Let me make one thing absolutely clear, before this screed disintegrates into a spray of venomous adjectives and colourful put-downs, finally arriving at a shocking and shameful admission that will cast new and dubious light onto the writer of this so-called “review”: I have nothing against the Transformers movies in theory.
Big, loud and silly movies about bathtub toys that come alive and lecture humans on how to become better people have their place. I can’t exactly say where that is; I imagine it’s some fantasy boys’ realm populated by women who look like Barbie dolls and singlet-clad men who walk away from explosions without turning their heads.
Nor do I have anything in theory against director Michael “fucking the frame” Bay, a man so wholly reliant on technology to do his job for him he can’t even explain what he does for a living without a teleprompter.
Bay has put me through hell multiple times before. Armageddon (1998), Pearl Harbor (2001), The Island (2005) and Transformers 1, 2 and 3 are particularly onerous examples of Shakespeare’s “sound and fury” bon mot, but I’ll give him this much: he does have the ability to occasionally surprise.
The Rock, buoyed by the memorable pairing of Nicolas Cage’s eyebrows with Sean Connery’s voice, is one of the standout American action movies of the ’90s. Bad Boys II (2003) was long, but fun. Bay even out-Gatsbyed Baz Luhrmann with a refreshing take on the American Dream in Pain & Gain (2013). Making a film about vacuous succeed-at-all-costs machismo suited him — in hindsight, perhaps unsurprisingly — hand in glove.
The Transformers franchise is a different and far more deflating beast. The three titles preceding Bay’s latest migraine-maker — Transformers (2007), Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) and Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) — were feats of brain-numbing Baynality, earmarked by wafer-thin characters, goofy writing and long slabs of sensory-pulverizing action sequences.
What I do take issue with, on a conceptual level, is that these excursions into no (thinking) man’s land have obscenely long and ever-ballooning running times. The first Transformers movie clocked in at a bulky two hours and 23 minutes. The second grew by six minutes (two hours 29) and the third an additional five (two hours 34). Transformers: Age of Extinction adds another three, totaling two hours and 37 minutes.
Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me, etcetera etcetera — so I decided, friends, that enough was enough. If Michael Bay can miraculously turn this migraine-inducing movie franchise around and entertain me without making my head throb (I thought, as I bought my ticket to Age of Extinction and scampered into the cinema, hoping not to be seen by friends or colleagues), he can do so working within the parameters of a reasonable running time.
For a movie about giant bathtub toys belting each other into oblivion, 90 minutes should be more than enough. The deal I made with myself was simple: if the movie hadn’t captivated me by then, I would exercise one of the world’s most primitive (yet undeniably effective) editing techniques. It’s called “the walkout.”
To allow for an easy getaway I selected an aisle seat. When the opening credits began, I hit my stop watch. Shuddering from an acid flashback of the previous three installments that crept up my spine like the first rising vibes of a frenzy — a blur of mechanical looking bits and bobs and didactic speeches from obnoxious robots — I uttered a silent prayer.
Shia LaBeouf, currently residing somewhere with a potato sack over his head rocking backwards and forwards repeating the words “I’m not famous anymore,” has had his leading man status replaced by Mark “Marky Mark” Wahlberg, an altogether more likeable chap. Wahlberg brings literal muscle to the role, but not much presence. Conveying meaningful human emotions alongside huge gyrating slabs of CGI is no easy feat, although Wahlberg gives it an earnest-to-goodness crack.
The fate of the earth is once again in the hands of the Transformers and a small group of human allies. Spectacular technical wizardry struggles to be appreciated among exhausting and incomprehensively edited action scenes, hackneyed dialogue is uttered by air-headed characters surrounded by all manner of chaos, and, to keep the tone of the film firmly in line with the rest of the franchise, there’s some highly dubious representations of women.
Ninety minutes in, Age of Extinction is exactly what I thought it would be: a potentially entertaining no-brainer smothered by Bay’s heavy-handed style. Surprise surprise, I’m ready to leave. I did what a film critic should, in theory, never do, and walked out. I’m not proud of what I did. But, friends, it gets worse. In the opening paragraph of this “review” I mentioned that a shocking and shameful admission would be waiting for those who made it to the end.
You made it to the end, so here it is. Every word you just read, every sentence you just absorbed, was written before I even arrived at the cinema. I prepared this entire piece before I so much as sat down, or glanced at a screen.
I admit to committing the greatest sin in the film critic’s handbook. I not only formulated an opinion before seeing a film I was employed to review, but wrote it out word for word, with wisecracks and snarky prose, ready to send to my editor. I have never done this before. As god and Optimus Prime is my witness, I will never do it again.
In my defense, if Transformers: Age of Extinction had been better than the brain-bleeding beast I (correctly) assumed it would be, I would gladly have deleted everything and eaten humble pie. This “review” would have began by discussing the extent to which I was taken by surprise and finished with a comment about how one should never assume the worst. Book, cover, etcetera.
It was not to be. Bay delivered the goods, which is to say, having again stuffed everything he could into the frame, he delivered virtually nothing at all. If there was a point to my exercise in rule-breaking and pre-judgement, my blight on the craft of film criticism, it was twofold: a) to demonstrate the extent to which the Transformers movies are carbon copies of each other, predictable and bland, and b) to make the point that, when you get down to it, you never really needed a review anyway.
I’ll bet the house every one of my readers has, like I did, already formulated an opinion of the movie sight-unseen. One glance at the Age of Extinction poster and you’ll know whether it might be your cup of tea. If you have any doubt, I recommend you don’t waste your time. Not even 90 minutes.