extinction I could hear a man a few rows away from me talking out loud. I looked over and saw he was telling the kid behind him to stop kicking his chair; the kid didn’t hear him at first so he spoke a bit louder and the message was understood. It dawned on me at this point that this brief dialogue between two strangers had captivated my attention in a way the action on screen had failed to for the past two hours. I welcomed the distraction. Finally something was happening in the room which wasn’t a total bore. I kind of hoped the person behind me might start kicking my chair too, but they were selfishly well behaved and that brief respite away from the film was denied.
Never has a film shown us so much yet given us so little as Transformers: Age Of Extinction. Director Michael Bay throws everything at the screen during a running time longer than any of his three previous entries in the series, using up every last cent of the reported $200+ million budget to deliver state-of-the-art special effects which must have taken each of the creative artist all of the talent and skill to design and create, but fails to meet even the most basic, entry-level results you would expect. Bay’s attitude towards this fourth film is strikingly lackadaisical for a man who has become the king of pushing the limits of on-screen chaos (or ‘Bayhem’ as it has become known); whereas before directors like Peter Berg or Zack Snyder have clearly been influenced by (or plainly copied) his style, Bay has now made a film which looks like an imitation of his own style.
There is not one scene of the innovative action or style for which Bay has become famous. I have often said ‘love him or hate him, no one does carnage like Bay’ but with his latest film he’s simply phoned it in which is something he couldn’t be accused of before. Each set piece is the same as the last in terms of look, setting, execution, lack of tension, lack of excitement, and lack of awe. As much as I disliked the last Transformers film, it did have a five minute sequence of sheer brilliance as a skyscraper collapses and the humans within must hang on for dear life; in this scene Bay showed his best action direction since The Rock 15 years before. Bad Boys II was a nasty, gross film but damn it if that highway chase with the car transporter isn’t still one of the most pulse-pounding and innovative car chases I ever seen. Even the first Transformers film had some decent sequences before it went out of control, showing the audience CGI magic the likes of which we’d not seen before.
Yet Bay offers us precisely nothing here except a complete lack of understanding as to what makes an action sequence work. There is no tension, no build-up or gradual escalation, and no stakes. Sadly he seems to think shooting at the magic hour automatically makes a scene resonate with emotion but it’s all for effect and never for story with Bay. Moreover, with everything looking so false and fake for the majority of the film, the sunsets and red skies have no appeal and look as flat as the rest of the film.
Moreover, the film not only causes chaos in Chicago again but moves the action to Hong Kong for no other reason than to sell tickets in Asia; a wise move from a financial perspective on Paramount’s part, but Bay takes absolutely zero advantage of the change of location. In a James Bond or Mission: Impossible film the film makers would make the sequences unique to the locations, but in Transformers it’s just another load of tall buildings to destroy. And the product placement is obscene throughout the film without the slightest attempt to make it part of the film. I won’t lay all the blame on Bay here but someone needs a slap across the face for forcing this level of blatant and constant brand exposure into any movie.
At 166 minutes, the film is agonisingly too long for the story it is trying to tell, but what makes it even worse is the screenplay by Ehren Kruger, the man who penned the previous two films in the series. In the hands of Kruger and Bay the film easily has at least one awful moment during every minute of screen time; whether it is a camera angle or movement which makes no sense in context with the scene, an atrocious line of dialogue, awful acting, an attempt at humour which falls flat, a music cue which makes you cringe, character motivations which are idiotic even for this franchise, or making the plot (such as it is) become ever more unfathomable. That’s a minimum of 150 uniquely awful moments, minus the final credits.
I couldn’t list all the issues I had with the film because my memory is actively pushing them out as I write this review, but some are proving hard to forget:
• The language is revolting for a film aimed at kids and the ‘family ticket’ with Transformers saying ‘bitch’, ‘ass’, ‘I really want to kill someone’, ‘I want some scalps’, and a human dropping the F-bomb and wanting to run over innocent people whilst they make an escape.
• The inclusion and discussion of statutory rape in a film about aliens which transform into cars.
• The objectification of yet another female lead.
• Why do we need to see a man’s burnt corpse in this film?
• Why do any of the humans, and in particular the daughter and boyfriend, go to Hong Kong? What purpose can they possibly serve?
• Eye gouging and violent fist fights in a film based on toys and cartoons.
• A Transformer smoking a metal cigar – How and Why?
• Optimus Prime can fly – Why was this not used before?
• Who are the massive robots and why do they transform into dinosaurs and how can they breathe fire?
• The entire plot. Nothing makes sense.