Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Jack Reynor, Nicola Peltz, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Titus Welliver, Sophia Myles, TJ Miller, Thomas Lennon and Bingbing Li.
Writer: Ehren Kruger.
Director: Michael Bay.
No one expected director Michael Bay and the shareholders at Paramount Pictures to expand the art of cinema when they okayed a fourth Transformers film; we all get that these films only exist to drive quarterly earnings and fuel the ‘business’ of showbusiness. But nor was anyone envisioning just how insultingly low the creative team were willing to stoop to grind out their product. In ‘fast-food cinema’ terms, Transformers: Age of Extinction equates to one of those beef/bacon/cheese/beef monstrosities; those who dream it up know how horrible it is, but they also know everyone will want to try it for a couple of weeks.
The resurrection of Optimus Prime by good ol’ boy junk merchant Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg, going through the everyman-hero schtick with a couldn’t-care-less ambivalence) is at the heart…no, wrong word…centre of the narrative. After the destruction of Chicago in the last (and, up until now, worst) Transformers epic, Prime has hidden as a rust-bucket rig in an abandoned picture palace. This setting allows Bay and writer Ehren Kruger (who wrote two good movies over a decade ago – Arlington Road and The Ring – before descending into Hollywood hackdom) the films only flourish of ironic ‘wit’ – the crotchety old gent theatre owner (great character actor Richard Riehle, wasted here) complains that all they make sequels and remakes nowadays.
Yeager, with his dimwitted surfer dude stereotype offsider Lucas (TJ Miller) cracking wise by his side, get the truck back to the family homestead and begin the repair work to bring the Transformer hero back to life (Yeager is an amateur robotics expert, you see). But that is an illegal act, as all alien robots have been deemed enemies of the state, and soon black-suited, comically overstated ‘federal agents’ are tearing up the farm to find Prime.
The first act set-up is pure idiocy, with Yeager painted in very broad brush strokes as the square-jawed, blue-state archetype, every shot of him bathed in the dusk/dawn glow of sunlit heartland purity, a gently unfurling American flag always at the edge of frame. Yet Yeager is so relentlessly dimwitted and lacking in self- awareness, it becomes unclear as to whether the production is celebrating or mocking traditional American values.
However, the bewildering first act is Shakespearean compared to an extended mid-section which may represent the worst second act in scriptwriting history. Stanley Tucci, reprising his shrill paycheque performance from previous instalments, and Kelsey Grammar amp up the villainy as techno-entrepreneurs who have adapted the Transformer mechanics into new weaponry behind the government’s back (the current administration is stoopid, get it?) Wahlberg, his tarty-Barbie Doll daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz, Bay’s latest shameful fanboy fantasy take on womanhood) and her Irish (?) boyfriend, Shane (Jack Reynor) run and shoot and yell a lot, with no discernible impact on the plot for over an hour. From that point on, Transformers Age of Extinction is an unforgivably dull showreel of mindless carnage and mass destruction coupled with an extraordinary disregard for time, place, life, logic, physics…everything, in fact, but its own boorish, bombastic existence.
Other elements that grate include a new level of grotesque product placement (I know, the whole film is ‘toy brand product placement’, but…really, Bud Light?); the perpetuating of ‘Are we still doing this?’ stereotypes, mostly racial (all Asians know martial arts) and gender specific (the only women to make it in the corporate world are 20-something models in mini-skirts); and, blue-screen effects work that looks amateurish for a 2014 film budgeted at a stomach-turning US$165million.
Bay has bludgeoned a throne for himself in the Hollywood upper echelon that has allowed for final cut on a series of insanely over-priced sequels. Above all other Hollywood by-products, these clunking mechanical behemoths need a committee of bureaucrats to keep egos like Bay’s in check. That his latest effort runs to 165 incoherent minutes is arrogant self-indulgence of the highest order and indicative of a hubris that will ultimately lead to an industry’s equally immense fall from grace.