Something happened to me during Transformers: Age of Extinction that I found rather curious. Somewhere around the third hour, the movie was filled with 700 ton robots were falling from the sky on a rural highway backed up by a soundtrack louder than a B-52. At that moment, I caught myself daydreaming. Not voluntarily, mind you. My mind drifted off to a project I was working on for my website. This is not good. Here is a two-hundred million dollar movie that can’t hold my attention. That’s serious.
Still this is one of the most obnoxious tentpole movies that I have ever seen. It’s loud, dumb, incoherent and endless. And yet, while it’s nearly identical to its predecessors it’s not nearly as bad. That is to say, while it still numbs your mind with explosions your mind comes to expect it. This fourth go-around, the cacophony isn’t as damaging because it’s isn’t fresh or new anymore. Is that a compliment? Hard to say.
Bay has the unmitigated gall to call his third sequel a “reboot.” Not quite. The cast is different and that’s about it. Gone are Megan Fox, John Turturro, Josh Duhamel, and most blatantly Shia LeBouf whose sudden abundance of free time isn’t any more wisely spent then when he was bilking the public with this unending stream of cinematic indifference.
What’s different this time is that Bay seems to have abandoned the palette by which he created the other three films – that is to say this is the first Transformers movie that isn’t totally an ugly and unhappy experience. That doesn’t make it good, necessarily, what he created previously as dark and grimy has been replaced by a visual look that is aggressive, colorful and seems more childish than off-putting. That’s a nice way of saying he’s traded an ointment for a suppository. It still the stupidest film of the summer, but you don’t feel filthy when the movie is over.
Despite the recasting, the story isn’t any better. The planet Earth is still reeling from the destruction of Chicago which has forced the government to set in motion the reasonable plan of eliminating all remaining Transformers in order to get them off the planet. In charge of the plan is Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) whose dialogue seems completely made up of apocalyptic statements. He has a bloodhound at his side, an angry little man named Savoy whose private army travels around in those ominous black vans that always signal that the government is hunting for something in the movies.
Savoy heads out to “Texas, U.S.A.” where a particularly pesky piece of metal is in the possession of an inventor named Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg). While looking for spare parts in an old movie theater, he runs across a truck whose cab is littered with bullet holes. He takes it home, tinkers a bit and – bim bam boom! – up pops Optimus Prime. Savoy arrives on the scene to destroy the robot; Cade grabs his daughter and her boyfriend and the rest of the movie has them running from giant, hulking hunks of metal.
That, in essence is all there is. There’s a running gag about Wahlberg’s paranoia over his teenage daughter’s budding sexuality, but it’s a joke that it repeated over and over and wasn’t all that funny to begin with. Most of the movie has the pair running from giant monsters with her new boyfriend in tow.
The characters are all bland caracatures save for the one played by Stanley Tucci. He plays Joshua Joyce, a robotics expert whose personality ebbs somewhere between Steve Jobs and Eckhart Tolle – at least in his first few scenes. His company has been studying Megatron’s head and come up with a pretty cool new technology that can allow his robots to transform without all the bending and contorting. They transform by breaking up into thousands of tiny pieces of metal and twisting around like a swarm of bees before reforming into something else. It’s a neat effect. There’s a lot of personality to Joshua initially that unfortunately blows away as soon as he leaves his lab. For most of the movie, Tucci is just part of the foreground, ducking and dodging and buildings and giant robots come crashing down.
The robots themselves haven’t changed. They are the selling point of this enterprise but they are ugly, ungainly and no fun to look at. They are 50-foot scraps of metal that punch each other when they aren’t shooting things or knocking over buildings. They have shiny faces that can’t be recognized as faces, so we feel no connection to them at all. They are nearly impossible to tell them apart.
Not to mention, if you have a quizzical mind, you can’t help but ask logical questions. The robots are on this planet to fight one another, but what are they fighting about? What makes a robot good or evil? Who decided which side they would be on? What makes them intelligent? What makes them able to think and talk? What do they do when they aren’t fighting? Who sent them here? Who built them? Why were they built? Why do they transform into a automobiles? The robots are all male, but are their fem-bots? Is this trip really necessary?