Friday, June 27, 2014

“Transformers: Age of Extinction” – Optimus Prime rides a dinosaur.

This is what I wrote at the end of my review of Transformers: Dark of the Moon – “It also appears to have concluded the story, though I’m sure they could find some way to keep it going.” Well, they found a way; a really, really stupid way.

Age of Extinction begins the same way the stupendously asinine Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen begins – by showing transformers screwing with Earth in the distant past. This time around, a fleet of ships is dropping bombs and killing all of the dinosaurs and most of the life on Earth. See what they did there? Yay for pseudo-history. This is supposed to provide us with information needed to explain what’s going to happen later in the movie, but I promise you will only be more confused later on. In present times, a hot blonde chick shows up at an arctic mining site where a dinosaur made of metal has been unearthed. Since we know from the previews that Optimus Prime will ride a Dinobot (if you aren’t familiar with Transformers toys or the animated television show, they are exactly what you think) into combat at some point, you would think maybe this is that Dinobot but you’d be wrong.

Cut to Texas, U.S.A. (the movie actually prints “Texas, U.S.A.” on the screen to make sure we don’t confuse it with, say, Texas, Russia), where struggling inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) buys a wrecked semi-truck from a dilapidated movie theater. Yes, that scene is as ridiculous as it sounds and yes, the character’s name actually is Cade. Yeager. At this point in the movie, if you aren’t drinking already, you should start.

Anyway, Cade’s character is given the standard character treatment for any character you’re not really supposed to give a shit about – he’s broke, widowed, super-smart, and has a ridiculously hot seventeen year-old daughter who “takes care of him” (incidentally, this is one my wife’s biggest hatreds when it comes to character tropes – kids who are smarter or more practical than their parents). On that note, his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) is constantly on his case that they are broke, is hoping to get a scholarship to go to college, and is secretly dating a rally-car racer even though her father has forbidden her from dating. Does this matter at all? God, no. Her only job in this film is to be hot (usually wearing what can only be described as denim underwear with long pockets), scream, and run. Cade’s job is to “fix…ahem” Optimus Prime (that old truck he bought) and run around firing a sword/gun thingy (this happens much later) while cracking jokes in the form of embarrassingly unfunny one-liners.

Meanwhile, transformers – Autobots and Decepticons alike – have been deemed illegal aliens (because, of course they have!) and are being hunted and killed by the CIA, and sold off to a defense contractor for research and materials. Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammar) heads up the operations, declaring that “the age of transformers is at an end.” Okay, what the fuck is going on? Not only have we already gone through blaming the Autobots for everything in Revenge of the Fallen and they have saved the Earth and the human race three times, but “age of the transformers?!” Were we ever told it started? And, at this point, could you blame the Autobots if they teamed up with any remaining Decepticons and just slaughtered the entire human race? Could you?

Anyway, Attinger has secretly made a deal with a transformer called Lockdown – who can transform his face into a cannon and is some kind of intergalactic assassin/bounty hunter – because, apparently, Boba Fett was busy. Seriously, we don’t know anything about Lockdown other than he wants to capture Optimus Prime on orders from “the creators” and because “the balance of the universe must be restored.” If you want to know who the creators are or what is out of balance, you’re shit out of luck because this movie wasn’t about to waste a couple of minutes (out of 165; yeah, that’s two hours and forty-five minutes) explaining itself when there are things to blow up.

In exchange for capturing Optimus, Lockdown will give Attinger a seed, which when detonated, will turn organic matter into Transformium – programmable metal that the transformers are made from (these are the bombs that destroyed the dinosaurs). You see, Attinger also has a deal with the CEO of that defense contractor, Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), to build their own transformers and they need the seed to create more material because they are running out of transformers to kill and the arctic-metal-dinosaur supply is also exhausted. What does all this have to do with the Yeager family? Take a drink.

The Yeagers exist solely because director Michael Bay and writer Ehrun Kruger insist that audiences give a fuck about humans in a movie about giant transforming alien robots fighting an intergalactic war. Newsflash: we don’t. Considering how pointless they are to the, er…plot, Bay and Kruger don’t either. If we gave a shit about the human story, we’d be watching The Fault in Our Stars.

Since we’re on the topic of plot, this movie didn’t have one. Is the movie about a perceived fight for the Earth between humans and transformers? Is it about the poor plight of a genius who thought the best place to build a robotics company was in the scientifically-retarded Texas wilderness? Is it about some unknown galactic creators who built knights, including Optimus, that did something somewhere and they were mad enough to send cannon-face after them? Is it about dinosaurs? Illegal immigration? EVERYTHING IS BLOWING UP AND NOBODY WILL TELL US ANYTHING AND THIS MOVIE IS REALLY REALLY LONG AND REALLY REALLY LOUD!!!!

I know movies like this are not best-described as cerebral, but it would have been nice if anything had made any sense. This is the fourth movie in the franchise; plenty of time to have developed a coherent narrative spanning the four films. Instead, we’ve had a hodgepodge of nonsense piled on top of the very good original film so Bay could try to one-up himself each time around with bigger, louder, and more inventive transformers and effects.

On the bright side, Age of Extinction isn’t the worst movie in the franchise, but it is the second worse. Like the rest of the films, the special effects are top notch and the film provides more action, explosions, and car chases than you can imagine possible in a single movie. Tucci and Grammar appear to be having fun, but they are the only humans given roles that ask them to actually act (also a nod to T.J. Miller who plays Cade’s assistant and provides the only comic relief in the entire film). On the flip side, John Goodman and Ken Watanabe must have needed money or been really bored, providing voices for two of the Autobots and delivering dialogue that must have been written by the same brain-damaged monkeys that wrote Revenge of the Fallen. They also made the same mistake Revenge of the Fallen made by stylizing transformers with beards, samurai garb, trenchcoats, and pot bellies, even though that makes no sense at all (even in this ridiculous fantasy world). Even the transforming got incredibly lazy, as the human built transformers’ transformations were depicted as a flying snake of squares looping through the air. Yes, it was just as stupid as you imagine.

And, what about those Dinobots? Aside from only appearing in the last fifteen minutes of the film, they are just as unexplained as Lockdown. After freeing them from Lockdown’s ship, Optimus fights with the Tyrannosaurus, keeps referring to all of them as great warriors, then rides the Tyrannosaurus into battle after defeating him in combat (yes, that is as funny in the film as it is in the previews). Why were they prisoners in the first place? Why do they transform into dinosaurs? Why is Optimus able to grant them freedom? Ah shit, I’m thinking again. Sorry.

As much as I’d like to say Age of Extinction isn’t a bad movie, it’s not a whole lot better than The Amazing Spider-Man 2, which was awful. Being a story guy, I am obliged to say Age of Extinction’s story is a big pile of bullshit that would have been far better off just leaving the humans completely out of it and running with whatever caused Lockdown to hunt for Optimus. Instead, we get two hours and forty-five minutes of 3-D, IMAX action porn. If that’s your thing, you’ll love this movie.

Rating: Ask for all but two dollars back. The unintentional comedy of Optimus Prime riding a robot dinosaur, even though he can fly, is worth a couple bucks.

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