Wednesday, July 2, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: Transformers: Age Of Extinction

Transformers: Age Of Extinction was directed by Michael "Master Of The Exploding Movie" Bay and "written" by Ehren Kruger. 

Kruger also wrote the two previous entries in the franchise, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen and Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, in addition to Scream 3, Scream 4, Reindeer Games, Imposter, The Ring (the American version), The Skeleton Key and The Brothers Grimm. Well, at least the quality of his work is consistent.

Steven Speilberg served as one of the executive producers, and really ought to know better. Yes, somehow the man who directed serious and influential films such as Schindler's List, Lincoln and Munich is also responsible for this.

I will freely admit I've never been much of a fan of the Transformers in any form. The toys came along too late for me, and I never really got into the animated series as I found it somewhat impenetrable. 

Despite this I saw the first film and thought it was OK, feeling it was probably about as good as a movie about giant robots that turn into cars is ever going to be. I absolutely hated the second film though, feeling it was little more than a collection of action set pieces sloppily strung together by editing rather than plot. I didn't even bother to see the third film as I figured it would be more of the same.

Given my history with this franchise, you might be wondering why I saw this new one. I don't have a good answer for that. I know I'm part of the problem; by paying good money to see these awful, awful movies I'm just encouraging Hollywood to make more. Maybe I hoped that after four tries the filmmakers might have finally figured out how to make a decent movie. I honestly don't know why I saw it. Michael Bluth here sums up my feelings exactly.

Sitting through this film was absolute chore. It's a bloated two hours and forty five minutes long, and the slapdash plot, paper thin characters and endless scenes of explosions and destruction just wore me down. This is not a film, it's an endurance test. 


Halfway through it I just wanted to go home, but I decided I wasn't going to let a stupid movie get the best of me and I grimly stuck it out. Years ago I used to participate in an annual bicycle ride across the state of Indiana-- 160 miles in one day. At the end of this movie I had the same look of exhaustion, resignation and misery on my face that I used to have at the end of that bike ride.

A few years ago I reviewed Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen and said:
"It's almost as if director Michael Bay watched a child playing with some Transformers toys, stole his ideas and incorporated them into a script. In fact we would probably have gotten a better movie if that were the case." 
I feel exactly the same about this film.

Seriously, I could not tell you what the hell happened in this movie. Scenes end and new ones begin with little or no connection between them. Characters flit from one side of the world to another in minutes as the story unfolds over what may be a single day, or perhaps several weeks; there's no way to know. Events occur that seem to have meaning to the characters, but are totally lost on the viewer. It was a struggle trying to comment on the film because most of it had evaporated, like a dimly remembered nightmare, by the time I walked out to the parking lot.

Just one example of the film's incoherence: The story opens 65 million years ago, in a very blatant ripoff of Prometheus. A fleet of alien ships arrives on Earth and detonate some kind of weapon that destroys all life on the planet, turning the dinosaurs into metallic fossils. Cut to the present day, when a team of archeologists discovers one of these ancient relics. One would think that these are where we get the Dinobots, right? Wrong. None of this has anything whatsoever to do with them. 

The Dinobots that appear at the end of the film have absolutely no connection with any of the fossils. The Dinobots are "Legendary Knights," ancient Transformers who just happen to be able to turn into dinosaurs. So why was the prehistoric sequence in the film at all? If I had to guess, I'd say it's because Michael Bay thought it would be kewl to have the Transformers responsible for wiping out the dinosaurs.

By the way, I learned these plot details while researching the film for my review. I got absolutely none of it from watching the actual movie.

It's one thing if a filmmaker tries to make a good movie and fails. It's quite another thing to deliberately make a subpar film though. In an interview with SlashFilm, writer Ehren Kruger said, "When you’re talking about aliens, robotic machines which disguise themselves as vehicles and animals, you start to make your peace with the idea that logical sense doesn’t have to be the be-all, end-all." So there you go. Straight from the horse's mouth, they deliberately made a film that doesn't make a lick of sense. 

