Monday, June 30, 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction

1/2* out of ****

Age of Extinction? Though it is rumored that this is the first entry in a new trio of Transformers films, let us hope that this title means something about this unending franchise of seemingly unending movies inspired by toys.

What is wrong with Michael Bay and his Transformers movies? Better yet, what is wrong with me? I just voluntarily subjected myself to his latest entry in this abominable series and I’m struggling to find a way of conveying the level of self-loathing I feel now. I don’t like this series or its director, so it’s fair to say that I already knew it was terrible before viewing it.

The new movie does one thing right by abandoning the needlessly reoccurring -and quite boring human characters from the previous trilogy. Now we’re stuck with new boring human characters while continuing the story of our planet, caught in the middle of intergalactic robot conflicts. Mark Wahlberg plays a down-on-his-luck inventor living on a farm with his hot teenage daughter played by Nicola Peltz. He attempts, without success, to shelter her. Their supposedly funny banter continues throughout the film -even when they get caught in the middle of a war involving evil corrupt black op assassins sent to destroy the good-guy Autobot leader Optimus Prime, who has been hiding in their barn. Yes I also thought of The Iron Giant and wished I’d been watching it instead.

Meanwhile Kelsey Grammer plays the director of a national security program in cahoots with an evil group of alien robots with the mission to purge the Autobots, while a big-tech industry billionaire, played by Stanley Tucci, profits from their destruction by collecting their “transformium” (yes, “transformium”) for new weapons technology.

Follow? Maybe you need to watch all 165 minutes of the movie to get what I’m talking about. Like the latest piece of Spider-Man cinematic garbage, this is a PG-13 movie primarily aimed at kids under the age of thirteen, who will drag their parents to the theater only to lose their attention halfway through its unnecessarily long running time.

Hasbro toy collectors shouldn’t be hopeful for this film’s inclusion of the Dinobots. They barely play a role in the movie. The overall experience is more of the same: Constant low-angle shots of the film’s characters, conflicts that don’t add up logically or emotionally, no sense of pacing, people surviving impossible odds, BLATANT product placement, the depiction of all young women as potential strippers, BAD comic relief and action scenes that are unlikely to thrill and more likely to cause headaches -or indigestion.

One major setpiece involves a high-rise walk on a cable between an alien spacecraft, hovering over Chicago, down to the top floors of the Willis (Sears) Tower.  I saw a lot of potential in this segment. If five of the film’s action scenes had been scrapped in favor of making this particular scene’s effects look more convincing, the movie would have been better for it.

What I think really brings the Transformers movies down, is that in spite of the filmmakers and CG animators’ efforts to loosely aim for realism, the actual Transformer characters destroy the illusion by delivering dialogue and voice acting, which is more true to the silly Transformers cartoon series from my childhood than anything else. No matter how real Optimus Prime looks, veteran cartoon voice star, Peter Cullen sounds like a guy sitting in front of a microphone impersonally reading from a piece of paper (The trailer for the new Bay-produced Ninja Turtles movie suggests a similar vibe for its animated characters as well).

This is also the fourth live-action Transformers movie and if the very presence of Dirk Diggler, in this one, doesn’t inspire Bay to make one subtle humorous reference to the fan-favorite Stan Bush song, The Touch, nothing ever will!

Bay’s successful career distresses me to the point of obsession. Through the careless stupidity of his films and their soulless mayhem, a personality shines through, which I find deeply off-putting. I can name so many reasons for not liking what he does, but I still feel as if there’s an even deeper reason I have yet to discover.

He’s clearly a hard-working director with a lot of technical know-how but he’s as daft as Tommy Wiseau when it comes to making characters relatable. Is Bay as shallow as his movies, or is he the most cynically condescending director in Hollywood history?

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