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Transformers: Age of Extinction movie review (sort of)


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.

21 responses to “Transformers: Age of Extinction movie review (sort of)

  1. Luke,

    When you make 3 billion dollars. please publish an article about that so we can all criticise you.

    Wait, nevermind. We already do, and you don’t have $3bn.

  2. You can go to this and give your brain a long, well needed rest. It will take you back to those hypnotic games you played for hours as a child, like folding the same bit of paper over and over again. It’s difficult even to raise enough ire to see as offensively sexist and banal the repeated shots of the female star’s legs in shorts, nor the vaguely freudian contest between her father and boyfriend, because by then you have been anaesthetised. You know that very shortly after the fight scene that you are presently watching, there will be another one much like it. You know that such wisdom as there is will come, not from somebody you want to argue with, but from a large machine made out of colourfully interlocking nuts, bolts and other components, for which you will develop a shallow affection. When you leave, you will feel refreshed, and look forward to seeing another film.

  3. You spent a ton of time talking about yourself in this “review” of Transformers 4. There are an awful lot of times the pronoun “I” is used.

    The interesting thing is you praise Pain and Gain (quite rightfully) probably for it’s deconstruction of the American Dream (TM), and yet you fail to see many similar or even directly parallel themes running through Transformers 4, or (apparently judging by the way you write about) the previous films.

    The truth is, the Transformers series has been, in it’s own nearly overwhelming way, a deconstruction of American Heroes (TM), the fetishization of the military-industrial complex, and the notion that opposing forces always must be ‘good’ or ‘evil’.

    Truth is, like many “film critics”, my bet is that you made up your mind about this film before even watching it.

  4. When ‘The Great Gatsby’ came out, one reviewer described Luhrmann as ‘the Michael Bay of Jazz-hands’, a critique I will treasure for life. Now we see that the comparison is useful in the opposite direction as well. Complaining that the director “again stuffed everything he could into the frame,[and] delivered virtually nothing at all” would be just as much at home in a TGG review. And yet both film-makers succeed at the box-office; perhaps the only conclusion we can draw is that nowadays, if the marketing budget is big enough, any film can be made to succeed …

  5. I watched about 20mins of the first movie and gave up right there. And you know it (The Transformers franchise) could have been so much better. If they had a plot that was as good as the special effects. Give me 45mins and a pen and paper and I could rough out a storyline far better than any of the dribble we’ve seen. I mean machines that turn into robots? It really is a ripe scenario … so disappointing.

  6. I never got how humans could ever affect a transformer war.

    We’re squishy and slow and small. Yet apparently don’t die and still fire guns at them? When actual transformer guns do nothing really anyway.

    Its just silly.

  7. I enjoyed the read and agreed with the sentiments but the review was spoiled by using the final paragraph to promote it (on fb, at least).

  8. As Ross sagely points out, it’s got robot dinosaurs. And they shoot flames out of their mouths. And things blow up. And there are pretty girls. And men with muscles who face danger with a smile.

    What do more do you need if you want to make a few billion dollars. Have you checked the opening weekend receipts of “Persona”?

  9. It’s got robot dinosaurs in it. Like robots and dinosaurs together. How could it not be great? What is more amazing is that 14 year old boys around the world collectively have three billion bucks to spend.

  10. Stanley Tucci, how could you? I don’t have a problem with Luke’s assumption that it was going to be mud. It illustrates that “blockbusters” these days can get away with rehashing the same tripe over again and suckers will pay/ ahem download it. Anyone going to the cinemas to see the latest instalment must have expected such dribble.

  11. Saying that this is equivalent to turning in a previous piece of work rehashed is incorrect, and saying “Crikey shouldn’t pay” is idiotic. This is a new piece of writing (the writer has taken time to sit down and write a piece on the film), the question is about whether it is okay to write a review of something before you’ve experienced it, and related, does this constitute a “review”?

    My take is that it partially counts as a review, but mostly counts as an exploration of an interesting question about the role of film reviews. In doing that, it’s a hell of a lot more interesting than a straight review of a Transformers film ever would be. Which makes it more worthwhile, to the publisher, and hopefully to the reader.

    1. Yes, I agree too. I liked the piece and I don’t think the reviewer was doing anything underhanded. It was an experiment, and he “fessed up”. And it was indeed much more interesting than a basic review/shred.

  12. Well at least you didn’t have to pay.

    And the sad thing it’ll still make a bazillion dollars @ the BO.

  13. At least, Luke, you didn’t make the mistake of going to 3D. It added vomit inducing to the migraine. And so long!!!

  14. I agree.

    I’m not sure that I’d go particularly well in my job if every time I came across something I didn’t like I went “F**k it Boss here is a rehash of something I did previously”.

    I think Luke needs to excuse himself from any further reviews of these kinds of films.

    He pretty much screws if for those of us that like our crap loud and mindless.

  15. Luke, enduring 160 minute of mind-destroying banality is your job. Your faux mea culpa is not enough. Crikey should not pay for this.

  16. You’re probably right, Luke. And the Marvel films might even fit into the same mould. Maybe you need to send someone else to review this genre. Meanwhile I’m sure Michael Bay is deeply concerned with the first three transformers making (over?) $3 billion! Now, where’s it on again?

  17. Classic. I took my son (then aged 7) to see the first movie. Mildly entertaining. On that basis we went to see the second (he was then 9 or 10). Halfway through, he did the same thing. “Dad – this is really boring – do we have to stay?”. This is from a kid who thought Piranha 3D was the height of sophistication.

    I’ve never been happier or more proud of him.

    Suffice to say, we won’t be troubling the ticket counter on this one. Serious question – are they still earning the same box office dollars?


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