Dateline: Hollywood... Breaking News! General Motors to issue new recall, beyond the thousands issued for faulty ignition switches, for the vehicles used in new “Transformers” film. Can’t afford the bad publicity of being associated with such a terrible film on top of everything else. Doing everything they can to avoid another congressional inquiry….
I went to the first “Transformers” film, letting my curiosity overtake my general distaste for director Michael Bay’s filmmaking style – his frenetic editing style makes it virtually impossible to become involved in the movie or to enjoy the over-the-top characters or action that he is also known for. I actually enjoyed the film immensely. Maybe it was my extremely low expectations (a great thing for any filmmaker to hear, I’m sure) but it was fun. The Transformers in the film were extremely well-done and seemed to move at a speed unseen in a film before. It was great computer-generated-imagery (or CGI). Perhaps it was my awe for this graphics work that made me overlook any problems with the narrative and dialogue. Or maybe the film was that good. Either way, I enjoyed the film.
The second and third films? Not so much. The newness of the CGI was gone and this aspect of the production was no longer able to mask the inane plotting and terrible dialogue, not to mention the overblown product placement and the moments of questionable characterization. These two films were let-downs and pointed to a moment of bad judgement by thornhill.
But the powers that be decided to make a fourth “Tranformers” film; they declared it a ‘reboot’ and the beginning of a new trilogy, and brought in a new cast. Michael Bay is again at the helm using a script by Ehren Kruger (who wrote the last two sequels, “Scream 3”, “The Brothers’ Grimm”, “The Skeleton Key”, “The Ring”) and Mark Wahlberg is the new star.
“Transformers: Age of Extinction” is not well-written. The action careens from Texas to Detroit to Hong Kong. Why? Seemingly to appease all of the product-placement sponsors in the film. A moment of explanation. In most films and television shows, the producers look for ways to make some money to offset the cost of production. For a while, if a character held a can of Coke during a scene, it was simply to make the character seem real - this character would drink a can of Coke. Then, the folks behind these productions realized they were giving away potential money. Remember Reese’s Pieces in “E.T.”? That candy was in the film because other confectionaries didn’t want their product used. An alien eating our candy? When the movie caused Reese’s Pieces sales to jump to astronomical levels, Hollywood began to take notice. Why give away this amazing money-making opportunity? So now, anytime a character is holding a particular soda can, that company paid for its placement. Some films and television shows are so rife with product placements, it serves to pull us out of the narrative and the story. Some television shows frequently have characters driving a particular car and their conversation begins to include one or more features this new amazing car has. Sure enough, during the next commercial break, the very same car company will advertise the newest model.
The “Transformers” films basically exist as giant product-placement showcases. First and foremost, the Transformers themselves are all based on toys, giving the sales of these action figures a boost. And they are all cars or trucks, most of which are based on the most current GM models. Why? Because if you drive a sexy Corvette, it might become a Transformer and you’ll be really cool. OK, so this is fine and could be deemed barely acceptable, they have to be based on some sort of vehicle, right? Since the Transformers have apparently been around for ages. I would find it more interesting and believable if they were based on older, more vintage models of cars. How are all of these alien robots based on 2014 models? Do they go to a special shop every year and get a retrofit? Do they have some sort of molting capability, shedding themselves of the latest outdated model for a brand new Corvette?
But the product placements in a “Transformers” film are even worse. In each chapter, the Transformers get involved in huge, epic battles, destroying everything in sight, vehicles, bridges, huge buildings. And in each of these battles, nearby billboards featuring great brands remain surprisingly intact, allowing the paid ad to remain in the scenes for as long as possible. Or a truck or double-decker bus with an ad on the side will remain damage-free. This strains credibility beyond the breaking point. These giant robots really tear these places up. In “Age of Extinction”, one of the Transformers enters the fight after changing from an Oreo delivery truck. As it fights, the Oreo logo is prominently featured on the robot.
Even the locations used in the film seem to be dictated by partnerships. The action moves to Hong Kong primarily because some companies paid money, became partners in the production of the film, to have their buildings featured amid the chaos. I understand productions have to find ways to make and save money, but this is too much. Filmmaking is an art form and it is commerce. When the partnerships begin to dictate the narrative to the detriment of the film, the balance shifts too much. It’s worse because it makes almost no sense for the narrative to shift to Hong Kong.
In the first two films, Shia LaBeouf plays Sam Witwicky, a nerdy high schooler who is not having very good luck with the girls. Then, he meets Mikaela Barnes (played by Megan Fox) and they become a couple as they try to help the Transformers fight various foes. Michael Bay’s camera lingers over Fox’s body, capturing every curve for any wayward peeper watching the film. In “Transformers 3”, Fox was replaced by Rosie Huntington-Whitely, who becomes Sam’s new girlfriend and partner in the adventure. Clearly, this nerd no longer has trouble catching the attention of pretty girls. And Bay’s camera continues to fetishize her, just like it does Fox. The characters are wearing short-shorts and billowing, open shirts? All the better for Bay’s camera to linger across the supple, curvy body of some young lady.
In the new film, Mark Wahlberg plays Cade Yeager, a good- old Texas boy who tinkers with parts he salvages and tries to invent new things to help out around the house. At 43, Wahlberg is not too old to have a beautiful young girl, say a 20-year-old, on his arm. No sir. Not in a Hollywood film and certainly not in a Michael Bay film. True, he isn’t given one of those, but a pretty young girl is almost required, so we get Nicola Peltz playing Cade’s daughter, complete with her own set of short-shorts and high heels. The better to accentuate her long, naked legs. Thankfully, the filmmakers had the good sense to make them father and daughter, but their good sense does have its limits. Tessa (Peltz) has to be kissed, giving all of the little man-boys in the audience a look at her luscious lips, so they can feel as though they are kissing Nicola. But she does have a boyfriend, Shane (Jack Reynor), a race car driver who is clearly older than her. Cade threatens to have Shane arrested, prompting Shane to pull out a copy of the “Romeo & Juliet” clause of a Texas law. Apparently, because they’ve been in love since high school, (he was a senior and she was a freshman) now that she’s 17 and they’re dating, kissing, and ____ing, he isn’t in danger of being arrested. Hooray. Let the fetishization begin.
The dialogue is ridiculous. At one point, a missile shoots into the Yeager’s home and Tessa announces, with little excitement, “There’s a missile in the living room”. Apparently, this is a pretty common occurrence.
“Transformers: Age of Extinction” is a completely forgettable film with a been-there done-that feel. Skip it.