Michael Bay polarizes opinion. To some he is a master of the action genre, creating what his fans lovingly refer to as “Bayhem” in his movies, constantly reinvigorating the genre with every film he makes. To others, his films contain nothing of substance, regurgitating the same old stuff relentlessly. Still, no film splits judgement so much than his Transformers series.
The first movie was at least innovative, introducing the world to what can now be done with the ground-breaking advances in CGI. Each of the movies in the franchise since, however, has been a carbon copy of the original with a bloated two hours’ plus running time, carnage on a ridiculous scale (there are 622 explosions in the first three movies at a rate of 1 every minute) and shameless advertising for various brands and conglomerates who need a product pushing.
Bay actually started out by directing various adverts and his detractors would point out that he knows exactly what the advertisers want. This is never more prominent than in Age of Extinction where at times it does feel like the entire 165 minute running time is a glorified advertisement. Product promotion can be subliminal and done subtly, but Bay doesn’t understand the meaning of the word, ramming the products down our throats. It gets to the stage that whenever someone walks to a fridge you wonder what product is going to come out next.
The barefaced gratuitousness doesn’t stop there either. Currently only 34 foreign films a year are allowed to be broadcast in China and Bay attempts to cash in on this by including a Japanese, samurai-slinging Autobot serving no real purpose other than to appease the Asian market. Similarly the entire last hour is set in Beijing and Bay even sticks in a cameo from Chinese pop star Han Geng. The whole thing has a cold, cynical value.
Despite this, Age of Extinction does add a tad of freshness to proceedings. Mark Wahlberg is now the lead and although he isn’t the greatest actor alive these days, he is head and shoulders above Shia LaBeouf’s scatter-gun approach to the English language. He plays Cade Yeager, an inventor who is struggling to make ends meet. One day he discovers Optimus Prime, five-years after the finale of Dark of The Moon, as a rusty old truck. The CIA is alerted and a manhunt begins for Optimus and the other surviving Transformers left on Earth, driven by Kelsey Grammer and Stanley Tucci’s G-Men.
A brief fight on the rooftops of an apartment block in Beijing in the last act and Lockdown, a Transformer who can change into a gun at will, do keep the films inventiveness just above the banal. The standard Bay-isms are back in abundance nevertheless and he can’t resist a good slow-mo pan with the sun setting and an American flag never too far away. The plot holes are back as well, including one that throws the entire film into disrepute with the very last sequel-baiting shot.
Bay also delivers his usual needless first-hour build up and character development, oblivious that the audience doesn’t care about back-story in this instance, or LaBeouf’s ridiculous romances in the first trilogy; they just want metal on metal action. At least there is some relevance this time though, unlike its predecessors, although it does take a full 80 minutes to get going and an incredible 2 hours and 15 minutes before the Transformer-ancestor of this particular entry, the Dinobots, make an appearance. Females in a Bay film notoriously do not always come across well, but Nicola Peltz who plays Wahlberg’s daughter, Tessa, does very well to keep up. She doesn’t just pout and strut around like her counterparts Megan Fox or Rosie Huntington-Whiteley before her.
The running theme throughout the movie seems to be whether we still need the Transformers. Tucci’s character even says; “We don’t need you anymore” with Grammer’s also adding at another point; “The age of Transformers is over”. Never have truer words been spoken, unfortunately Bay seems to be unable to heed his own advice. Roll on number five.