In the 2002 edition of his book The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, author and film historian David Thomson spelled out his opinion of director Michael Bay in plain terms; he makes garbage, noisy garbage. That was twelve years ago. Having now seen the fourth in this ever-lasting series of metal crunching, ear-splitting, coma-inducing adventures, Transformers: Age of Extinction, you’ll discover that nothing has changed, he’s still making garbage, and it’s still really, really noisy.
In this fourth installment, the Witwicky’s are gone. Instead, we now have the Yeagers, robotics inventor Cade (Mark Wahlberg) and his long-legged, teenage nymphet of a daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz) who live together in a massive country home where the Stars and Stripes continually flutters in the calm, summer breeze just above the porch. Watching that flag gently flap is the only calming moment in this 165 minute film; and that’s no joke; it really is 165 minutes long. Within seconds of Cade finding an old, rusty truck hidden away in an abandoned, downtown movie theatre and hauling it back to his oversized, workshop barn, everything explodes, literally. The truck is no ordinary truck, it’s Optimus Prime in hiding, and once the Transformer reveals its true self, the adventure begins… again.
What follows in terms of story isn’t really important. There’s little sense in going into any detail about how crooked government agents are hunting everyone down, lead by the loathsome Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), or the robotics company that wants to build its own form of Transformers, lead by the impatient Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci). These are the bad guys who know not what they do, or what the consequences of their actions are going to lead to. All that fans are really waiting for is to see the giant, metallic equivalents of Godzilla and King Kong trounce each other while demolishing everything around them, and as this is a Michael Bay film, there’s no waiting period.
There’s no defending things; this is lousy filmmaking to the extreme, and beyond. Each scene is an exercise in mayhem, every frame practically stuffed with business that dazzles and overwhelms and has no chance of making any kind of sense before the film cuts away to some other busy business. Plus, characters don’t’ talk to each other – there’s no time, even in a film that lasts as long as this one – they shout, scream, bicker and spout some of the most inane lines of dialog heard since, well, the last Transformer movie.
Consider this: Wahlberg and his daughter have just been chased by all kinds of agents with murderous intent while dodging bullets, rockets and sweeping attacks from these giant monsters. Their house has just exploded into fragments, Cade’s best friend and partner was incinerated and they’ve just been rescued within an inch of their lives by the daughter’s secret boyfriend (Jack Reynor) who appears out of nowhere in his speeding car at just the right moment, and what does everyone argue about? The appropriate age of dating for a teenage daughter. “This is a non-dating household,” Cade exclaims. I’m not kidding.
In the production’s defense, it should be pointed out what these Transformer movies really are. They’re either the worlds most expensive exercise in product-placement – a giant, over-stuffed infomercial for the purchase of Hasbro toys with a not so subtle nod to Victoria’s Secret – or they’re simply viewed by the producers, including executive producer Steven Speilberg, as financial investments with a guaranteed high return disguised as a movie, and Michael Bay is the perfect helmer to make that commercial look good while he blows things up.
The early scenes at Cade’s country home with that flag waving and the warm, twilight sun always setting in the background looks less like a scene from a real film and more like a well-shot public service announcement for a patriotic Fourth of July. All the women throughout, whether it be Cade’s daughter, office workers, government agents or someone simply walking by in the streets, look and dress like the manifestation of a male sexual fantasy. And the action is endless. It’s amazing how something so loud, so busy and so full of incredible images can also be so boring. Bay directs action but he can’t make it exciting. The sight of Wahlberg hanging by his fingers from an outside a/c unit hundreds of stories high should be a nail-biter, yet it does nothing. It just hangs there. How can the sight of a giant ball chasing Indiana Jones in an Amazon jungle be the most surprising and thrilling few seconds of cinema you’ve ever seen while Bay can’t make a single moment of his almost three hour epic click no matter how grand and well executed the effects may be? It’s an amazing achievement.
“The age of the Transformers is over,” declares a villainous Kelsy Grammer to his special ops minions early in the movie. If only.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 165 Minutes Overall Rating: 2 (out of 10)