‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ review: A film that defies all attempts to label it

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July 3, 2014 by Hope W.

Optimus Prime on a Dinobot in Transformers: Age of Extinction

Optimus Prime riding a Dinobot in Transformers: Age of Extinction

There are blockbusters, and there are *BLOCKBUSTERS* — the latter arriving in theatres screaming themselves hoarse with whizzbang special effects and ostentatious, ubiquitous publicity campaigns. Transformers: Age of Extinction falls firmly on the extreme end of the latter category, and will probably remain the end point of the scale until Michael Bay tops it, once again, with the untitled-but-practically-guaranteed Transformers 5. For now, it’s safe to say I have never seen a louder, more epilepsy-inducing, incoherent film in my life.

I managed to follow the storyline right up till they went to Hong Kong. Or maybe until they got onto that alien ship in Chicago. It might even have been before that; I can’t remember much, except really bright colours and non-sequitur action sequences. They had places to get to, and things to do, and I didn’t know why they were going to those places or doing those things, or why characters showed up. Why were there dinobots? Are they fossilised dinosaurs from millions of years ago who have now turned immortal? Why were they imprisoned in the dojo place full of swords? Why was the dojo on the spaceship in the first place, since Optimus seems to have been there before? Does that mean that Optimus has been on the spaceship before? But how is that possible? (One more from a friend: Why is it that Optimus can fly?)

Actually, scratch all these — I have an even more pressing main question: Who is the enemy, and why did he have a beef with Optimus Prime?

Optimus Prime in Transformers: Age of Extinction

Optimus Prime in Transformers: Age of Extinction

And wasn’t the Seed supposed to explode or something? Why was it going to explode? Why didn’t it explode in the end? What would have set it off anyway? If it was a “tactical nuke”, why even bother to put it in the outskirts of Hong Kong? Why did they even go to Hong Kong? WHAT IS HAPPENING?!

The only reason I didn’t have a meltdown in the cinema was because I was too numbed by the bombardment of my senses to do anything but sit there and take it. So that’s how subliminal brainwashing works. I couldn’t even fall asleep, though I was feeling extremely tired, because I was afraid that I might miss the part where something finally explains what is happening. (Fat hope.) The ear-splitting sound effects were another reason — I was watching The Fault in Our Stars the other day and we could feel the vibrations from the *next* hall playing Age of Extinction.

Bumblebee in Transformers: Age of Extinction

Bumblebee in Transformers: Age of Extinction

But I suppose the Transformers series has done well for itself because it knows its audience and caters to the id. It has never been about the plot or the characters — only the visual candy on screen and the absolutely coolness of cars transforming into robots that bypasses our higher functions and gets to the kid inside all of us, every time, despite having seen it in four movies now. I can offer no other explanation for why each subsequent installment keeps earning more than the previous, though the storylines have gotten worser. (Though Age of Extinction is better than Dark of the Moon. The third movie just… sucked.)

I mean, they didn’t even bother to come up with new characters, though they are “new” characters. Mark Wahlberg is basically Shia Labeouf’s character grown up, if he was an inventor and he didn’t buy a Transformer in his teens — except better-looking and with bigger “guns”. Stanley Tucci is a smarter version of John Turturro’s screwball character. Nicola Peltz = Megan Fox. Jack Reynor = Shia Labeouf to a lesser extent. Doofus friend played by T.J. Miller who gets fried to a crisp = doofus friend played by Ramon Rodriguez who doesn’t get fried to a crisp in Revenge of the Fallen. You get the drift.

Mark Wahlberg (Cade Yeager), Bumblebee and Jack Reynor (Shane Dyson) in Transformers: Age of Extinction

Mark Wahlberg (Cade Yeager), Bumblebee and Jack Reynor (Shane Dyson) in Transformers: Age of Extinction

In the hands of any other filmmaker, I would call it a terrible film. In the hands of Michael Bay though, it is nearly his crowning achievement. He unleashes the full force of all his trademarks in this movie, and I swear he has outdone himself this time: Extreme close-ups of people looking intense! Slow-mo shots! Slow-mo low-angle shots! Slow-mo, dramatic shots of people cocking their guns! Slow-mo, extreme close-up shots of people reacting to things, dramatically! Some moments are truly stunning, such as when Optimus and Bumblebee were transforming in mid-air, and all the humans sitting in Bumblebee were flung head over heels, IN SLOW-MO, into the waiting hands of Optimus.

Mark Wahlberg in Transformers: Age of Extinction. There is an exact same low-angle slow-mo shot in Revenge of the Fallen.

Mark Wahlberg in Transformers: Age of Extinction. There is an exact same low-angle slow-mo shot in Revenge of the Fallen.

AND THE PRODUCT PLACEMENTS. The Bud Light moment where Mark Wahlberg opens a bottle and drinks it before proceeding to kick some guy’s ass made me laugh the most. I would have *paid* to be in the pitch meeting between the filmmakers and the sales team: “Ok, here are all the sponsors we’ve managed to get. Let’s see how we can fit all of them into this movie. Hey, how about getting Stanley Tucci to take a breather on the rooftop and drink some ShuHwa Milk™ from a conveniently placed refrigerator?”

Michael Bay and Nicola Peltz on the set of Transformers: Age of Extinction

Michael Bay and Nicola Peltz on the set of Transformers: Age of Extinction

Age of Extinction feels like the movie that Michael Bay has been working all his life to get to — his latest high point in his career directing commercials masquerading as films. It could have been his magnum opus, except that it stopped being fun halfway through the bloated, nearly-three-hours-long runtime and started feeling like overkill. Even the score sounded fatigued after the 20th reiteration of a dramatic musical cue during the 20th dramatic fight. If his two-and-a-half-hour-long Armageddon can be entertaining from start to finish, I don’t see why he can’t one-up himself and make the biggest, dumbest, longest, most explosive assault of the senses whilst remaining fun all the way through.

Seriously, I think Michael Bay is amazing; and I’m not being sarcastic. Making ridiculous blockbusters is an art by itself — it is no mean feat to keep track of a production of thousands and gel all the elements together in a fairly cohesive structure. But it takes a very special skill set to make blockbusters that people hate, directed by a guy that people hate, but will still anticipate watching anyway. However people feel about him, they cannot deny that he delivers returns, after first wringing the hell out of his mega budget. There are blockbusters that you think “Huh, it costs $200 million?”, but in Transformers, you KNOW it’s a $200 million movie, because you see every penny on screen, loudly, garishly, but definitely all *there*. They literally are the films Michael Bay was born to make.

Michael Bay and Mark Wahlberg on the set of Transformers: Age of Extinction

Michael Bay and Mark Wahlberg on the set of Transformers: Age of Extinction

Some trivia on the side: Ratchet dies in this film, which makes Optimus and Bumblebee the only ones left of the five original Autobots who met Shia Labeouf in the first movie. 😦 The first Transformers remains my favourite. It is the least absurd of all the series, and its score is a work of beauty.

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