Transformers: Age of Extinction – Just Another Bad Transformers Film

GameStop, Inc.


No matter what myself or anyone else writes, Transformers: Age of Extinction will make a shit-ton of money. The Transformers franchise is the definition of critic-proof films. Even weirder, they’re a massively successful series of films that don’t have a large vocal fan base. Most defenses of the films are prefaced with qualifications. “I know they’re dumb but…” is the most common example. There’s an undying sense of optimism from Transformers fans, a hope that with the next one they’ll finally get it right. Perhaps Age of Extinction will be a breaking point, the moment when everyone finally realized that as long as Michael Bay is at the helm there is no hope.

The Transformer franchise has already made them responsible for building the Pyramids and provide the motivation for the Moon landing. What other piece of history could be rewritten, you might ask. Dinosaurs. The Transformers were created by some unknown creator on Earth, and the resulting special effects kill off the dinosaurs. Like the previous entries, making Transformers responsible for major historical events creates more questions than it answers.

Following the Battle of Chicago, the booming finale of the previous film, the CIA is targeting and hunting down Transformers. The Black-Ops unit is aided by Lockdown, a bounty hunter Transformer, who has struck a deal with the CIA’s head of Black-Ops, Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer). Autobots and Decepticons are targeted for extermination during this robo-holocaust.

Meanwhile in Texas, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) and his business partner Lucas (TJ Miller playing the same role he plays in Silicon Valley) collect and restore junk. We first meet Cade as purchases an old film projector from a rundown theater. The owner’s father laments all the damn sequels and remakes while gazing at a poster for Howard Hawks’ El Dorado. I see it as throwaway gag where Bay laughs at himself and turns to the camera and says, “But, guys, I really do like Howard Hawks.” Stuffed away in the dust-ridden, decrepit theater is big rig. Cade returns home, big rig in tow, to his teenage daughter, Tessa Yeager (Nicola Peltz). A widower, Cade is all but broke, restoring junk provides the failed inventor hope to support his family – he’s a beefcake version of the dad from Gremlins. Soon it is discovered that the big rig is Optimus Prime, which starts the countdown until the CIA comes knocking at Cade’s door.

Concurrently, the CIA has struck a deal with the Steve Jobs-esque inventor Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci). Joyce needs the element that is in the Transformers – wait for it…Transformium – so he can develop Transformers with commercial applications. A smarter filmmaker would’ve allowed this to be a form of commentary on the cross-promotional nature of this film, however, this is Michael Bay. Eventually the chaos finds its way to Hong Kong. Stuff blows up. Optimus Prime rides a dinosaur Transformer. And on and on and on.

Age of Extinction is fairly remarkable because it’s one of Bay’s few films that isn’t drooling over the military. His films have been unabashedly jingoistic, but here he takes a left turn (and not left-wing). In this film, the CIA is an uncontrollable force, eliminating our beloved Autobots. The President’s Chief of Staff (Thomas Lennon in a brief role) meets with Attinger who gives him no information. It presents the US as rudderless nation capable of great evil. At the same time, the film presents the Chinese government as a force committed to protecting its citizens. It’s just further evidence that Bay doesn’t understand larger themes. Bay lacks nuance which is why the film comes off as anti-US and pro-China.

Of the three female characters in Age of Extinction, two appear and disappear at random, their characters’ names and purposes are never clear. The other, Tessa, is an object in peril, constantly in need of rescue. She won’t hesitate to throw a tantrum in moments of great danger. During an extended car chase, Cade and Tessa get into the car of her boyfriend, Shane (Jack Reynor), an Irish immigrant living in Texas with an Australian accent. He’s a professional driver who carries a laminated card in his wallet with Texas’ statutory rape law – always handy for reference. “Pull my stick! Pull my stick!” Shane yells during the chase referring to the car’s emergency brake. Her father beside him, Shane says, “She has the best hands in the business.” You got your hand job joke in my car chase! You got your car chase in my hand job joke!

Of all the actors in the film, Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammer are the only ones who shine. They’re given crap dialogue, but deliver the right tone for their characters. However, the same could not be said of Wahlberg, who is never convincing wearing glasses to illustrate he’s a nerdy inventor. Some of the Transformers are voiced by excellent actors like John Goodman and Ken Watanabe. For reasons unknown, Watanabe’s Transformer has the look of a samurai warrior. Why would robots from another planet replicate the look and accent of Japanese warriors?

Bay’s constant photography during the magic hour causes chaos with continuity for his chase sequences. It causes an Ed Wood-like experience, sundown turns to high noon and back to sundown again. There is also no need to experience this film in 3D. The extent of the effect is to have pieces of ash and debris pop out. That’s about it.

The Transformers series consist of intellectually bankrupt films, overflowing with product placement and questionable politics. Jettisoning the previous films’ cast while retaining the same creative crew behind the camera changes nothing that was wrong with the series. They’re still too long. They’re still too loud. They’re still aggressively stupid. Moments when the film tries to be funny, it’s cringe-inducing. When the film is being serious – like telling us about Transformers’ souls – fills the theater with unintentional laughter. Near the end of the film Optimus Prime declares, “Brave warriors, you are free.” Sure, he was talking to the Dinobots (never referred to by name), but he might as well been talking to the audience.

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