Friday, 4 July 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) Film Review

Check it out... if you crave the often spectacular, though still non-redemptive special effects, colours and action that Michael Bay gifted the world with his previous mediocre Transformers films.

Skip it... if the racist tendencies, cringe-worthy humour, pathetic performances and plot, as well as a bloated canvas, as were all the cases for the previous three films in the franchise, haven't had you rushing to your seats already.

Transformers: Age of Extinction poster
"Do not be fooled by the legions of fans; this film truly deserves the universal critical panning it is receiving."

Transformers: Age of Extinction is the fourth film in the Transformers franchise, and is once again directed by Michael Bay, and stars a whole new cast of actors and actresses than the prior films, including Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Stanley Tuchi, Jack Reynor and Kelsey Grammar, and continues from where the previous film, Dark of the Moon, left off; after the Chicago battle, both Autobots and Decepticons have near been hunted from existence on Earth, due to human's fear of another attempt on destroying our planet occurring. In their attempts to destroy the armies of both sides of the robot race, humans have called upon Lockdown, a mercenary transformer, whom is happy to provide them with a strange artifact, known as the "Seed", as long as the humans gift him with Optimus Prime, whom has gone into hiding since the previous film, and arrives at Marky Mark's ranch in Texas, and takes refuge with Wahlberg's family and friend.

As is well documented, the critical consensus has long been that the Transformers franchise is an underachieving, inflated series of films, that don't seem to have many redeeming merits to them, apart from their often stunningly good visual and special effects, as well as some impressive fight sequences. For some of the now four films in the franchise, such as the original Transformers film, released in 2007, as well as, to some extent, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the installment released in 2012, this description does not match; certainly in the former film, action sequences were handled with restraint, and the film in general was most certainly not underachieving; it met all audience's expectations, and even exceeded some. For myself, the 2007 Transformers holds a special place in my heart. Stumbling into a theatre with my grandmother at 7 years old, for one of the first film experiences of my life, Transformers became an instant classic in my mind. It was the epitome of a Summer blockbuster, the kind of film which you could load popcorn into your mouth non-stop for 140 minutes, engrossed in the grand spectacle you were witnessing. Revenge of the Fallen, the second film in the series, unfortunately represents the down point to Michael Bay's set of robot films, with the cringe-worthy humour from the first film reaching an unbearable point, as well as the action becoming too incoherent, too broad, and at points, utterly obnoxious. It didn't help that the plot was convoluted, and the film felt and was far too long for it's own good. Nonetheless, with a new cast and a reasonably effective marketing campaign, the new installment into the series, Transformers: Age of Extinction became an exciting prospect to myself. Whilst Dark of the Moon was an enjoyable action blockbuster, it was not as much a change in direction that all had hoped Bay would undertake. But with an abundance of factors hinting a key change in the direction and tone of the fourth installment, I flocked to theatre, excited, hoping for something that would change my outlook completely about this entire series of films. What I got, unfortunately, was not only the exact same product that was produced the previous three times before, but a more convoluted, confusing, idiotic and bloated film, that holds near nothing of merit. 

Age of Extinction's most prominent and immediately noticeable issue is it's length and pacing. As I like to believe, a well paced film allows the audience to feel tenseness in it's insistent speed, though still doesn't move along too frantically, so as not to completely lose the audience's attention in the process. Based on this premise in relation to pacing, Transformers 4 fails on this front. The film takes what seems like an hour to actually begin, and throughout that hour, you're gifted with Mark Wahlberg's character, the human lead of this film taking over from Shia LaBeouf, cursing his remarkably attractive 17 year old daughter for threatening to open her legs to a boy. We also get to witness him building half useful inventions, watch him put his family's safety at risk multiple times, as well as stand in front of a setting sun, as the Texas landscape glows orange and the grass and wheat fields blow wistfully, as if we were watching the shooting of a picture-perfect postcard. We are forced to sit through an hour of watching one dimensional, bickering characters, with little more than 5 minutes of action included. In a film where the main defense from fans is more often than not "This is an action film, with flashy special effects; if that's what you expect to see, you'll be happy," there was remarkably a lack of genuinely entertaining action sequences in the first half of the film. Though, this was both a saving grace and a curse. The abundance of explosions and over-indulgence of action scenes has heavily impacted the previous 2 films in the critical sense, whereas restraint was used for the first installment, making it much more impactful when a huge, explosion-filled fight did occur. So, maybe it was a good thing that the first hour included nothing more than watching TJ Miller make horrendously stupid jokes towards Mark Wahlberg and his daughter? Maybe it was a good thing that we got to sit through a good deal of ass-shots, directed towards the backside of Miss Nicola Peltz, the female lead within the critically panned M. Night Shamalamadingdong film The Last Airbender? Maybe it was a good thing that the amount of screen time the transformers, those for which the title of the damned film hails from, got little more than 10 minutes of screen time in the first hour? However good such decisions were, they were also remarkably idiotic and offensive. How could you go through such a film as this without the camera leering on our female lead's ass, Michael Bay asks his audience. How could you go through such a film without watching slow motion take over the supposedly "intense" moments? How could... I think you get the point. This first hour of the film, which would only be a taste of what was to come, was an unbearable period of time, introducing us to characters whom you honestly don't care for, who are performed by actors and actresses who don't seem to fit into their roles naturally. Despite Mark Wahlberg's best efforts, he can't prevent the stupid dialogue spouting from his lips sounding any less silly or stereotypical. Bay's direction for this first hour of film is completely nonredeemable; as he's done with the first 3 films, the focus of the film is shifted onto the main human characters for far too long, characters who we couldn't care for. 

