Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction

Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures.
Call it faint praise if you like, but Michael Bay's "Transformers: Age of Extinction" is one of the least awful of the popular franchise based on Hasbro Toys.

Which is not to say that it's good. The film, much like the others in the series, forgoes characterization of any sort for bombastic explosions and sound effects, frenzied editing, one-liners bordering on the nonsensical and, of course, as many shots of American flags billowing in the wind that the director can squeeze into this picture's bloated two hours and 45 minutes.

Yes, "Age of Extinction" finds the filmmaker at his most Bay-ishness, ogling women's backsides in tight fitting shorts - mind you, this time it's an underage teen at whom the camera leers - and letting his macho male characters spout off all manner of expository dialogue and threat-making whilst fire and brimstone caused by gigantic metal aliens rages in the background.

This picture has been labeled a reboot - which, in this case, means new characters, rather than any sort of narrative or visual changes to the series - one that relies on repetitiveness (explosions! big fighting robots! chase sequences!) as its main sell. It's the cinematic equivalent of comfort food for those who find this sort of thing comforting, what with the endless barrage of flying scrap metal and clangs on the soundtrack.

The film is not without its merits. To his credit, Bay manages to capture more than a few great magic hour shots of the sun's descent in the Texas locale where Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) - by the way, where do they come up with these names? Is that a full time job? - and his family live. The clan has replaced Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and company, but the new cast is basically given the exact same duties. Yeager, an inventor, discovers Optimus Prime - who has been hiding out after he and his fellow Autobots have been hunted down by the CIA for reasons mostly unexplainable, considering that Prime and the gang saved the earth from a Decepticon attack in the previous film - in an abandoned movie theater and brings him back to his junk shop to work on him.

A CIA higher-up played by Kelsey Grammer sends out his goons to hunt down Yeager and his family, openly shooting at them in public and leaving numerous innocent bystanders wounded in their wake in the film's most ridiculously unbelievable sequence. I suppose you must take such scenes with a grain of salt when watching a movie about intergalactic robot warfare.

Prime and his remaining Autobots protect Yeager all the while hunting down a bomb, of sorts, known as "the seed," which they intend to keep away from Grammer and an inventor with a slightly larger budget than Yeager's, who is played by Stanley Tucci, the only actor here who appears to be having a little fun.

The film's final hour is a near-onslaught of special effects - some good, including a pretty knockout sequence involving a gigantic magnet in the sky - and fight sequences. My favorite of the latter involves a random Chinese guy in an elevator who, of course, is a martial arts expert. Then again, the "Transformers" films are not exactly known for their racial sensitivity. At least Skid and Mudflap are nowhere to be seen, thank God.

Anyway, the target audience for this type of thing knows who they are. I'm clearly not in it. So, while "Transformers: Age of Extinction" is probably my least favorite of the summer's blockbuster selection so far, it's at least not as awful as the series' second and third entries. So there's that.

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