There are some who will say that I'm being too hard on the Transformers films because they're fun, mindless popcorn movies that don't need to make sense. I would point out that 2012's The Avengers was also a fun summer popcorn flick, but it was smartly written, had interesting characters and a perfectly coherent plot line. It's possible to have both.

Some may also accuse me of hypocrisy as I gave last year's nonsensical Pacific Rim a positive review, while I have nothing good to say about the equally ridiculous Transformers: Age Of Extinction. It's true that Pacific Rim had some serious plot holes, but the overall storyline made sense. There was a comprehensible narrative with relatable characters who had a clear-cut goal. 
Transformers: Age Of Extinction has absolutely none of that. It's just a grueling three hours of pretty pictures.

One could also argue that it's pointless to criticize a movie like this, as it's a given that it's going to be bad. It's like a bag of Cheetos. Everybody knows they're not health food, so why bother to point it out? I feel it needs to be said though, if for no other reason than to warn people away, and will endeavor to do my best to point out its many, many shortcomings.

In the end it doesn't matter what I, or any of us think. Against all reason and logic, this film, like its predecessors, will inexplicably gross a record amount of money despite near universal disdain. And no matter how much hatred and anger we aim at director Michael Bay, it won't affect him one bit as he'll slumber tonight on a solid gold bed under sheets woven from the finest unicorn manes.

SPOILERS, I GUESS.

The Plot:
Set several years after the previous film, the US Government is now at war with the Transformers. Even the good ones. Why? I have no idea. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) is an inventor in Texas who finds a dormant Optimus Prime. He reactivates Optimus and the government comes after him, as does a bounty hunter Transformer, and the rest of the film is pretty much one interminable chase scene after another as the audience waits for the Dinobots to show up.

Thoughts:
• Mark Wahlberg's character is named Cade Yeager. Apparently they used the Action Movie Name Generator™ to come up with his preposterous moniker. Why can't people in action movies ever be named something normal like Tom Johnson?

• Credit where credit's due: at the absolute very least, this movie spared us more incessant scenes of Shia LeBeouf running around while shouting, "No no no no no no no no no no no no no!"


• How about that image in the trailer and posters of Optimus Prime riding a Dinobot? Looks pretty cool, doesn't it? Well, don't get too awfully excited about it, because it happens in the very last reel of the two hour and forty five minute runtime.

• At the beginning of the film, Cade goes to an old movie theater to buy the projection equipment for scrap. The elderly owner says something about how films today are nothing but sequels and remake crap. This was no doubt Michael Bay's cutesy attempt at being meta, but sadly it's all too true.

The elderly owner's son is at the theater as well and makes numerous comments about his father's adult diapers and how he's this close to putting him in a home or poisoning him. Com-O-Dee! Implied violence against seniors is gold!

As Cade explores the theater, he inexplicably finds an old semi truck (which is secretly a dormant Optimus Prime) inside. Why there's a semi truck inside a movie theater is apparently none of our concern, as it's never addressed. And why is Optimus hiding in a theater in Texas in the first place? The previous film took place primarily in Chicago. Did he flee all the way across the country to heal? Just another example of Michael Bay's amazing grasp of geography.

• When Cade first finds the dozing semi, he opens its cab door and a pile of spent shell casings tumble out. He says something like, "Wow, what happened to you?" The implication being that Optimus was shot up in a gun battle with massive ordnance.

But... the shell casings wouldn't be inside Optimus. They'd be back on the ground in a pile under the gun that shot them. The casings don't travel with the shells. Whoops! More of that patented Michael Bay realism.

• CIA Agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) hates all Autobots (good and bad) and wants to wipe them out. To this end, he's working with an intergalactic bounty hunter Transformer named Lockdown. So let me see if I understand-- Attinger wants to wipe out all Transformers, so he works with one to make this happen. Got it.

Attinger does offer a halfhearted "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" as justification, but it's a pretty weak excuse.

• Cade and his family live in Paris, Texas. His best friend and partner is Lucas Flannery, a wise-cracking slacker who drives around with a surfboard on his car (and mercifully, dies in the second reel). A surfer dude. In Texas. Need I point out that Paris, Texas is some 350 miles from the ocean? Geography!