I haven't even begun to mention the underlying CIA and government conspiracy plots, all of which are rather boring and repetitive. Bay and Kruger, we get it, you like government conspiracy subplots, that's fantastic; but please, stop infusing these already bloated films with even more subplots, which drag the films even longer, to a point at which they become boring and confusing. The CIA subplot consists of the hunting of both sides of the robot race, both Decepticons and Autobots. Though, that seems completely unreasonable. The entire reason the humans survived the previous outing with the Decepticons was because the Autobots fought on our side! Sure, one of the Autobots turned out to be a turncoat, that being Sentinel Prime, though the rest of them seem to be quite loving of our planet and our people. So why hunt them? We're scared of the Autobots joining the side of the Decepticons? Well, a sure way to get them to turn hostile towards us is to start hunting and killing them in secret! But then, in all the CIA's haste to rid themselves of transformers, they hire another Transformer, a mercenary by the name of Lockdown, who is willing to trade the humans an artifact known as the Seed as long as they manage to deliver him Optimus Prime. What good can the Seed benefit the humans with exactly? Well, I don't exactly know. Maybe I wasn't paying enough attention during the film, or maybe Kruger, the screenwriter, just didn't really explain it. Seeing as this is a Transformers film, I'm going to go with the latter suggestion. Why exactly does Lockdown want Optimus? Well, apparently, he wants him simply so he can chuck him in a trophy cabinet, alongside a number of other special transformers. "That's the only reason?", I hear you ask. Well, apparently so. Congratulations are in order for Bay and Kruger, once again; against the odds, guys, you've somehow managed to lessen the motivation for the main villains in this installment than you had in the previous films! That is an impressive achievement indeed! Looking back at the film, it could be said that there are in total 4 villains for this film, though one of them is partially in both the good and bad books; the CIA's leading man, Harrold Attinger, played by Kelsey Grammar is our first villain; Galvatron, who is a transformer created by the humans, or more so by our next villain, to battle Optimus and his Autobots is our second; Joshua Joyce, played by Stanley Tuchi, who is this previously mentioned creator of Galvatron, who is profiting greatly off his companies relations with the CIA is our third villain; as well as Lockdown, the mercenary we talked of before, being our final and most prominent villain. Now, let me get this straight; the CIA, whom are strictly against all Autobots and Decepticons, are not only hiring another transformer to help them get rid of them all, but are also hiring another private company to build more transformers, so they can... what? What good are these new transformers, apart from clearing out the old ones? Well, this makes a whole heap of sense!

Though, honestly, this should be expected from the man who gave comments like "logical sense doesn't have to be the be-all, end-all." I'm not kidding. Kruger, the screenwriter, has literally given a public statement that dismisses logical sense, one of the most fundamental and important aspects of the film making process, the thing that makes films tense, emotional and relatable, as little more than something you can throw out of the film if you so choose to. I understand that a film revolving around the concept that giant transforming robots are battling each other on our planet doesn't need to convey a realistic vibe, though it would help if you not only gave your villains stupid and confusing motives, as logical sense would dictate, but also your heroes. Think about it; Wahlberg's character, Cade, is adamant on protecting his daughter, and bringing her through college. Though when faced with a situation like protecting his daughter whom he loves, or protecting a transformer whom he only just met and has been urged to report constantly by human officials, Cade decides on helping Optimus, said transformer, and by doing so, brings the attention of the CIA, as well as Lockdown, straight to his door. Genius. And after gaining the attention of the CIA and Lockdown, what ensues after this relatively boring hour of viewing is a 5 minute long action sequence, which involves a completely illogical car chase, a death of a minor character which I honestly couldn't care about, and a brief fight between Optimus and Lockdown. It doesn't drag too long which is a good sign; we know Bay will hammer us over the head with irregularly long action scenes towards the end of the film, so whilst the human's and their interaction are quite boring and irritating at this point in the running time, it's better than being overloaded with action sequences before half way through the film. Though, this brief action sequence leads into another human-driven portion of the film, which results in more boring interactions between father and daughter, as well as the now awkward interactions between Cade and his daughter's boyfriend, who drove the car during the previously mentioned illogical car chase. Yeah, he was just hiding out in the wheat fields with his car, as the CIA approached Cade's barn. And so Kruger consistently proves to us that his comments are reflective of the film he's written; this is no marketing strategy, which is intent on firing up people who rather like logical sense within their average film. No, this is what Kruger seems to adamantly believe.

