Directed by: Michael Bay
Produced by: Don Murphy
Lorenzo di Bonaventura
Screenplay by: Ehren Kruger
Based on: Transformers by Hasbro
Starring: Mark Wahlberg
Music by: Steve Jablonsky
Cinematography by: Amir Mokri
Editing by: Paul Rubell
Studio(s): Paramount Pictures
di Bonaventura Pictures
China Movie Channel
Distributed by: Paramount Pictures
Release date(s): June 26, 2014 (Hong Kong)
June 27, 2014 (United States
July 5, 2014 (United Kingdom)
Running time: 165 minutes
Country(s): United States
Production budget: $210 million
Box-office revenue (as of publication): $1, 005, 326, 510
Ahoy there sailors, that's me back from another one of my many excursions to be made over the course of the summer. I spent the week in Newcastle's Tipperary Woods by the side of the Mourne Mountains with my Scout troop and had a great time with the boys. Truth be told, even though there's a good bit of work that comes with the responsibility of being a leader in the Scouts, I have gotten as much back over the years, so not only is it a nice break from relative tedium, I'm always grateful for what the Scouting movement has given me in return. Nevertheless, the show must go on, and I've got reviews for this film, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes and Maleficent to fill out the July reviews, which will be followed by a review for the month, after which I'll dive into as many of August's releases as I can. So, for all the latest and greatest in the movies, keep your eyes posted.
So, today's film up for review is Transformers: Age Of Extinction, the fourth instalment in what looks like is now going to be at the least a six film live-action film franchise spun off of the Hasbro toys. For those of you who don't know, my good self (I will excuse the self-complimentary gabber for now) and this film series have a bit of history. In 2007, my first year of film reviewing, I found the first Transformers to be a charming surprise, garnering a nom for Most Surprisingly 'Good'/Entertaining Film (losing out to the deliriously fun Die Hard 4.0). Then the second one came along in 2009 and won itself the dubious Ed Wood Award for Worst Film of the Year, an award for which it was wholly deserving in all it's two-and-a-half hour plus running time of loud and excessive boredom (I still refer to it as 'The Robot Movie,' incidentally). Dark Of The Moon was a whole lot less bad and better shot, but still a poor movie, and Michael Bay, (not to make a scapegoat) the one who is to blame for all of this nonsense, was the inaugural inductee to my coveted Hall Of Shame, for his myriad of cinematic crimes (here's looking at the torture chamber of horrors that is Platinum Dunes), a space he shares with no less than Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. The crux to the Michael Bay problem is that unlike those two heathens he is a genuinely talented action director who has the tools at his disposal to do great things but insists on continuing to produce and direct diabolical rubbish. So, with this new film, Age Of Extinction, Bay has started afresh, bringing a whole new cast into the mix to play new characters in a franchise I have to say I've long been tired of. Story goes that five years after the Battle Of Chicago (Dark Of The Moon's climatic action sequences) all Transformers have been outlawed and the military has a zero-tolerance policy regarding their activity. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), a struggling inventor and single father to teenage daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), discovers with his friend Lucas (T.J. Miller) an old truck that they buy to strip it for parts to sell, money for which will go towards sending Tessa to college. The old truck though is none other than Optimus Prime, and his arrival and alliance with the humans following a CIA unit ambush led by agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) leads our heroes, along with Tessa's boyfriend Shane Dyson (Jack Reynor), into another big lambasting adventure. Got it? Good!
Now, I've made no bones in the past about my dislike for this franchise, but I'm going to make it perfectly clear that I went into this (relatively) unbiased and had an open mind. Starting with the good about this film, the change in the cast and characters is a welcome injection of a fresh quality to the franchise. At the centre of the human story, you've got a game Mark Wahlberg, who nearly always seems to have his charisma buttons turned on (as opposed to charisma vacuum Shia LaBeouf), and Stanley Tucci, who lends his talents to play Joshua Joyce, the incredibly narcissistic head of the KSI corporation. Both are seasoned veteran of the acting game and the film benefits greatly from having them on board and at least giving us the impression that they care about the material. Also, as I mentioned regarding Dark Of The Moon, Amir Mokri's cinematography ensures that the movie also looks good. The second film (The Robot Movie) was horribly shot, and when Amir Mokri came in it meant that not only were things at least visible, but also that it was done well, and the case is the same here. It means that we can at least admire the whole point of the movie and that is the visual effects, stunts and production design. All of these are done rather well in this instalment, to the extent that for the first time since the first Transformers in 2007 I was for portions actively enjoying a Transformers movie. Say what you will about Michael Bay (and I will say a lot!), the guy knows how to do action sequences, so that, even if story-wise they don't add up to a lot, I can at least say I admired them as a singular pieces in this whole thing. Speaking of design, while the Transformers themselves are well done, the standout for me was the combination of production design and visual effects that went into the bounty hunter Lockdown's ship. This thing is a twisted, macabre chamber of horrors not dissimilar to something H.R. Giger would have come up with for Alien with it's dark, dank corridors and rooms full of a combination of jutting edges with a strangely symmetrical feel. It's unusual seeing something so distinctly nightmarish in what is essentially meant to be a kid's movie, but it was among a number of welcome surprises that Age Of Extinction gave me.
