Transformers: Age of Extinction Review – Ruined With Style
Let’s get it out of the way. This is a Michael Bay film through and through. Every frame permeates with his signatures. Voyeuristic shots of female characters? Check. Screen full of explosions? Check. Slow motion? Check. One-dimensional stereotypes? Check. Needless comic relief? Check. Ant-view car exit and 360 shots? Check.
I admit that it’s a little hard to review his films nowadays. After all, what’s there left to say? Everyone on the internet has thrown the kitchen sink at him countless times. Even the best Michael Bay apologists won’t change anything. Still, I managed to enjoy it. Mostly.
How? Honestly, I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. Was it due to low expectations? Perhaps. Maybe eschewing what I found annoying in the past three films such as the juvenile humor and screentime for needless comic relief helped. Maybe it’s because, for the first time, I felt that Michael Bay made it completely his own. Of course, his mark has been felt throughout the first three but he finally discards any pretense of respect for the material. (That’s not exactly a good thing but one has to admit that Bay will never give fans a faithful rendition of the franchise’s best aspects at this point. No need to delude ourselves.) Dare I say it? He ruined it with style.
He creates a “fresh” start of sorts. Bay and Kruger give the film universe a “dark and gritty” soft reboot touch. They remove all traces of the noble Autobots from the G1 days/1st live-action film and replace them with cynical and juvenile ones on the run. These bots are more akin to the protagonists of various YA adaptations rather than any beloved 1980s childhood hero. The two also introduce all sorts of kooky ideas to expand the film universe’s sequel potential and scattershot plot. Heck, we even see another country defend its own shores instead of another US stand-alone picture. Mix all these together and the end result is a beautiful mess.
Then again, there are some errors even I can’t forgive. With the plot lacking a gripping nature, the product placements for this commercial film became even more dead obvious. All sorts of brands had their 15 seconds of fame. Particularly a certain feminine brand that I did not expect to see in a testosterone-fueled film targeted for little boys. Then again, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s casting for the previous one was an indirect product placement of its own. Hasbro even decided to cross-promote its brands by including a certain toy line that might get a film soon.
Performances were better than expected for a Bay film. Stanley Tucci, John Goodman, and Kelsey Grammer managed to squeeze so much out of paper-thin roles. While everything else was drab, they livened up the screen. Mark Wahlberg brought his natural charm to Cade Yeager but it clearly wasn’t enough. The biggest casualty was Ken Watanabe whose dialogue was relegated to Japanese stereotypes. Sadly, he wasn’t alone on that front.
As for the action, Bay goes full theme park on this one. Every action scene, slow-motion take, and set-piece looks like it was designed to place the audience right in the thick of it. Just like a thrill ride at an amusement park (specifically Transformers: The Ride). There was a point in the film where the screen was so saturated with action that I got bored out of my mind. It’s funny because I got the same feeling watching certain scenes of North, The End of History. Both definitely count in my book as under “cinema of patience” with their respective runtimes. Just goes to show that the “slow cinema” and “ADHD movie” approaches are merely tools and not indicative of a film’s quality.
Transformers: Age of Extinction is far from being great. Heck, it’s far from its own title. The continuity is more messed up than ever. Still, with expectations so low, how could one not appreciate Bay ruining things with style?
This is his element. Take it or leave it.