Last year, Michael Bay made the best film of his career. PAIN & GAIN was an unfiltered and brutally hilarious black comedy that played Bay’s signature style of filmmaking to its nasty extreme. The mean-spiritedness that dominates his other films worked perfectly in telling a twisted crime story about terrible people. His testosterone fueled vision was a perfect match for the film’s warped storytelling. Strangely enough, this was one of my favorite movies of last year. Just as we began to think that maybe Michael Bay was suffering from robo-fatigue and ready to work on a smaller scale, here we are with what should have just been called Trans4mers.
The good news is that this is the second best film in the franchise. The bad news is that the bar was so low thanks to abysmal sequels that people may make the mistake of giving this movie a gold star it doesn’t deserve. Even though we’ve swapped Shia Labeouf for Mark Wahlberg and essentially rebooted the franchise, it’s still a Michael Bay Transformers movie at heart. Groan inducingly bad jokes? Check. A fetishistic view of the military and its accompanying weaponry that would give any NRA member a hard on? Check. Product placement that goes beyond blatant? Check. Repulsive racial stereotypes? Of course (get ready for a character we should all be calling Death Row-bot). Blaring nu-metal during dramatic scenes? Check (In 2014, we’ve swapped Linkin Park for Imagine Dragons). And explosions? Duh.
So what about the plot? That’s why we see these movies, right? Mark Wahlberg is an inventor in Texas, USA (indicated by the subtitles in case we were worried he was in Texas, France) who can’t make ends meet. Despite the fact he’s capable of programming hardware, applying to a usually high paying “hardware engineer” job hasn’t applied to him. But it’s OK, because the movie has him repeatedly inform the audience that he’s an inventor so hopefully you’ll get the point after a while. Unsurprisingly, this may also be useful for the plot. After finding a truck that turns out to be a robot capable of kicking ass and delivering long-winded exposition, he’s thrown into an epic globe-trotting adventure involving destruction that begs for a calculation of property damage.
This is a big dumb movie filled with plot holes, bad dialogue, and a plot way more convoluted than it should be. This not the movie’s biggest sin. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with big, stupid, summer fun. The problem at large is that TRANSFORMERS suffers from one of the most unforgivably long runtimes of any movie in the last decade.
While most of Bay’s efforts border around the blockbuster standard two and a half hour mark, the latest installment clocks in at a masturbatory 165 minutes. Take a second to think of all the great films that clock in near the traditionally studio-worrying 3 hour mark. Now consider a movie about robots fighting each other based on a Hasbro toy and ask yourself how long it actually needs to be. Paramount should supply chamber pots to each audience member alongside the 3D glasses if they expect anybody to make it through this without running for the bathroom. But it’s OK, you can go to the bathroom and not worry about the plot because action scenes happen over and over again for 3 hours. Just as you figure out what’s going on, Optimus Prime delivers a couple minutes of extra exposition to confuse you even more. But if you’re confused, it doesn’t matter because more stuff gets destroyed and eventually this movie ends.
Watching this movie, it becomes clear that the term “bigger is better” runs through Michael Bay’s 14 year old mind with no attention to the patience of a movie-going audience. Wish you could see another city get trashed by robot destruction? This movie’s got you covered. The sound will pummel you with its INCEPTION-esque horns and sounds of clanging metal blasting over attempts at dialogue. Even when it comes to plot, don’t worry because there’s two movies worth of them. By the time we get to a final showdown in Hong Kong where the civilian casualties make MAN OF STEEL look forgivable, it all becomes an endless kaleidoscope of CGI where a lot of stuff happens. By the time those badass Dinobots we’ve been promised come onscreen, it’s impossible to care because anything fun is squeezed out of your body by the 90 minute mark. You’ll be knocked out by the time the credits roll, but not in the way that you were hoping.
With a bit of creative re-editing (and salvaging some deleted scenes), you could have enough material for two dumb yet entertaining 90 something minute movies with gigantic scale action. But unless you’re a masochist or worship at the altar of Michael Bay, TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION is only effective as an absurd, feature length advertisement for needing Advil.
It’s a shame that Michael Bay negates anything resembling exhilaration with such a bloated mess of a movie, because there are very few technical directors with his level of expertise. Put these scenes alone, and they’re staggering technical achievements. Stretch them out over 165 minutes for significant chunks of the movie’s runtime and it’s just a mess. Some of the action scenes are hilarious, big budget moments of pure lunacy. During a climactic battle where a machine is sucking up objects and dropping them, Mark Wahlberg has to outrun a gigantic ship being dropped on the ground from thousands of feet in the air. Things are destroyed in such an insane way you couldn’t even imagine a hyperactive 8 year old playing Grand Theft Auto envisioning such sequences. The sheer insanity of Bay’s vision is admirable. The problem is that the length drains the fun away. The action scenes could have been masterpieces of outrageous spectacle had they been given room to breathe, but instead it’s just another component of a deeply unpleasant sensory overload. You can keep on piling spectacle, but eventually it just becomes tedium.
TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION is an oppressive and exhausting experience that only achieves its goals through beating the audience into submission. Sometimes when the end credits roll, you leave having been exhilarated by spectacle. With Trans4mers, the exhilaration comes from knowing that this movie has finally reached an ending. Too bad it didn’t happen an hour earlier.
TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION (2014) [165 min.]
DIR. MICHAEL BAY
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