Saturday, October 4, 2014

Long-Overdue Movie Review- Transformers: Age of Extinction

At a glance- this is Michael Bay, thus it is full of eye-candy and brain-dead, with giant robots

What is it? Well, here we go with another Transformers movie, number 4.  I liked the original Transformers movie, it had its flaws (plenty) but it was watchable.  I loved the toys and cartoons as a kid.  But I have to say that Transformers 2 and 3 really were disappointing.  Revenge of the Fallen (#2) seemed like it was written by drunk and stoned frat boys while Dark of the Moon (#3) was just stupid, actually annoying and stupid.  So when I saw that Age of Extinction (#4) was coming out a few months ago, I was in no hurry to see it.  And in fact, it was just last night that I finally watched it on DVD with a friend.  It was as bad as I had figured.

The acting- Our hero is Cade Yeager, played by Mark Wahlberg, a Texas robot engineer who can't build a working robot, a family man who lost his wife and neglects his daughter, and all-around blue collar American who's full of some catchy one-liners and dumb as a post.  It is a hard, thankless role, and Mr. Wahlberg seems to try his best with it, but there is no meat there to work from.  He spends the whole movie off and on talking about how important it is to not make a mistake and how mistakes can bring wonderful surprises and the whole damn movie is about as clear as whatever he's trying to talk about.  He has a daughter, Nicola Peltz, and of course there is the boyfriend he doesn't know about, Jack Reynor, and both could have been cut from the movie with nothing important missing.  So far there is yet to be a decent female character in Transformers except for the blonde computer lady in the first - I don't think Michael Bay, or any of the writers he works with, actually knows how to make a three-dimensional and engaging female character.  The formula appears to be female = eye candy and that's about all we get, except for this girl being 17 years old and in a relationship, hinted at a sexual one, with her 20 year old boyfriend which is okay because a Texas law protects them since they met years earlier and what the hell does any of this crap have to do with a giant robot movie ?!?!?  Like I said, could cut them and not notice.  There are two females with very small roles, blonde scientist lady and Chinese businesswoman, played by Sophia Myles and Bingbing Li, who are watchable because they don't have enough screen time to be turned into anything stupid.  Otherwise there is Stanley Tucci as a misguided scientist/inventor who goes from sorta-evil to a good guy, and he is actually the best role in the film.  And there's Kelsey Grammer as the totally-evil black ops CIA chairman who might as well have his evil white cat to pet, since his character is about as well-defined as a Bond villain.
    But that's just the human roles, there are also the Transformers.  Optimus' voice actor, Peter Cullen, still has a great voice, but his character is a little confused between "I'm here to save you" and "I'm here to kill you," marking a change from the previously Mr. Goody Two-Shoes of the series.  I hate it when filmmakers feel like they have to make good guys 'dark and broody' myself, your mileage may vary.  Bumblebee still doesn't know how to talk in a running gag that really needs to stop already.  There is a samurai transformer and a green car transformer, and I'm not even going to bother finding out who voiced them because they are forgettable.  John Goodman does do a good job as Hound though, the tough military-type transformer who just wants to shoot everything in sight.  Sadly Megatron is back, and still has no worthwhile or intelligent dialogue - another running gag of the series that should be put to bed.  Amazingly, I almost missed Starscream.

The story- The first five minutes of the movie shows some alien ship with alien bombs that turns a bunch of plants and dinosaurs into metal.  You might think that was the story or plot for this movie, and you would be mostly wrong.  The super-bomb that makes Transformer metal is in the story, and it does kind of have something to do with it, but since we never really get a detailed explanation for this, or for why it has not been mentioned until now, it is actually just some cheap window-dressing for all the explosions we know and love from Michael Bay.  Flashing to the present, it has been 5 years since the last movie's climatic battle of Chicago, and a group of evil CIA agents are hunting down all Transformers, Autobot and Decepticon alike, and murdering them, in the name of safety for human-kind.  It is kind of nice to see that humans have finally developed a way to hurt Transformers, I was wondering over the last movies when they would figure that out, but the tone here feels off.  In all of our previous movies there have been some military soldiers working with the Autobots - what the hell happened to them?  Were they all killed along with some of the missing Autobots? (should have shown that, it would have added some depth)  Have they turned to the dark side and are now killing their former friends? (should have shown that, would have added some depth)  Are they helping hide the Autobots, at risk to themselves and their families? (should have shown that- oh hell)  You get the picture, instead of using some intelligence and making something deep and meaningful all we get is a caricature of a bad guy; reducing a legitimately complex problem (good aliens bringing along bad aliens and the balance of power between them and humans) into a line of empty dialogue like "my sister was killed in Chicago" and "there are no good or bad aliens."  So if the one guy's sister had been killed by a drunk driver would he be out murdering alcoholics? (would have been a better movie actually)  And there are obviously good and bad aliens, the good ones have been trying to keep the human race alive while the bad ones have been killing everybody - that's a fairly obvious distinction to anyone with a brain.
    And that is the crux of the story, instead of something logical and compelling we get a flat cardboard cutout of a plot.  Instead of having Yaeger's little girl and worthless boyfriend die at the beginning, thus showing the seriousness of the situation, we have the comic relief guy die at the beginning, who I personally did not mind seeing killed - I wish more of the humans in the story had been killed.  The is not a story, it is a series of special effects set pieces.  Turn your brain off and just enjoy the ride.
    Which almost works.  The movie is a rather long 2 hours and 40 minutes.  The first hour-and-half goes by at a good pace, but by then you haven't seen the dinobots (which were on almost every poster) and it starts to drag.  The last 30 minutes, which should be the most compelling, instead feel the longest after all the special effects have been burning out your retinas.  And then later, when the spectacle is over and you are left to actually think about the movie, you realize just how many inconsistencies and illogical moments there are - that, in fact, it makes only the most tenuous sense.  I don't think the writers of this movie actually knew what their story was about.
    In short (too late, I know) it's really stupid, but it looks pretty.  You can make some great wallpapers for your computer out of the screenshots.  And the CinemaSins count for this movie should be off the chart.

My recommendation- catch it for free on TV, if you are extremely bored and have nothing whatsoever worthwhile to do with your life ; or just tune in for the last 30 minutes when the dinobots show up

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