It is entirely possible that with “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” Michael Bay has perfected a new kind of cinema. It’s hard to decide if it feels more like five movies randomly compressed into one or a 20-minute short bloated to eight times its original length. Scenes begin and end at random; days and nights pass without notice; characters jump around like board-game pieces shifted by an unruly child. It’s not incompetent so much as supercompetent, transcending mortal concerns like coherence and causation in favor of a 32-oz serving of Kickass Joy Juice.
This new kind of cinema, it should established, is terrible, but it’s terrible in an amazing way. “Age of Extinction” is, after all, a movie that features John Goodman voicing a bearded alien robot who is perpetually chawing down on what looks like a lit cigar—a detail that the movie makes no attempt to explain, because it is Awesome. The Onion famously featured an interview with “the 5-year-old screenwriter of the ‘Fast and the Furious’ franchise,” who explained his creative choices in phrases like, “I want the cars to drive fast and then some of them explode.” Imagine that child as a high school sophomore with a permanent hard-on, and he could easily replace “Age of Extinction’s” Ehren Kruger. In fact, he might have already—there’s no way an adult decided that the metal from which the movie’s shape-shifting robots are made should be called “Transformium.”
As Kevin Lee pointed out in his “Transformers: The Premake,” “Age of Extinction” resembles nothing so much as the imperatives of global capitalism made manifest. When Stanley Tucci’s ruthless tech entrepreneur wants to demonstrate his ability to manipulate Transformium, he does it by bidding a cloud of metal cubes to turn into a seat of Beats speakers, complete with prominently displayed, perfectly lit corporate logo. After he survives a near-death experience in Chicago, Mark Wahlberg’s Cade Yaeger sifts through the rubble and grabs a handy bottle of Bud Light, snatching off the top to grab a sip of watery foam. (This, you may be aware, is “product integration,” a more remunerative form of product placement.) The Wikipedia page for “Age of Extinction” duly lists all of the movie’s Autobots and Decepticons as well as the make and model of the vehicles into which they can change: Drift, who dispenses fortune-cookie wisdom in the voice of Ken Watanabe, “transforms into a black and blue 2013 Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse,” because hey, who wouldn’t.
For no apparent reason—except, again, because it is Awesome—the Autobots spout macho trash-talk as they go about their business; Goodman’s Hound calls an enemy “bitch” before blowing she/he/it away, because even alien cars know the power of a misogynist epithet. (While we’re at it, why do creatures who can assume any shape persist in using weapons that resemble guns and swords? Because shut up, that’s why.) Cade’s 17-year-old daughter, played by Nicola Peltz, is revealed to have an sexual relationship with Jack Reynor’s rally-car driver, but it’s totally not inappropriate, let alone statutory rapey, because they dated briefly when he was a high-school senior. It’s right there in the “Romeo & Juliet” law, Texas Penal Code, Section 22.011(e), which Raynor keeps on a laminated card in his wallet because, you know. (Is it possible the movie was set in “Texas, U.S.A.” solely to justify their barely legal bond?) Did I mention there’s a scene where T.J. Miller’s character, who travels with a surfboard on top of his car even though he lives in Texas, does a funny nerd run before he’s engulfed by an alien heat wave and turned into a human cinder? Or that Titus Welliver’s military contractor wears a black duster like a Western desperado? Or—Jesus, I could go on for days.
Of course, I’m a critic, and critics hate these kind of movies. Even when critics say they like a movie like “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” they’re lying—at least according to “Transformers” producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, who told ScreenCrush’s Mike Ryan, “My experience with the critics is that when they like a big movie, it’s because they’re afraid they’re going to so go against the tide that they act like they liked it…. I think it’s baloney.” That’s why “Age of Extinction’s” Rotten Tomatoes rating sits at a dismal 20 percent—while I was writing this article, it dropped to 18—including notices from several critics Paramount flew to Hong Kong for the premiere and a review from RogerEbert.com’s Glenn Kenny that doesn’t strike me as particularly “Fresh.”
