TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: MICHAEL BAY / SCREENPLAY: EHREN KRUGER / STARRING: MARK WAHLBERG, NICOLA PELTZ, JACK REYNOR, STANLEY TUCCI, KELSEY GRAMMER, TITUS WELLIVER, LI BINGBING / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Michael Bay doesn't just want your money. He wants China's money, Red Bull's money, Victoria's Secret's money and Bud Light's money. The product placement in Age of Extinction is as unoriginal as everything else in the fourth instalment of the Transformers franchise. Seeing those conveniently placed products and adverts shoved right in your eye sockets is nearly as unsubtle as seeing Optimus Prime ride a Dinobot through Hong Kong.
The thing is, Bay promised he wouldn't be back. After ignoring the critics’ panning of the third film and making a mint on Transformers: Dark of the Moon (seventh biggest film of all time!), he decided not to leave the franchise and instead to have a fourth go at transforming our childhood memories into bloated blockbuster Bayhem. Anyone hoping that the infamous director has toned any of his excesses down in Age of Extinction should forget about seeing this manic but infuriating reboot/sequel.
Set three years after the events of the previous film, Age of Extinction aims for a fresh start by ditching Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox and that other model from the third film. Gone too are the wacky Witwicky parents and instead, now the main character is a parent himself. Cade Yeager (Wahlberg) is a failing inventor with a barn full of busted-up robot junk and a (surprise, surprise) smoking-hot teen daughter (Peltz). While scoping out an old cinema, Cade finds an old truck which, lo and behold, turns out to be a very badly damaged Optimus Prime.
Since the decimation of Chicago three years earlier, the Transformers have become public enemy number one and even the Autobots have been hunted down and killed by a shady CIA black ops unit run by Harold Attinger (Grammer). Meanwhile, corporate bigwig Joshua (Stanley Tucci) has been building his own Transformers that he thinks will form an army to defend America from all its future enemies.
Despite all the talk of Transformer terrorists and defending freedom, Age of Extinction has not a single subtle subtextual bone in its mighty impressive body. This is the equivalent of a director of overstuffed spectacle getting his balls out and swinging them around so hard that he knocks over all the furniture. Such is the audacity of Bay, that in an early scene he has one character bemoan endless remakes and sequels of modern cinema. How ironic... not.
This is the kind of film where the villain is introduced in a shadowy boardroom, every moment on a Texas farm is filmed at that gorgeous Malickian magic hour and every shot of the bad guys is taken from a ludicrously low angle that makes them loom over the camera. It looks superb, but beneath it all is a shallow, borderline-offensive film that is as repetitive as it is dumb.
The daddy-daughter dynamic is tired before it even gets going. Bay sticks the camera down Peltz's top and then has Wahlberg chastise the size of her shorts. The director ogles every woman's legs and has every exchange between Cade and Tessa be a concern over boys and dating. The only guy Wahlberg’s character should really be worried about being near his teen daughter is the 49-year-old Michael Bay. At least he holds back from draping her over any vehicles like Megan Fox put up with through two films. The dynamic between father and daughter provides few laughs and even less opportunity for character development.
Not that character development is what audiences are flocking to a Transformers film for. The new Autobots are a forgettable bunch except Hound who at least isn't a crass racial stereotype, unlike some others. Cade is an unexceptional individual, made mildly amusing by the likeable Wahlberg. Tessa is the pretty Barbie doll to be thrown around along with the rest of Bay's toys and Jack Reynor as Tessa's boyfriend Shane gets little to do except drive fast and be the butt of Wahlberg's tiresome Irish jokes. Only Stanley Tucci gets to stand out as a character who is aware of the ridiculousness of the film he is in, and even has a hysterical breakdown at the insanity of it all.
As one character exclaims, it really is both 'awesome and insane'. While it's all too easy to pick apart its plot, poke fun at its distracting product placement and cringe at its sexist machismo, Age of Extinction does have some occasionally outstanding action. However, what is becoming increasingly and frustratingly clear as the franchise (and Bay's career) continues, is that when it comes to visual effects there is definitely such a thing as having too much of a good thing. While the transformations and city destruction are undoubtedly spectacular, what is more impressive are the action scenes featuring good old-fashioned cars and people. The best moments offer beautiful cars in stunning landscapes, and car chases that for the most part feel crunchily convincing. Though Bay appears forced to shoehorn China into the plot to justify financial backing, the buildings of Hong Kong make for an exciting rooftop chase between Wahlberg and one CIA bad guy.
There’s no denying that Bay has made some good, fun action comedies. However, he’s made the Transformers franchise over-complicated, from the actual robots, to the swollen stories full of characters you will struggle to remember, to the excessive city-trashing set-pieces. He may have Optimus Prime ride into Hong Kong on a Dinobot but by that time, you’re likely to be past caring anymore. It’s time for Bay to go back to what he does best: Bad Boys 3 anyone?
Expected Rating: 6 out of 10
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