Friday, June 27, 2014

Review: "Transformers: Age of Extinction"

Just a quick review today, folks. Paramount did not see fit to screen the fourth transforming robots movie in advance for critics, so I had to hit a late show Thursday night. At nearly three hours long, that kept me up well past midnight.

I didn't like any of the three previous movies directed by Michael Bay, and "Transformers: Age of Extinction" is no exception to the rule. It's the quintessential summer movie: big, loud and dumb. In this case the dumbness dominates the loudness and bigness.

I honestly wonder if this movie had a screenplay prior to the start of production. It's nothing more than a slapped-together string of action scenes with little correlation to a narrative stream. Bay and the person credited with the screenplay, Ehren Kruger, seem like they were trying to slap together a little bit of stuff from every type of successful action picture.

As a result, there are hardly any robots in the first half of the movie, but lots of car chases defying the laws of gravity, a la "The Fast and the Furious." Then there's a whole long sequence exploring a huge, dilapidated spaceship that has the look and feel of "Prometheus." An intergalactic bounty hunter comes after Optimus Prime's head (twice) for the "Predator" parts.

We even get some chop-socky action in the third act set in Beijing, because you know that every Asian person knows martial arts. There's no Shia LaBeouef around anymore -- thank God for brown paper bags -- so Mark Wahlberg fills in as a tinpot inventor who finds a crippled Optimus in truck form and nurses him back to life.

He's the sort of guy who works in his barn laboratory all night and forgets to eat, but somehow remembers to hit the free weights religiously to keep his upper body properly engorged. He's a single dad to an uppity teen girl (Nicola Peltz), whose job is to tag along everywhere he goes so she can become imperiled and in need of rescuing.

She has an older beau who's Irish and a car racer, which comes in handy for those early street scenes. Later, when the transformers all turn from vehicles back into robots, he has little to do but stand around and make protestations of love -- not to his girlfriend, but her old man.

Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammer play the evil old white guys who are the heavies, a Steve Jobs-like tycoon and Machiavellian CIA chief, respectively. They conspire to melt down the living metal of the Autobots and Decepticons killed in the last movie and turn them into their own personal army of Transformers. One of them somehow inherits the psyche of Megatron, just so he and Optimus can have another (aborted) duke-out.

The bounty hunter's name is Lock Down, and he has the impressive power to turn his entire face into a huge sniper rifle. I won't even touch the Freudian aspects. OK, yes I will -- Lock Down and his big Penis Head wants to trade Optimus to the bad humans in exchange for a Seed, which can be used to bomb organic matter into metal fodder for more Transformers. Whole lotta sexual innuendo going on underneath this dippy story of warring robot factions.

The CG-generated robots are an improvement over the previous movies. When the Transformers fought in the earlier flicks, it was like watching two piles of metal junk caught in a tornado colliding. There was nothing for the eye to track. Here, the Transformers remain more or less recognizable. Though, other than Optimus and a bearded (?) fellow voiced by John Goodman, their faces don't really stand out.

I confess I've never understood the concept of the Transformers. They've existed for thousands or millions of years, but somehow can only take on the shape of technology that humans wouldn't invent for a long, long time?

Also, the abilities of the Transformers seem to morph on a moment's notice according to the desires of the plot. For instance, I distinctly remember Optimus losing an arm in the last movie. Although he revives from his truck-coma in a pretty beat-up state, the arm is right there. Then he drives by another vehicle that flashes a light beam at him, and not only does it heal all his injuries it turns him into a more modern model of a semi-tractor trailer with a cool flaming paint job. Huh?

(I sure wish I could use this technology on my 1999 Buick.)

And, after walking everywhere to engage with his enemies, and even mounting an ancient dinosaur Transformer like a horse, at the end he suddenly whips out some leg jets and flies off into space.

Look, I know this isn't meant to be Shakespeare. We need a certain percentage of our movie fare to just be escapist entertainment. Hearty foods balanced by desserts and all that. But I don't think it's too much of a request that our silly movies possess some semblance of narrative coherence, or that the human characters have more dimensions than computer-generated dingbots.

I'd hoped the "Transformers" movies were over, but reportedly this new film is actually the start of a new trilogy from Michael Bay & Co. The Autobots will only become extinct when people stop paying for this claptrap.

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