Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)
Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me four times, shame on Michael Bay. And shame on us, for continuing to flock to Bay’s ridiculously overblown directorial circle-jerk known as the Transformers franchise.
Now on its fourth installment—with a fifth already in the pipeline, like so much backed up raw sewage—the only question left at this point is where exactly this movie series based on a popular ‘80s cartoon went so completely and horribly wrong. Some could reasonably argue that it happened early into the first film, making it all the more inexplicable that each new release trumps the last in terms of both ridiculousness and box office revenue.
If you’ve seen any of the previous three movies, there’s nothing to surprise you here. And if by some dual stroke of poor planning and good luck, you haven’t caught any of them, consider this your warning to steer well clear. Transformers: Age of Extinction will leave you with nothing except lingering regret for all the things you could have spent this movie’s mammoth running time of 2 hours and 46 minutes doing instead.
For all of its plot details and exposition, Age of Extinction follows the familiar blueprint of its predecessors, and takes only a few points to explain: humans are hating on alien robots in general thanks to the destruction of Chicago in the previous film; Decepticons are at fault, Autobots take the blame and are hunted; an ancient Transformer power source is introduced to threaten Earth, and Decepticons plus a special guest star robot formulate a crazy plan involving said power source; Autobots rise to the occasion to foil their plan with (or frankly, in spite of) help from their human friends.
For completeness, in this case the special guest star is Lockdown, a supremely powerful bounty hunter robot who for some reason requires human special forces to help him track his prey, Autobot leader Optimus Prime.
The friendly flesh bags this time out are unconvincing inventor and single father Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg, replacing Shia LaBeouf without anyone noticing or caring), his jailbait daughter Tessa (Megan Fox substitute Nicola Peltz), and her morally questionable love interest Shane Dyson (Jack Reynor). All are severely lacking in terms of character development and believability, so I won’t dwell on all the failed attempts at giving them depth. Well, except to mention how Shane carries a laminated card in his wallet with the full text of the Texas statute that allows him to legally shtup 17-year-old Tessa. It truly boggles the mind that Bay actually thought this would be funny or endearing.
Early on in the movie, Cade acquires a broken-down truck that turns out to be a hibernating Optimus Prime. Taking it back to his near-foreclosure farm in the hopes of uncovering advanced technology that will bring him fame and fortune, Cade unwittingly draws the attention of Lockdown and his rogue CIA partners, led by agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) and field leader James Savoy (Titus Welliver). They come after Cade, his family, and some comedy sidekick jackass named Lucas (T.J. Miller) who’s quickly vaporized and never mentioned again.
After the standard overblown chase scenes and slow-motion robot wrestling, which briefly impressed in the first movie but now feels more dated than a Kardashian sex tape, the humans escape and Prime meets up with his Autobot crew for the movie, which include Bumblebee (of course), Hound (voiced by John Goodman), and Drift (voiced by Ken Watanabe). Guess which one of these robots transforms into a clichéd samurai warrior?
The film then brings us back to Chicago, where we’re introduced to Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), founder of Kinetic Solutions Inc., who wants to build his own Transformers, because who doesn’t? He’s a step further than most of us, however, as he’s in league with the CIA bad guys and has managed to obtain a rare element known as “Transformium” (yes, really), which is the building block metal of Autobots and Decepticons.
Throw in the fact that he also has the head of recently deceased Decepticon leader Megatron hooked up in his basement, and in no time at all he’s whipped up a new and improved evil robot named Galvatron. But his creation has a mind of its own, and pursues the aforementioned crazy plan to rid the planet of humans, again. Galvatron sends his newly-rebuilt Decepticons after the Autobots and their human friends, leading to scenes of massive destruction in Chicago. Again.
The movie then takes us to Hong Kong, as Galvatron acquires an ancient weapon called the “Seed” and plans to unleash it in the world’s biggest city for maximum effectiveness. Except, Hong Kong isn’t the biggest city on Earth, or even the biggest in China for that matter, but among the many gaping plot oversights throughout the movie, it’s easy to give this one a pass.
Regardless of size, the city is the setting for a series of increasingly outrageous and implausible final battles in which the Autobots eventually finds themselves on the ropes, so Optimus unleashes the Dinobots, an ancient race of giant(er) robots that transform into dinosaurs. The Dinobots make quick work of the bad guys, who all end up dead. Well, except for Galvatron, who cuts out early and will presumably return to fight again in the inevitable Tran5formers.
If the above synopsis seems to gloss over the good parts, it’s because there weren’t any. Or rather, none that we haven’t seen before.
Rather than bring us epic battles that take a different approach or show off different effects than the previous three films, Bay simply ramps up the pace and explosion count from prior entries and layers on the Dinobots like so much icing on a shit cake. And once again, he fails to include any of the character traits that made fans love the original Transformers so much. Optimus Prime, once a noble and heroic character in previous incarnations, now spends the whole movie spewing out bizarrely vengeful, bloodthirsty lines like “They slaughtered Ratchet… I’m gonna tear them apart!” and my favorite, “When I find out who’s behind this… he’s gonna die!”
After four movies of this, Michael Bay has basically stripped the Transformers of their souls. It appears the director’s only goal at this point is adding botched cameos to compensate for a lack of depth, and providing simplistic plots and familiar, fashionable action movie clichés that can be easily translated into other languages and cultures (namely China, where Age of Extinction now holds the title of highest grossing movie in that country’s history).
Early on in the film, Cade finds Optimus in an old abandoned movie theater, and Bay throws in what he no doubt believes to be a knowing, winking reference to the audience with the line, “The movies nowadays, that’s the trouble. Sequels and remakes, a bunch of crap.” Being so far up his own backside, he fails to realize that the continued lack of thought or originality is exactly what kills these Transformers movies. But then, he keeps making millions from us, so who’s the real idiot in this equation? What’s the saying when you fool me five times?