Nordling Reviews TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION!
"You're going to swallow what I give you to swallow." Bogs Diamond, THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION
"My face is my warrant!" Black Ops soldier, TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION
Early in TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, a minor character laments that all Hollywood is good for these days are remakes and sequels. And for the next 457 hours, Michael Bay proves that point, decisively and authoritatively. I'll be blunt - you're probably going to see this movie. If you've clicked on this article link, you were somewhat interested, and you've likely made up your mind. There isn't a review out there on print or the Internet that will sway you otherwise. For those of us who hated the movie - and boy, did I - you'll just consider us joyless grumps at best, unable to "turn our brains off and enjoy the ride." Well, I rather enjoy my brain; it's done me pretty good so far, and has provided hours of enjoyment and imagination, so forgive me if I don't want to turn into a drooling idiot, eyes glazed over with sensory overload, just yet.
Does that mean people who find something to enjoy in TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION are idiots? I make no judgments. Perhaps you'll find the possibility that this is an incredible level of satire that Bay is operating at; that the film is a balls-out "Fuck you" to the assembly-line, plotless Hollywood tentpole schlock. If you squint hard enough, yeah, you can sort of see it, especially since I've found Michael Bay to be able to operate on subversive levels before, with films like PAIN & GAIN and, yeah, BAD BOYS II. There are moments in TRANSFORMERS - you know what, I'm just going to call the movie FUCK YOU from here on out. Easier to type. Anyway, there are moments in FUCK YOU that seem quite self-aware, where the level of silliness is at least equaled by the intelligence of the audience (as I assume the audience to be). During those fleeting moments, the movie almost threatens to be fun, especially in the first hour.
The Transformers in FUCK YOU are all but extinct - Autobots and Decepticons alike are being hunted down by Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), his team of black op soldiers, and a mysterious Transformer named Lockdown (voice of Mark Ryan) that comes dangerously close to being an interesting character. The few Autobots that are left are in hiding, including Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), who somehow manages to end up in Texas in Cade Yeager's (Mark Wahlberg) barn. Cade fancies himself an intelligent man - we know this because at times Wahlberg wears glasses - and an inventor, collecting junk with his partner Lucas (T. J. Miller) in hopes of fixing things and turning a profit. Cade has a daughter, Tessa (Nicole Peltz), who is close to graduating high school but secretly dating Shane (Jack Reynor) against her father's wishes. This plot point exists because Michael Bay, and screen"writer" Ehren Kruger, have some vague idea that parenthood is all about telling your kids that they can't do things. What, were you expecting a nuanced familial relationship, a la THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS? Chas Tenenbaum's rough year has nothing - nothing! - on the 874 hours I spent watching this thing. But I digress.
Because the plot has to move forward at some point, the black ops team finds Optimus, and the Yeagers run for their lives. Strangely enough, until this point FUCK YOU is almost an intimate affair - as intimate as these movies get, anyway. We're even invested a little bit, especially in Optimus Prime, who is bitter and hurt by how humans have treated him, and Cullen gives Optimus a surprising amount of angst and emotion. But explosions must explode, and once the action beats start, that old familiar lack of coherency rears its ugly head, debris flies everywhere, and the masturbation of Michael Bay begins. Bay has to be one of the most fetishist directors who has ever lived. Even his good films feel like they have a checklist involved, and dammit if Bay isn't going to cross through every last one. Hot girls with cutoffs? Fiery explosions? Sweeping camera pans? FUCK YOU is Michael Bay parodying himself, except that sounds so much smarter than what this movie delivers.
Eventually it all becomes exhausting and boring. Even the introduction of Stanley Tucci, an otherwise great actor, as Joshua Joyce, another inventor who has his own reasons for hunting Transformers, can't shake the malaise. Bay's casting of actors like Tucci tries to hide the fact that there is no actual human emotion being represented in this movie, but there are some things you just can't fake. Bay can showcase spectacular imagery but can't fill any of it with anything resembling any kind of humanity.
The introduction of the Dinobots, a fan favorite, is perfunctory and doesn't make much sense in the larger scheme of things - but at this point, who cares? They're barely in it anyway, literal deus ex machinas with no character at all. They don't even speak, so we don't get to hear Grimlock say anything like "GRIMLOCK SMASH!" or anything approaching coherency. There are hints, tantalizing tastes, of plot in FUCK YOU, but we don't get to travel down those roads. Things escalate because they must, because Bay and Kruger cannot invest FUCK YOU with anything remotely close to tension, theme, or anything resembling a character arc. I imagine the poor bastards who had to computer animate FUCK YOU, as they point and click at one of the infinite pieces of debris that floats on the screen, and dreaming of a life post-FUCK YOU, perhaps as a garbageman or as a janitor. You know, something with meaning.
Look, if you need - absolutely, shaking-like-a-heroin-addict NEED - to see a tentpole release this weekend, go to EDGE OF TOMORROW, if you haven't already. Hell, go to X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, or GODZILLA, or even AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2. Or, go see one of the smaller movies out there. Go see CHEF. Go see SNOWPIERCER. Go see 22 JUMP STREET, for fuck's sake. But vote with your money and avoid this. But you won't. And the hateful circle of shit will continue. You're going to see FUCK YOU this weekend. You're obligated to, right? Swallow what they give you to swallow. Enjoy the next 1389 hours you spend seeing this fucking thing.
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