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Friday, June 27, 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction

I would write a snappy introduction but I'm currently busy working out just how many hours I've wasted of my life on these bloody movies...

Oh. Bloody hell.

This review is also up at Channel 24.

What it's about

Five years after the Battle of Chicago, an amateur inventor and his teenage daughter make a startling discovery that soon makes them the targets of rogue CIA agents, alien bounty hunters and an all-new breed of man-made Transformers - with the future of both the Autobots and the earth itself hanging in the balance.

What we thought

After three awful Transformers movies, I went in to Age of Extinction fully expecting the worst but, at about half an hour in, I was starting to wonder if perhaps I've always been too hard on Michael Bay and his mega-budget updates of this beloved 80s toy/ cartoon franchise. Or, at the very least, I was starting to think that maybe, just maybe Bay had finally learned something from his past mistakes and would finally deliver a moderately OK Transformers movie. After all, in the interim, he had made the perfectly captivating slice of trash-cinema, Pain and Gain, so maybe he had finally learned the basics of storytelling again, while at the same time working all the nastiness out of his system once and for all.

Not so much, as it turns out. Despite the film's passable opening act and in spite of having a few halfway decent elements to work with (a much improved leading man, more plot, a fine supporting cast, better robot designs, less blatant misogyny and frickin' dinosaur transformers!), the film's remaining two-and-a-quarter hours (!) did nothing but confirm Bay's title as the worst big-draw director working in Hollywood today.

Transformers: Age of Extinction isn't a terrible piece of crap because it has nothing at all going for it (see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen for that). It's a terrible piece or crap because it does. Bay has at his disposal a huge budget, state-of-the-art special effects and high production values, as well as a boatload of great actors (both in person and as voice-actors) and a basic plot that at last tries to make good use of the Transformers mythology - but all these individual elements manage to do in the end, is to remind us constantly of just how much better the resulting film should be.

Michael Bay is, very simply, a truly terrible storyteller and an inept, if undeniably flashy, director. That his films are often sexist, racist and mean-spirited is of secondary importance to the fact that he seems almost entirely unable to put together a film of any real coherence, let alone one of any intelligence or basic emotional engagement. Yes, Pain and Gain, The Rock and the first Bad Boys are semi-exceptions to this but even then, they have tended to work in spite of Michael Bay, not because of him.

More so than the first three Transformers films, Age of Extinction should have been really easy to get right. Not only is it automatically improved by having the increasingly likeable Mark Wahlberg taking over from the increasingly slappable Shia LaBeouf but, at its heart, the Transformers franchise has always really been a simple adventure story for young boys about cool vehicles turning into cooler giant-robots – some of which are obvious goodies and some of which are obvious baddies. It's about gee-whiz excitement, simple morality and huge robots hitting each other.

It ain't rocket science so why is Bay so utterly unable to make these films anything but the bloated, over-long, incoherent, stupid messes that they are? Once again, we have characters with little discernible personality and seriously wonky motivations, running around crumbling cities as huge robots punch each other for hours on end. It's loud, it's stupid and it's mind-pulverisingly boring.

One last thing: I know, I know, I know, I'm a stuffy film critic who only likes inaccessible art movies, preferably in any language other than English. Let me be clear about this – and I'm getting really tired of reiterating this point: I love good, mainstream Hollywood movies. I loved the Fault in Our Stars, Edge of Tomorrow and X-Men: Days of Future's Past, to name just a few recent. huge Hollywood releases. Transformers: Age of Extinction isn't a bad movie because it's a huge Hollywood blockbuster. It's a bad movie because it's a bad movie. And when there are so many good Hollywood movies being made, why on earth would you waste your hard-earned money on this?

(Incidentally, that 2-star rating may be a wee bit harsh , but Age of Extinction earns it for its absurd running-time alone. There is really no excuse for a Transformers movie to be 165 minutes long. No excuse at all.)

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