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Michael Bay’s death march of fun continues: “Transformers: Age of Extinction”

July 1, 2014

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Transformers: Age of Extinction is the fourth installment in Michael Bay’s Transformers trilogy. Mull that over a bit; it makes as much sense as anything else in this movie. And speaking of, okay, I just have to vent a bit. This was supposed to be a trilogy, as in “three films and then sweet release.” Not “three films and, oh fuck it—they’re a license to print money and I can’t yet buy my own island where I can people like sport.” So now we have this. And there are dinosaurs this time. (Sigh) okay, let’s just get this over with.

So, this installment picks up some years after the last movie, which, if you remember correctly, ended with Chicago being trashed by the Decepticon hordes. Well, people are understandably a little ticked about that and the US government has basically severed all ties with the transformers and exiled them from our shores. Enter inventor Cade Yeagher, played by Mark Wahlberg (you can reread that sentence as many times as you want, but it won’t make any more sense so just go with it) who discovers a decrepit semi-cab in a movie theater, because why not.

So this is what a second date with Michael Bay is like. I more or less expected it.

So this is what a second date with Michael Bay is like. I more or less expected it.

Turns out the semi is actually—surprise!—Optimus Prime, who has been hiding out after a battle with a black ops CIA section that hunts down transformers. No sooner has Cade introduced Optimus to his nubile, teenage daughter (Nicola Pelz), than the black ops team storm his place and Optimus must fight them off. Well, this pulls Cade, his daughter, and her useless boyfriend in a world-spanning adventure with everyone’s favorite nigh-indistinguishable robots.

I’d love to tell you more about the plot, but—sweet, donkey-humping Christ—I can’t make any sense of it. As near as I can tell it goes like this: the head of the black ops team, played by Kelsey Grammer, is hunting transformers at the behest of a gunfaced transformer, who is also a bounty hunter from outer space. Gunface has offered Dr. Fraser Spook something called “the seed,” in exchange for Optimus Prime, because…uh…um…Well moving on, Dr. Fraser Spook is also in bed with a Steve Jobs-type tech tycoon named Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) who uses the non-Optimus Prime transformers for their, um, metal, which is called “transformium” (fuck, what? Really?). Joyce wants to create his own transformers, because…uh…So anyway, this “seed” thingee can, I guess, make organic matter into transformium. We know this, because we saw Gunface or maybe some of his posse do precisely that to the dinosaurs in the pre-credits scene. And that’s why dinosaur bones are all made of metal.

Not much subtle about him, is there?

Not much subtle about him, is there?

Yeah, we’re not done yet, so if you wanna use the bathroom or grab a drink or something I’ll wait for you. Okay, you ready now? Great. So, Dr. Fraser Spook wants a cushy post-retirement gig with Joyce’s company, so he doesn’t much care about where they use the seed, but Joyce starts having second thoughts. Also, Joyce has created his own bigass transformer named Galvatron. Only problem is that Galvatron is possessed by the spirit of old adversary Megatron. Because, oh why the hell not at this point?

It’s up to Optimus, the Marky Mark clan, Joyce, and a couple of weird new Autobots to…uh…okay, I’m not 100% on what their endgame is beyond “not get killed.” Also, there are robot dinosaurs that are called the Legendary Knights, because dinosaurs were once feudal land owners, I guess? In legends? And there’s a beautiful Chinese executive played by Bingbing Li who is the best thing about the movie, because she seems to be getting more annoyed by the proceedings as the movie goes on. She’s basically the audience surrogate.

In China this movie is called "Why We'll Own the US in Twenty Years."

In China this movie is called “Why We’ll Own the US in Twenty Years.”

Sweet crap, a dozen spider monkeys hopped up on Monster Evergy Drink and Pixie Stix slapping a dozen word processors with their tails could come up with a more coherent plot.

So, what’s good about the movie? Well, Marky Mark goes down a shit-ton easier as a lead character (well, more or less), than Pipsqueak Shia ever did. Also, Bay has ditched a lot of his trademark misogyny and racism, so, uh, yay for that. Michael Bay just took a baby step toward not being a reprehensible human being anymore. Also gone is his Bush-era war-boner, as the military is nowhere in sight, so we’re spared a lot of fetishistic shots of military men boldly moving in slow motion to lay some good ol’ American smack down on giant robots that could squash them all like bugs.

"I'm telling you, it's the trees!"

“I’m telling you, it’s the trees!”

What’s not so good? Well, just about everything else. The action scenes are damn near unintelligible. Bay has never been what you’d call good at filming action—mostly he makes up for it by throwing in as many explosions as possible—but here they barely meet the definition of a “scene,” if we define it in the traditional sense of “a visual representation of the story.” Instead it’s more like a series of images that may or may not have anything to do with what we’re supposed to be watching.

But we also have:

* New Autobots include a John Goodman-bot who has a robo-beard and smokes a robo-cigar, a robo-samurai played by Ken Watanabe, and an Australian Autobot who has a robo-duster coat. This begs the question, who the fuck designed these things? I’ll forgive Bay this whole series if a later installment reveals the transformer designers just created them as a joke one day after huffing spray paint and pounding Coors Light.

* Stanley Tucci devours the scenery, not taking one line, one moment seriously. I think we all owe him a drink.

* Speaking of, I’d love it if the next installment was simply about Stanley Tucci’s hapless romantic pursuit of Li.  The robots could, I dunno, do jumping jacks in the background.

* The robot dinosaurs get about fifteen minutes of screen time, tops. Thanks, marketing division. Maybe you want to kick my dog while you’re at it.

* The CGI looks kinda dodgy this time around.  Maybe it’s a result of the 3D filming, or we’re getting more visually-sophisticated about these things.

* This movie runs damn near three hours, so if you want to grab some Zs at any point during the movie feel free. It won’t make any less sense when you wake up.

So that’s Transformers: Age of Extinction. Maybe we were really, really bad in a past life.

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