June 27, 2014

SHOWBUZZDAILY Film Review: “Transformers: Age of Extinction”


TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION:  Not Even For Free – Hollywood’s Blockbuster Mentality To the Max

Here are just a few of the epic movies with running times shorter than the 165 minutes of TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION:  Apocalypse Now, Avatar, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Bridge On the River Kwai, Boogie Nights and Empire of the Sun all muddled through with less length than this latest go-round with the Autobots, Decepticons and their human sidekicks.

It’s hardly a surprise at this point that gigantism is what director Michael Bay does for a living.  And to be sure, in the final 20 minutes of this 4th Transformers adventure, when Bay pulls out all the stops and has flying alien robot dinosaurs being ridden by giant alien robot heroes like massive buckaroos over the skies of Hong Kong, locked in combat with evil alien robots and a few token humans, with skyscrapers being decimated under their feet, the IMAX screen filled with destruction on a catastrophic scale and the sound system booming with the noises of machinery and explosions–there is something thrilling about the sheer scale of what’s being depicted.  Bay is better at this than Joss Whedon or Zach Snyder, to name just two directors who have recently attempted sequences of a similar size.  The problem is that he’s not very good at anything else (which Whedon certainly is), and by the time you’ve survived almost 2 1/2 hours to get to that final spectacle, you just may not care very much.

Transformers 4 is purportedly a “reboot,” but Bay has directed all the movies in the franchise, and screenwriter Ehren Kruger has been a writer on 3 of them, so the tone and storytelling are mostly unchanged.  The major difference is that the human performers have been replaced, and amazingly enough, you might find yourself missing Shia LeBeouf and Megan Fox, who at least brought a little humor and sexiness to the mix.  Mark Wahlberg, the leading biological player, is certainly a far better actor than LeBeouf, but his character barely exists.  He’s Cade Yeager (that last name is hardly an accident), a struggling engineer and inventor who since being widowed lives miles from civilization in the boondocks of Texas, alone with his 17-year old daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz, from Bates Motel).  Cade has exactly 2 traits:  he loves machines and he’s obsessively concerned with preserving his daughter’s virginity.  (It’s nothing weird, supposedly–he doesn’t want her to get pregnant in high school the way he and Tessa’s mother did.)  Bad luck for him, though, as Tessa has already hooked up with the only 20-year old Irishman in rural Texas who could be starring on a CW series, Shane (Jack Reynor).  Once Cade finds out, hilarity ensues!  (No, it doesn’t–in fact, it leads to a very strange scene where Shane points out a specific Texas exception to statutory rape law, which once again is not supposed to be disturbing in any way.)

The plot is in no hurry to get going, but eventually Cade acquires a dilapidated truck that turns out to be Optimus Prime (voiced once again by Peter Mullen, who deserves to get some fat franchise paychecks for his fine, uncelebrated acting work over the past decades).  Without going into too much impenetrable detail, this leads to a storyline involving high-ranking CIA official Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), high-tech tycoon Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), and bounty hunter of robots Savoy (Titus Welliver), all of whom are hunting Optimus–and thus the Yeagers and Shane–so they can hand him/it over to another super-robot named Lockdown (Mark Ryan), in exchange for which it/he will give the humans a “seed” that can be used to enable the mass production of Transformer-ish super-soldiers by Joyce’s company–but with dreadful consequences they don’t know about.  There’s much more mythology about the “creators” of the Transformers, the way the dinosaurs really went extinct millions of years ago, and the return of an incarnation of the evil Decepticon Megatron, but it can be summed up thusly:  don’t ask.

Although there’s plenty of plot in Kruger’s script, it, like the characterizations, seem half-hearted.  They’re really on screen just to provide justification for the action sequences, which take up almost all of the last two-thirds of the movie.  Chicago, which was largely blown up in the last Transformers, gets hit again, but the final hour is set throughout China, which just so happens to be the foreign territory where Transformers has made the most money outside the US.  (Chinese star Li Bingbing also has a prominent supporting role.)  The use of locations is excellent, and for that matter, one can’t fault Bay for the technical side of his filmmaking in general.  He’s one of the few directors who can handle the super-fast editing of action sequences (the editing is credited to Roger Barton, William Goldenberg and Paul Rubell) while keeping the spatial relationships among the participants comprehensible.  Amir Mokri’s photography shows more care and concern with color than most movies in this genre, although Bay’s habit of switching from IMAX size aspect ratio to conventional wide-screen, sometimes from shot to shot within sequences, ultimately becomes distracting.  (Christopher Nolan pioneered this kind of IMAX use in the Dark Knight movies, but his changeovers were always motivated by the content on screen.)  It goes without saying that the CG is almost all state of the art, and the production design by Jeffrey Beecroft is suitably massive.  Even Steve Jablonsky’s score has some personality and emotion.

More personality and emotion, in fact, than can be found in the acting.  Bay has never been a notable director of actors–it’s where he falls far behind other makers of epic action movies like Spielberg, Cameron and Whedon–and the humans here have no more blood in them than the CG robots.  The only partial exception is Tucci, who gets to be a little bit funny in the last section of the story, making him the most welcome presence by far.

The word “critic-proof” wasn’t invented for the Transformers franchise, but it might as well have been.  None of the movies have been welcomed by reviewers, and yet they’ve been gigantic hits, especially internationally, where Transformers 3 earned $771M (topping $1.1B worldwide).  The truth is that there are enormous numbers of people worldwide who go to the movies largely to see the physically impossible made seemingly real, and they don’t really care if they have to sit through a dumb plot or flat characters to get there.  On that level, the movie delivers.  The new Transformers hasn’t transformed itself in the least, and that’s exactly the way its makers and fans want it.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."