Way back in 2014, Michael Bay released his fourth – and then, due to be last – Transformers film, I wrote this pretty awful review which was blatantly ignorant and really, quite stupid. It was in the infancy of this here website, and due to that, we were running a rundown Blogger page with our reviews. With the arrival of a fifth Michael Bay Transformers, I thought it was time to revive possibly the worst review I’ve ever written. Hopefully I’ve progressed quite a bit since this balls up of a review – even if my tastes haven’t matured. Anyhow… apologies in advance.
If Michael Bay is worried about what the critics think of his films, it doesn’t show in his work. I’m of the frame of mind that Michael Bay is a twisted genius. There’s simply no way that a man who has directed four incoherent Transformers films – big budget films based around robots than can change into vehicles – has no idea what he’s doing. These films have amassed billions of dollars of profit. This is not the work of a man who has no idea what he is doing.
Transformers: Age of Extinction begins with dinosaurs versus robots. Or rather, space robots causing the extinction of the dinosaurs. It’s a well designed moment that’s refreshing to see in a series which has had a giant robot with wrecking balls for testicles (see what you did writers strike, you gave us a giant fucking robot with wrecking ball testicles). Before too long we’re in the lush massive fields of Somewhereville Random, Texas with Mark Wahlberg’s unlikely named Cade Yeager and his questionable eye candy daughter Young Somebody Yeager.
Yeager and The Funny Guy From Silicon Valley (not the ‘Which one? Which one?’ funny guy, but the ginger from Chelsea Lately) are inventors. Or rather, Cade Yeager is an inventor who is dead broke yet has a huge property which has a two story house and a huge barn. Anyhow, they take this job doing something with an old cinema. It’s a random point in the film where I honestly have no idea what kind of commentary Bay is going for here, but anyhow, I’ll try and explain.
This old cinema is broken down and there’s a bunch of old camera’s – you know, film projectors, not digital. The guy who owns the building starts being all disparaging to the projectors (“maybe they’re digital, maybe they’re IMAX”) but Yeager defends these old projectors. It’s a random moment in a film full of random moments. Especially more random given that a fair amount of T4 was filmed on IMAX camera’s.
Before too long, Optimus Prime rocks up quite pissed off. Because of the destruction of Chicago in Transformers: Dark of the Moon (which is a poor film, but very worthwhile catching for the destruction of Chicago), Transformers are being hunted down by the CIA who are assisted by a giant Transformer who can turn his face into a gun. You know, just because.
T4 feels like it could make a comment about the McCarthy era Communism witch hunts with actors giving up their friends relating to the Transformers being hunted down and destroyed. But, now I’m getting too deep for a bloody Transformers film, they’d never do that.
Given how incoherent the previous Transformers films are – even the first film which had battles that simply didn’t make sense visually – it’s a surprise, and a joy, to see how coherent T4 is. That’s not to say that the plot is coherent, but the action is. The plot progresses because things happen “just because”. They need to get to China? No worries, they’ll get there just because. Robot dinosaurs? Sure. Just because.
In fact, the whole film could be called Transformers: Just Because and it’d still do wonderful at the box office. Which is where this review gets serious for a moment. I thoroughly enjoyed Transformers: Age of Extinction a lot more than I should, and maybe that’s because I paid attention to the random slavery, the odd misogyny, the very strange incestuous romance plot, the love for destruction. These things happen and I’m not entirely sure that the audiences that flock to see the Transformers films are aware of it.
Heck, T2 had some of the most racist characters featured in a film – Skids and Mudflaps, racial stereotypes who are just cringeworthy – and had the aforementioned robot with wrecking ball testicles. T4 has a samurai transformer named Drift. I don’t really see that being too racist myself – and maybe that’s a racist comment that I don’t find it racist, fuck, I’m in a racist rabbit hole here – but others did. – 2017 edit: a samurai Transformer named Drift is racist as fuck. I wish time travel existed so I could slap 2014-self for being so damn ignorant.
So when near the end of the film Optimus Prime frees some dino-robot prisoners and says (paraphrasing here) “you are free” and then in the same breath “you must obey me or I will kill you”, well, it’s hard not to laugh. Optimus Prime is supposed to be the leader of the Autobots, a leader who is fair to all except the Decepticons and who is a diplomat. Not a creature who enslaves others. Yet, every second line that comes out of his mouth during battle is “I’ll kill you” or a variation of it. It’s a strange move for the character, and one which I don’t know if regular audiences will even care about.
The subtle slavery feels like a reflection of the audience of these films – it reflects the slightly racist, very misogynistic views of the audience. Maybe it should bother me that people flock to see these films and embrace this kind of behaviour, this message that this is ok, but it amused me more than anything else. Michael Bay has created a film which plays like a big fuck you to everything in America – yet nobody would notice it. It’s hilarious really.
The relationship with Cade and his daughter and her boyfriend plays like a relationship out of a rom-com where Cade is one of the lovers vying for the girls affection. It’s weird, disturbing, yet oddly enough might actually be how some people raise their children in America. Wahlberg brings a bit of charisma to this character – a lot more than Shia The Beef ever did in the first three films.
The actors have a good time all round here. Stanley Tucci was meant to chew scenery and here he does it so well. The films worthwhile watching just to see him have a great time. Kelsey Grammer continues his random appearances in films that are as far away from his Frasier character as possible. John Goodman voices a fat Transformer, because, y’know, he’s fat in real life, so he has to be fat in the film. The point in the film where he shoots an alien that looks like a vagina with teeth should be surprisingly misogynistic but isn’t. When the only ‘female’ Transformer in the film is a sexy looking chrome car which doesn’t speak, well, you know what role the women play in this universe.
Then there’s the nihilistic uncaring destruction of China that ends the film. It’s a wonderful action sequence which looks spectacular – as it should. Bay doesn’t care for the collateral damage in these films – heck, he never has – and the destruction here reminds us that we have taken these kinds of films too seriously for too long. It’s refreshing to see a film which doesn’t care about the mass deaths that occur. Some may argue that that’s a failure with the film, but I feel that it’s simply a reflection of the audience loving seeing destruction (in real life and in film) and not caring for the consequences of it. Really, how enjoyable would a Transformers film be if after Optimus Prime crashes into a building you cut to seeing a mother crying over her squashed baby? Yeah, not very.
Does that mean we’re getting desensitized to caring about human death, racism, etc? Well, maybe. But a Transformers film is only part of the problem. It’s only a small piece of the troubles that plague the world today. A Transformers review is not the place to go into it though.
Overall, this is a ridiculously enjoyable film if you don’t take it seriously. I found myself laughing at the film quite a bit, but also laughing alongside it. Michael Bay is a genius director, he knows how to make incoherent shit watchable and work. Is he the death of cinema as we know it? No. I don’t think so. I know at least that if he keeps on turning out films like Pain & Gain, The Rock and Bad Boys 2 – and now, Transformers: Age of Extinction – I’ll keep sitting my ass through them. Some are truly awful films, but somewhere along the line the insane politics and plain offensiveness of them becomes enjoyable. I should be concerned.