Yes, I had a number of good things to say about a Transformers movie, woop woop! It's a cause celebre! Well, I won't be eating my shoe yet, because even though there were things that I liked and admired about Age Of Extinction, there was a fair bit more that I didn't. First and foremost of the film's problems is, yep, you guessed it, the script, for while Age Of Extinction has it's moments, they don't all add up to much. For starters, while there is a strong enough cast at the front of this, none of the characters are given any depth or legitimacy that would make me credibly believe in their characters. They're all made up of fairly simple-minded cliches designed in a marketing package to tick all boxes; the central character is a widower, we have a token hippy/stoner/comic humour trope (an insultingly poor character), the daughter is going through a secret period of teenage rebellion, and her boyfriend's Irish so he ticks the racial box, it all seems a little convenient, doesn't it? Also, there's a lot of dialogue in the movie regarding the history of the Transformers and their related phenomena which unfortunately serves to be a lot sleep-inducing wiffle waffle designed specifically for the purposes of hypnotising the audience into thinking something profound is at work here. This is all once again disappointing work from series stalwart Ehren Kruger, who made such a promising start to his career with the wholly underrated Jeff Bridges/Tim Robbins psychological thriller Arlington Road. Also, though I think there is blame to be split here, there really is no need for this film's excessive running time of 165 minutes. Kruger really needs to cut back on the basil expository nonsense, which really sees the movie drag itself limply along for the last hour, and just get back to basics: this film could have been done in under two hours and we'd be none the less wise to everything that went on. Not helping facts is that it is a poorly edited movie with nearly every scene, never mind sequence, drawn out way past the end of the line. There are three editors credited as having worked on this film, but instead of a team who pools their collective resources to the benefit of the bigger picture, instead their work sees that the film lacks a fluidity, remaining consistently inconsistent, jumping back and forth between various paralleling action scenes, spending long times digressing with the expository hoo-ha etc etc. To me, if you're going to ask that an audience dedicates nearly three hours of their time and spend their hard-earned money to fill up multiplexes, you've got to give them something more than this. Give us something like The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, The Lord Of The Rings films, Terminator 2: Judgment Day or Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy and Inception, you've really got to go the extra mile when you spend that much money on a movie and demand the audience's attention that much, and unfortunately, Age Of Extinction just doesn't make the cut. Speaking of the extra mile, Steve Jablonsky goes about ten too many with his musical score. In between the crashes, bangs and explosions, we are subjected to the honking histrionics of Jablonsky's brass orchestra, which sounds like the aural mutant spawn of martial music and the kind of vainglorious nonsense you find in those 'Inspirational' videos that are a strange trend known only to YouTube. To think that this man is a graduate of Remote Control Productions and was mentored by the great Hans Zimmer is at times hard to comprehend. This is sonically repugnant work, and I don't get how many people think this good music, because it's about as far removed from good music as David Bowie is from Chris Brown. It's full of that 'feel music' baloney, with swells, fanfares and cascades designed to tell the audience how they should react to something; no thank you, I have a brain and I know when I'm being talked down to! Which brings me to Michael Bay. I remember growing up a cineaste and watching many of Bay's movies, such as The Rock and Bad Boys, as part of Jerry Bruckheimer's school of action movies, and thinking "this guy's got talent." In the case of Age Of Extinction, unfortunately, once again, as he has done for much of the past decade-and-a-half, Bay has squandered that talent to produce lacklustre work that is only designed for the express purpose of worshipping The Almighty Dollar. Notwithstanding the excessive amount of advertising and product placement (I counted Budweiser, Tom Ford, Gucci, Ray Bans, a whole scene involving Bud Light and no less than ten products from China, many of whom were unhappy at their prominent inclusions in the film for being not blatant enough!), there is a stinkingly corporate, capitalistic heart at the centre of this which takes away from any credibility this could have had as a serious film. While I can't get as actively angry about this as I have about other Transformers films, Age Of Extinction is still a much less than satisfactory experience.
Overall critical reception to this latest Transformers has not been pleasant to say the least. Presently, it sits at 18% on Rotten Tomatoes, the lowest rating for the series to date on critical consensus. However, it has made over a billion dollars worldwide, so I doubt that Bay and company are going to lose any sleep in the comfort of their king-sized beds in their villas on Miami Beach or some place of the like. From my perspective, while I found things to admire about Age Of Extinction, namely Wahlberg and Tucci's performances, the cinematography, the production design, stunts and visual effects (I can also confidently say it's the best of the Transformers sequels), I still found this to be a poor movie. For $210 million, you expect more than a movie with a horrible script full of cardboard cutout characters, cliches and expository nonsense which, in conjunction with the consistently inconsistent editing, make this a particularly long expenditure of 165 minutes of your life. In between the overly loud sound effects, we have the overly loud honking histrionics of Steve Jablonsky and his brass orchestra, and when I was given any space to breath or think, I couldn't help but think how low Michael Bay has become since he sold his talents out to unworthy causes.
On a side note, although I don't know how much of this can be attributed to Transformers: Age Of Extinction (wink wink!), I was violently sick when I got home, so be wary, filmgoers, be wary!
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 3.9/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Relaxed (nice to be home and chillin')