Michael Bay is as exhausting and obnoxious as ever in 'Transformers: Age of Extinction'
Transformers: Age of Extinction Paramount Pictures
Director: Michael Bay
Screenplay: Ehren Kruger
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Kelsey Grammar, Stanley Tucci, Jack Reynor, Titus Welliver, Bingbing Li and T.J. Miller
Rated PG-13 / 2 hours, 45 minutes
June 27, 2014
(out of four)
In a way, I guess I've got to hand it to Michael Bay. No matter how big of a joke he's become, no matter how many people tell him how bankrupt his movies are, no matter how old he gets, he just keeps on being the same Michael Bay. I guess that's a kind of integrity. Even if it's in the name of a childish, woman-hating, boner-sprouting, chest-thumping, dudebro worldview that desperately needs to validate its regressive and insecure sense of masculinity. (Did I miss anything, guys?)
Still: integrity. A rare thing in this world. From Transformers movie to Transformers movie, he doesn't change a thing. Same fetishized machismo. Same empty violence. Same metallic, candy-colored, ready-for-my-product-placement-closeup visuals. At 49 years old, he's as 12-years-old as ever. He's like the frat guy who stays in college way too many years, or the high-school stud who keeps going back to campus. That's what I love about these high-school girls, man, he's telling us. I get older, they stay the same age.
Although I guess that's not quite accurate in Age of Extinction, the fourth entry in his juggernaut of a franchise. His leading ladies are actually getting younger. Gone are Megan Fox and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and in their place is Nicola Peltz as Tessa, a 17-year-old bombshell in short-shorts and a bad spray tan. And if you're wondering whether he's changed his shooting habits for this barely-legal Texas teen, he absolutely has not. One of the early shots in the movie places her squarely in the foreground, from behind, from the waste down, with cutoff jeans hugging the bottom of her ass.
But don't worry - he knows what you're thinking. He makes sure to center the story around her overprotective pop, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), an inventor and single dad who tinkers in his massive barn-turned-workshop every day, struggles to make ends meet, and makes sure to reprimand his darling Tessa on her wardrobe choices.
In real life, ol' Cade would be spending his time keeping Tessa away from the likes of Michael Bay. But I digress. Suffice it to say, we get plenty of glistening shots of her bosom as she pants, and low-angle shots accentuating her thighs. In fact, the movie seems like it's nothing but low-angle shots - each manly gun-wielding man (hero or villain) is given the extreme Kane treatment. It's almost as if Bay feels the compulsive need to convince people certain things are bigger than they actually are.
I suppose now is as good a time as any to mention that Peltz's performance is dreadful. Megan Fox is Jessica Chastain by comparison.
Wahlberg is a perfectly fine change of pace as the franchise's leading man after Sam Witwicky wore out his welcome, but he's not even the true star of the movie. No, the true star is America itself, which Bay makes perfectly clear with the near-constant presence of American flags in each scene. If you made a drinking game out of it and did a shot every time a flag showed up on screen, you would die of alcohol poisoning. (Public service announcement: Please do not make a drinking game out of Transformers: Age of Extinction by taking a shot every time an American flag shows up on screen. Thank you for your time.)
This franchise has a history of casting great character actors in supporting roles - I guess it's some way of superficially classing these things up - and this one has no shortage. Stanley Tucci gets to have the most fun as an egomaniacal inventor who's discovered the very material that Transformers are made out of, meaning humans can now build Transformers of their own. Right here in America! (Well, China.) Kelsey Grammer sneers and grimaces and chews his way through his role as a corrupt CIA bigwig looking for a golden parachute before retirement. He's leading the effort to pick off the Transformers one by one - yes, even the noble Autobots - and has Titus Welliver along as his main hunter and henchman.
Why is the government hunting the Autobots? Well, I could tell you, but I don't give a damn. The film's attitude - toward its vision of America, its view of the sexes, etc. - and its aesthetics are the only things that are really worth talking about. Indeed, they're the only things one can ever really talk about in a Michael Bay film. And the aesthetics in Age of Extinction are the same as they were in the first three. The special effects are astonishing - and in fact, there's been some improvement in the art direction, as many of the newly introduced Transformers have more distinctive character designs. That their designs make no sense and, in some cases, just parrot ethnic stereotypes, is a whole other matter, so let's just move on.
As usual, while there was plenty of mild laughter throughout the screening I attended, Bay displays no actual sense of humor, but he and screenwriter Ehren Kruger pepper the film with cheap adolescent gags that give the whole thing the appearance of being lighthearted. I will give them one bit of credit, though. In what is otherwise a poor attempt for the Transformers series to appear hip and meta, a character at the beginning of a film - wandering around a dilapidated old movie theatre - laments the preponderance of sequels and remakes in modern movies. (Get it?) But a joke finally lands: Right after saying this, the guy points toward a poster of Howard Hawks' El Dorado and proclaims, nostalgically, "I always loved that one!" (El Dorado was essentially an unofficial remake of Hawks' earlier, superior Rio Bravo.)
But moments that made me smile like that were few and far between. No amount of fussing on my part is going to stop these movies from being exactly what they are, or Michael Bay from being exactly who he is. I go in with hopes of being proven wrong every time, and every time, I'm met with the same pathetic bully of a filmmaker I've been encountering for two decades.