Cue Optimus getting his ass kicked, multiple villains being introduced out of the blue, a ridiculous amount of human "character development", and a lot of explosions. And at this point, you're only just over half way through the film. You're not even in Hong Kong, which is where the final act of the film climaxes. And this is where the majority of the audience will take issue with the pacing and length of the film; the end of the second act makes us feel as if the film should end, though it continues to trudge on, despite the already inflated running time. And then we arrive in Hong Kong, the final act of the film, which follows the exact same pattern that the previous films climaxed with; a giant, 45 minute fight sequence, that leaves you barely a moment to gather your senses in the ensuing chaos. Whatever shred of coherency the film sported up until this point is completely lost; I literally had to turn to the girl who I'd brought with me to the theatre, and ask what the hell was going on. And this is someone who generally has a good mind for these kinds of films! For any fans of the franchise, this final 45 minute action sequence will be a joy to watch, with explosions setting off all the time, and disaster occurring everywhere. For anyone else, this will be the most headache inducing three-quarters of an hour you shall ever experience. Any restraint in regards to the action sequences shown in the first half of the film is completely forgotten, as Michael Bay decides it's time to completely expend the rest of the $210 million budget he was given. In between all these mindless action sequences that sport little actual impressive moments, we get a good deal of product placement, slow motion shots, low angle shots, etc. It's as if Bay is indulging in everything that we hate about this franchise. There is a scene where, I kid you not, Stanley Tuchi sits in front of the camera, drinking from a Chinese milk carton that he just so randomly found somewhere within all the wreckage, during this giant 45 minute fight/explosion sequence. Is the product placement inserted into the film subtly? Absolutely not! In between all these crazy antics and fight scenes that don't at all fit together in an order which I can properly comprehend, comes this random ad for a Chinese milk brand. It makes absolutely no sense in the context of what we were just witnessing! 

The product placement is only the beginning. Like I mentioned, slow motion shots and low angle camera movements plague this film, indulgences that make Bay look like an amateur filmmaker. Even the lighting is hysterically bad; the lighting often goes from an orange sunset to a mid-day bright yellow in between scenes which supposedly occur but minutes after each other. Again, this contributes to the lack of coherency in relation to the entirety of the film. But, despite all these factors, the special and visual effects, which is what everyone who comes to these films desires, are impressive, right? You are correct... somewhat. There are a few moments where the visual effects look outlandishly horrible; there are scenes where it is most obviously a green screen which Wahlberg and Peltz are standing upon, and it completely takes you out of the film. The transformers all look as good as they have in previous films, though the shaky cam mixed with the random pieces of metal jutting from every joint in their being makes it difficult to focus on any individual robot. Fortunately, though, unlike the previous films, you do have a grip on all the individual Autobots, and what their colours and individual characteristics are. There's the fat, cigar-toting transformer, voiced by John Goodman; the samurai transformer, voiced by Ken Watanabe, and the... is he Australian? I can't really say, considering the voice actor for the transformer Drift is actually American, though he certainly sounded Australian. So, instead of having all the Autobots and Decepticons looking the same, Bay and Kruger want you to identify all these Autobots by their racial stereotypical nature and image. Not their personality of course, but what they look like. Well, on the bright side, at least it's not a grossly negative stereotype, as Mudflap and Skids were, from Revenge of the Fallen. Progress, from Michael Bay! And Lockdown is a unique, interesting villain, whose design is fairly impressive. He is one of the very few highlights of the film; there are a few shots of him, most of those which we saw in the trailer, that stand out as rather badass. The Dinobots were heavily marketed during the trailers, but did they get their time in the sun? Not really, as a matter of fact. They only got a maximum of 20 minutes of screen time. Think about that; the shot of Optimus riding Grimlock had literally became a poster, and had become one of the most commonly associated images to do with the film leading up to it's release. And so, when the mammoth of the film was released, in all it's 2 hours and 45 minute long glory, the characters marketed as the big wildcard in the film were given an incredibly limited time on screen, and very little to do. They honestly feel shoehorned into the film. When your most commonly marketed piece of the film is given less time on screen than TJ Miller, you truly have a problem. 

Ultimately, whatever I say will make no matter; if you enjoy these films, you shall enjoy this installment. If, like me, you hate this franchise, you will hate this film. It is by far the worst film in the series, and despite all of Michael Bay's best efforts, it's his most stupid film for a good while. It displays racist stereotypes, cringe-worthy humour, ass-lingering camera shots, an abundance of slow motion, strange lighting, Instagram filters galore, explosions to the maximum, constant screaming for Optimus and the rest of the Autobots, a crazy amount of product placement; it even makes Stanley Tuchi and Mark Wahlberg look like idiots, and I'm a fan of both actors! No one gives a solid performance here, part Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime, who is sensational as always. Despite the rather cool ending, which leaves me anticipating the next film, Transformers: Age of Extinction is not only a true down point in this franchise, but a true down point in this year of film. If it weren't for Legend of Hercules, this would certainly be gunning for worst film of the year at this point in time. Transformers: Age of Extinction is playing in theatres everywhere. 



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