By Bill Arceneaux
Heading over to Rotten Tomatoes (the movie review aggregator site) at the time of this writing, Transformers: Age of Extinction has a rotten score of 16%, making it the lowest rated movie in the franchise. That is REALLY saying something. As someone who became nauseated and murderously angry with Revenge of the Fallen, I can’t say it’s not to be expected. This is a series of films that has, one after another, proven its illiteracy towards the cinematic language AND its disdain for the audience (who keeps handing over their money). If a film has “Hasbro” listed in the credits, it’s probably not going to begood.
Michael Bay’s previous film, Pain & Gain, I quite enjoyed. Bay-isms like goofy in your face humor and rampant stupidity/incoherent logic were at play, but the narrative itself – and the attitude in the presentation of the narrative – was at times bold and unbelievable. I got the feeling that Bay was going for a Tony Scott style movie (maybe in the vein of the great Domino), perhaps out of exhaustion from doing robot movies for so long. He went down to Earth with this one. Did it help keep him at ground level?
I’m going to catch some flak for this, but I don’t care. Believe it or not, I found the fourth installment of Transformers to be… okay. Yes. It is an okay movie. No, I was not paid to write that, nor am I affiliated with anyone associated with the production. It’s pretty surprising, how I could go from complete rage to mild amusement with just one flick. Almost a miracle, in a way.
In this go around, the Autobots are being hunted down by a secret C.I.A. outfit, which is also in cahoots with a tech company and some other worldly bounty hunters. The events of the previous movie are treated like 9/11, and all aliens are labeled terrorists. I want to say that we’re past the whole “post 9/11 storytelling” thing, but it’s all done in a harmless manner. In fact, the entire film is pretty harmless, even innocent. When Optimus Prime is discovered by Mark Wahlberg and his family, the former Marky Mark looks on with joy and amazement. It’s as if he’s a kid again, now being given a real life Transformer toy to play alongside. His attitude towards fighting with these robot warriors is downright infectious.
Now, I know very little about the Transformers “mythology” beyond the movies, except that things just happen. There is very little consistency, as things suddenly occur either because they’re “cool” or the plot needs to get out of a corner. It’s big, it’s dumb, it’s superficial, and for all the action it features – like a robot parachuting in slo mo, firing guns from both hands – it works.
The closest comparison, film wise, I can make is G.I. Joe: Retaliation, another Hasbro product. Both are childish, superficial and somewhat dumb, while also being playful, wide eyed and goofy fun. Where that movie was joyous, however, Age of Extinction is bland – bland when standing next to the other Transformers films, I mean. Certainly, it’s among the more loud and boisterous of 2014, but within its own lexicon, it is the least obnoxious and most lengthy. By toning down one element and ramping up another, Bay cancels things out a bit, and ends up confusing critics everywhere with something difficult to understand. Do we want a toned down Michael Bay Transformers movie? Isn’t that what we’ve been fighting for? Does it work? The general consensus is overwhelmingly in disgust. I, on the other hand, am taking a more positive of center approach.
The crowd I sat with was extremely talkative during the trailers before the feature. I took this initially as a bad sign, telling me that I was all alone. When the movie played, however, they all calmed down and enjoyed the next near three hours. Was I the parent among the babies, staring at keys jingling? Perhaps. But, in this incident, those keys held my attention almost as much as theirs.
There is a lack of self awareness when it comes to these Michael Bay Transformers movies, and an odd seriousness. It’s almost as if Bay is trying to be a true craftsman with a story that was originally a toy line. But, is that a bad thing? Not inherently. Of course, Bay can’t help but include horrible stereotypes, silly beyond silly logic and hair pulling dialogue here and there (or everywhere) – it’s just who he is. In small doses, this is begrudgingly passable. Age of Extinction isn’t exactly a “small dose,” but it may have been put through a pill cutter, at least once. Back on Earth, Michael Bay may not totally be, but rotten, this movie is not.
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