• One of the Autobots is called Drift and looks like a samurai warrior, calls Optimus "sensei" and spouts haiku, all with a thick Japanese accent. Sigh... I will admit that he looked pretty cool, but... why the holy hell would an alien robot take on such a form and talk that way? All the other Autobots speak standard, unaccented American English. 

Since Drift is for all intents and purposes Japanese, it's only natural that he transforms into a Bugatti Veyron sports car. You know, Bugatti, the French car company. Are there no high performance Japanese sports cars he could have turned into? I have to assume Bugatti paid the studio a pretty penny for some product placement, or gave them a couple of free cars.

In addition to looking like a samurai, sounding Japanese and turning into a French sports car, he sometimes turns into a helicopter too (but only when it's not helpful to the plot). I need to go lie down in a dark room. I'm getting one of my sick headaches.

Earlier this year I marveled at how in the trailer Optimus Prime lets loose with a mighty roar and you could see his visible breath in the cool morning air.

It's not just him. Pretty much every Transformer in the film has visible breath at some point. I would think that a robot would use some kind of electric speaker to talk or roar, but apparently they have lungs and vocal cords. Go figure.

• More credit where credit's due: One of my big complaints about the previous films is that any time two Transformers fought, it was hard to tell what the hell was going on. It looked for all the world like someone was shaking a box of scrap metal and filming the result. I will admit that the fight scenes are much improved in this film. It even looks like their designs have been simplified a bit. A very little bit, but hey, any amount helps.

In last year's Pacific Rim all the robot battles took place at night during torrents of incessant rain. I have to assume this was done in order to "hide the seams" in the CGI. At the very least, the battles in this film all take place in broad daylight. The plot line may be an incomprehensible mess, but darned if everything doesn't look good.

• Lockdown is an intergalactic bounty hunter and the film's main villain. Most Transformers we've seen so far either carry large guns or can form weapons from their hands. Lockdown has an interesting choice of weaponry: he sports a large, twelve foot long cannon that somehow sprouts from the middle of his face, Pinnochio-like.

• While on the run from the government, Cade uses a stolen Transformer drone to try and withdrawal cash from an ATM, only to find his account has been locked. Wouldn't that generate some kind of electronic alert to let the government know his location? Seems like an inventor such as Cade would know that. Luckily for him the government is apparently too preoccupied to notice.

Two of Michael Bay's favorite things: Flags and hot, underage girls.
• One of the oddest (and creepiest) parts of the film concerns Cade's daughter Tessa (played by Nicola Peltz). She's only 17 (a fact the film points out to us at every opportunity) and her secret boyfriend Shane is 20. 

When Cade rightly points out that this is illegal, Shane quotes the "Romeo and Juliet Law," a little known statute of the Texas Penal Code. This code states that as long as both parties were underage when they first started their relationship, it's all above board and legal now. Incredibly, Shane even carries around a laminated card that explains it all. Yep, you heard right, a goddamned laminated card. I'm thinking this dude must get accused of statutory rape a lot.

Wow. For a movie that can't be bothered with explaining anything, they examine this particular subject in minute and excruciating detail. In fact the entire movie screeches to a halt while Tessa's boyfriend brags to Cade that he has the legal right to bone his daughter. It's one of the most bizarre and seamy sequences I've seen in a movie in a long time. 

And to top it off, Michael Bay apparently had no problem with anything about this scene and willingly filmed it. It makes me wonder just why he's so well versed in arcane Texas age of consent laws. Nicola Peltz was only 17 when this movie was filmed, so god knows what the poor girl's audition was like.

• By the way, all this underage business means that when they first started dating, Shane was 18 and Tessa was 15. Oy.

I get that Tessa had to be 17 here for plot reasons (so she couldn't just move out when Cade grounds her), but couldn't they have made Shane 18? 

• Speaking of ages... one reason Cade is so overprotective of Tessa is because he himself was a teen father, and doesn't want to see her make the same mistakes he did. 