Look, we’ve lost the battle against the “Transformers” of the world. So what if “Age of Extinction” plays as if it was badly translated from English into another language and then badly translated back again? It’s got Bumblebee, and Optimus Prime, and it has robots that turn into dinosaurs, which is enough to thrust the portion of the movie’s audience who haven’t yet gone through puberty into full-on manhood. More importantly, it’s got Awesome, of which some audiences can apparently never get enough.
More reviews of “Transformers: Age of Extinction”
Matt Singer, the Dissolve
Give “Age of Extinction” this much credit: Of all the Transformers movies, this is the longest. And save for a few visual centerpieces and a couple of amusing supporting turns, it’s also an endless, incoherent mess.
Scott Mendelson, Forbes
It’s not that this new “Transformers” film is aggressively good so much as it’s not nearly as aggressively bad. As someone who hated the first two and somewhat enjoyed the last one (mostly for the last 90 minutes of unparalleled carnage), this seems like a baby-step in the right direction by virtue of toning down much of the human-based deficiencies.
Eric Kohn, Indiewire
Despite its hefty running time, not much happens in “Age of Extinction.” The autobots engage in some nicely rendered battles with the mutant robot known as Galvatron, eventually heading to Beijing and resurrecting some transformers from the past to help out. As usual, Bay constructs a barrage of showdowns remarkable for their ridiculous propensity to feature explosions and slo-mo, gravity-defying feats. They’re all unmemorable but equally loud and visceral. The popularity of “Transformers” suggests that’s everything viewers want from them.
Kate Erbland, Film School Rejects
Time moves back and forth, as the sun sets, at least until the next scene, when it’s daylight again. Pitch-black night turns into bright midday without pause or a sequence change. It’s all so loosely connected that even the film’s third act location change, moving the action to China (because why not? probably because the Transformers franchise is one of the country’s favorites), doesn’t scan as out of place – but that’s not a good thing. “Age of Extinction” breaks your brain until nonsense is normal.
Richard Lawson, Vanity Fair
The film makes some attempts at winking to the audience with what I’d have to imagine is deliberately corny dialogue, but those clumsy stabs at ironic humor actually just serve to aggravate more. Oh so you knowthis is terrible, and yet you’re still pummeling us with incomprehensible action sequence after incomprehensible action sequence until our eyes and ears are bleeding? Thanks a lot.
Devin Faraci, Badass Digest
Just because is the main plot motivator of this film. Sequence after sequence happens ‘just because.’ In a shorter movie this could give the feeling of breathless stream of consciousness, an approximation of the way children play with Transformers toys (it’s hard to remember in this, the fourth in a series of hyperviolent, politically neolithic films, that this shit is supposed to be for little kids), but at an unbearable two and a half hours this ‘just because’ plotting makes the whole film a disjointed heap of shit, like a five hour movie where all of the connective tissue was removed.
James Rocchi, About.com
Fueled by nostalgia, corporate profiteering and a beer-commercial aesthetic mixed with hypocritical “values,” Transformers: Age of Extinction isn’t a bad movie; it’s the worst possible product of a big Hollywood system drunk on a cocktail of fermented nostalgia and rancid profiteering while driving moviegoing into the ground.
Richard Corliss, Time
The final half-hour devolves into a kind of abstract-expressionist chaos, with commercials. Nothing coheres. Movies usually try to come together at the end; this one falls apart. If that’s Bay intention, then cinema has finally entered its Age of Extinction.
Glenn Kenny, RogerEbert.com
The poker-faced way that various and sundry of the cast reflect on the idea that Transformers have “souls” and that this is why humans should be allied with them, is rather confounding; do the filmmakers actually believe in this idea enough to want its audience to believe it, or are they just being unbelievably cynical, and which would be worse if true?
Jordan Hoffman, Film.com
I can not tell a lie. I had a fun, enjoyable (albeit long) night at “Transformers: Age of Extinction.” Keep in mind, I went with about ten colleagues/friends and didn’t pay. That’s how it is for me with all movies, but with something like this it really makes a difference.