It's implied that he and Tessa's mom were married in high school after he got her pregnant. Let's give Cade the benefit of the doubt and say he was 18 when Tessa was born. That means he's 35 now. The life of an inventor must be a tough one, because he looks to be well into his forties (actor Mark Wahlberg is currently 43).

• Shane is inexplicably from Ireland, so all through the movie Cade calls him "Lucky Charms." Because, you know, this is a Michael Bay movie and ethnic stereotypes are hiLARious.

• KSI, an Apple-like company ran by the Steve Jobs-like Joshua Joyce (played by Stanley Tucci), has studied Transformer technology and figured out what makes them tick. They're made from a substance called "transformium." 

Well, I guess that's not any worse than the "unobtanium" from Avatar or the "dalekanium" from Doctor Who.

• In the previous film, a large Transformer battle destroyed much of Chicago. Hope you liked those scenes of Windy City destruction, because it gets attacked all over again in this film. Apparently the Transformers have a definite grudge against the City Of Big Shoulders.

• Speaking of the battle in Chicago, let's talk collateral damage.

In 2012's The Avengers, New York city was invaded by Loki's alien army, as the Avengers tried to stop them. A huge amount of real estate was destroyed before they finally sent them packing. Civilian casualties were kept to a minimum though as the Avengers coordinated with police to evacuate the city.

In 2013's Man Of Steel, Superman and Zod's battle literally flattens Metropolis. We see thousands of people fleeing for their very lives as skyscrapers crumble and rain down on them. Thousands die in the attack.

So how does this film handle the problem of civilian casualties? By completely ignoring it, that's how! Apparently everyone in Chicago just happened to be out of town on the day of the attack, because we never see even a single person anywhere in the city at any point during the battle.


• Optimus Prime is shown on the movie poster gripping an enormous sword by the hand guard. Every time I glance at it though, it looks for all the world like he's daintily sticking out his pinky, like he's holding a tea cup. Be warned that once you see it, you won't be able to unsee it.

• Lockdown captures Optimus Prime and stashes him inside his massive spaceship that's looming over downtown Chicago. He fires up his warp drive and prepares to blast off into space with his prisoner. The Autobots prevent him from escaping by sneaking into the ship and firing a series of mooring cables that attach themselves to the Sears Tower (Yes, I know, but I ain't gonna call it that other name). 

So Lockdown's ship, which is the size of several football fields and can fly faster than light, can be held in place by what is basically a rope tied to a building. Got it.

It's pretty obvious that the only reason this set piece exists is so our heroes could perilously crawl along the cables from the ship to the tower and generate some suspense (and justify the film being shown in 3D).

• While inside Lockdown's ship, Cade finds some kind of sword-shaped pulse rifle. He steals it and starts blasting robots with it for the rest of the film. 

Most Transformers appear to be at least fifteen feet tall. Maybe more. Oddly enough the gun that Cade finds fits him perfectly, almost like it was designed for him. Funny how that worked out, eh?

Either the blaster he found was really a Transformer handgun or it was made for some kind of infant robot.

• You might be wondering why halfway through the film the characters all decide to visit China for no good reason. Well, that would be because the movie was co-financed by our friends in the Orient. The China Movie Channel and Jiaflix Enterprises both dumped several million dollars into Paramount's coffers, and all Paramount had to do in exchange was set part of the movie in China and throw in a couple of Asian actors.

I'm not a fan of this trend, but I get why they do it. China is one of the biggest importers of American films in the world, and if there's anything Paramount can do to give their films more Asian appeal, they're gonna do it. Iron Man 3 and Looper did the same thing.

• More Chinese pandering: during the Hong Kong half of the movie there's a scene in which a Chinese guy is inexplicably shown playing a guitar while riding in a car with a couple of admiring young beauties. The camera lingers on him way longer than necessary, so you know what that means! Cameo appearance! The guitar player is Han Geng, a big pop star in China. 

There's also a lengthy scene with Stanley Tucci and his assistant Su Yueming (played by Li Bingbing) arguing in an elevator, while a nondescript Chinese man looks on uncomfortably in the background. Eventually this loiterer helps out Tucci by impressively beating the living crap out of a couple of thugs. The elevator guy is Zou Shiming, China's first ever Olympic gold medalist boxer. 

• While in Beijing, the characters all suddenly decide they need to get to Hong Kong, for reasons. Everyone piles into a car and Su Yueming says something like, "Hold on, we'll be there in no time!" Sure enough, five to ten minutes later, they all arrive in Hong Kong, none the worse for wear.

Again, need I point out that Beijing and Hong Kong are 1,224 miles apart? Geography again!

• Product placement ahoy! Running from robots while shouting gripping dialog like "Run!" and "Look out!" is thirsty work. At least three times during the film actors stop what they're doing to quench their thirst.

After a battle on a highway, Cade very deliberately picks up a Budweiser bottle from a wrecked truck, slowly opens it and takes a long refreshing swig. Later, while on the run, Joshua Joyce stops to rest and drinks some fermented milk from a juice box in Hong Kong. Then Su Yueming takes a slow, lingering gulp of branded bottled water in Hong Kong as well. I'm surprised they didn't turn to the camera, address the audience and have an in-movie beverage commercial.

• While in China, our little group of human characters are all on a rooftop and pile into an elevator to get to the street below. A warning bell sounds and Cade jumps out, saying it's overloaded. As they continue without him, we see a label inside the elevator that says it has a nine person capacity. There are only four people inside. Whoops!

Yes, they're carrying The Seed in the elevator (don't ask), but it can't be as heavy as five people because Joshua has been lugging it all over Hong Kong for half the movie.

• Part of the plot involves KSI using the aforementioned transformium to build their own Autobots that they can control. Transformium is an amazing element that can morph into any form. At one point a nerdy KSI scientist is shown mentally shaping a wad of transformium into Rainbow Dash, a character from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Apparently the guy's a Brony.

Of course this scene couldn't possibly have had anything to do with the fact that Hasbro also owns My Little Pony, could it?

• Some two and a half hours into the film, the Dinobots finally appear. Yes, the characters everyone came to see show up fifteen minutes before the end. Nice pacing!

As I said, I never watched the Transformers cartoons much, but I understand that the animated Dinobots could talk. Grimlock, the T-rex Dinobot, spoke much like the Hulk and would often spout the catchphrase, "Me Grimlock!" He does no such thing in this film, which I'm sure is a source of bitter disappointment to fans. 

• After all the bad guys are defeated (or have escaped to cause trouble in the next film), Optimus Prime tells the Dinobots that they're now free. I think maybe they owed him some kind of debt, from which they're now released. These twenty foot tall metallic dinosaurs then scamper off into the rural Chinese countryside, where I'm sure they'll never cause any problems for anyone ever again.

• At the very end of the movie Optimus Prime suddenly remembers he has the power of flight as little jets pop out of his feet and he takes off into the sky. Are you flipping kidding me? 

For almost three hours-- hell, for four movies now-- he's been running and jumping and turning into a truck to get where he wanted to go. And now you're telling me he could have flown the whole goddamned time? Jesus Christ! Does anyone ever proofread these scripts?

• It's blatantly obvious that the filmmakers are desperately trying to set up a new trilogy. For example, Galvatron, who may or may not be a possessed Megatron, appears early in the film, disappears in the middle section, then reappears at the end spouting patented "I'll be back! You'll rue the day you met me!" villain dialog. 

Then Optimus Prime takes The Seed (don't ask) for safe keeping and flies (!) off into space, roaring to the Creators (who can't possibly hear anything he's saying, as they're in another solar system) that he's coming for them.

If they spent half as much time on writing a coherent plot as they did these obvious setups, we might have had a decent film.

Transformers: Age Of Extinction is a bloated and grueling exercise in excess that's long on spectacle and very, very short on plot, logic and coherence. I give it a C-.

2 comments:

  1. How many words for a movie that you don't like..... something's wrong here....

    ReplyDelete
  2. Just trying to warn people so they don't go see it.

    ReplyDelete

Related Posts with Thumbnails
 
Site Meter