Monday, June 30, 2014

Why to love Transformers: Age of Extinction in spite of everything wrong with it

The bots are back in town.
 by Curtis Betz


Michael Bay returns yet again to show us why studios keep throwing piles of money at him with his fourth installment in the Transformers franchise. Transformers: Age of Extinction is everything a Transformers movie should be, and nothing that a decent movie should be. It lacks proper story development, parades in front of us a long string of characters that serve no real purpose and all fail to develop during the course of events, and doesn’t even scratch the surface of anything that could be considered intelligent. In spite of all of this, it is probably the best movie I have seen this year.

Michael Bay treats story development like Jacob Zuma treats punctuation: it’s ignored altogether and they hope that we don’t notice. Age of Extinction takes place four years after the previous Transformers film Dark of the Moon,  and shows us a world that has broken its allegiance with the Autobots and now hunts them down like giant, robotic dogs. Coincidentally, there are actual giant, robot dogs in this movie. A secret CIA task force is used to destroy any and all alien threats. Meanwhile, this task force is actually working with a Transformer. This is not a spoiler or a big reveal towards the end; it’s in the opening sequence of the movie. This Transformer is using the humans to hunt down Optimus Prime. Nobody really knows why and it is never fully explained during the film. There’s also man-made Transformers, the threat of human extinction, and China. I found none of this to be really relevant. It’s a movie about giant robot fights. Maybe Michael Bay is capable of telling a story. I’m not saying he isn’t, but he sure didn’t put much effort into telling this particular story. It came across as being written at two in the morning after a night out. It bounces around from point to point and nothing is very well explained. However, in a movie about giant robot fights, I have never needed storyline to be entertained. Optimus Prime rode a fire-breathing robot dinosaur and my inner child exploded with joy.

In the previous installments of the franchise, we were forced to watch Shia Lebouf yell and run around for about two hours while he somehow manages to attract a woman who is clearly way out of his league. This time around, we get to watch Mark Wahlberg fight aliens while trying to win the respect of his daughter for nearly three hours. In my book, it’s a vast improvement. Mark Wahlberg is a much better action star and all-round actor. Despite having no character arc or any real character at all, he really sells that he is trying to do what is best for his daughter. He plays a down-on-his-luck inventor who restores old junk in order to send his daughter to college. When he stumbles upon an old truck and tries to fix it up, he realises it is Optimus Prime. This is when the CIA attacks and Optimus, Wahlberg, his daughter, and her boyfriend must go on the run.

Aside from Wahlberg, the most interesting characters on the screen are computer generated. Bumblebee probably shows the widest range of emotion out of any of them and he speaks through sound clips on his radio. It’s actually refreshing to see a character portray more emotions than sad, angry, and scared in this franchise. The only character dynamic that changes through the movie is between Mark Wahlberg’s character, Cade Yeager, and his daughter’s oddly Irish boyfriend. The only thing that changes is that they somehow develop a mutual respect for each other. Nothing in this movie suggests why that happens. The lack of character in this movie is not what bothers me the most though. In fact, I am most bothered by the fact that there are people in this movie at all. I don’t go watch Transformers movies to see people act like heroes in an intergalactic war we were never prepared for. I pay my ticket price to watch Optimus Prime and the Autobots fight with Decepticons in the sort of cinematic spectacle that Michael Bay excels at. In this particular instance, I paid to see it in 3D and I would recommend that everyone else do the same if possible.

A lot of films try to send a bigger message with their story. Fight Club was about the search for true masculinity in a world of shallow consumerism. Avatar was about the plight of the Native Americans after the European settlement in America. What Michael Bay tried to express in this summer blockbuster is that the government is bad and explosions are good. The plot really doesn’t get any deeper than that. However, I’ll state again that I do not care. I went to see giant robot fights and I got what I was promised. I don’t go to these movies to be intellectually stimulated. I go to appease the child inside me that wants robots and explosions. Michael Bay delivers these things by the truckload. And apparently I’m not the only one. Age of Extinction grossed more than $301 million worldwide this weekend, racking up $100 million from the US to score the largest debut of the year. Nobody has claimed to enjoy a Transformers movie since the first one, yet four movies later the world has paid more than $301 Million dollars to go see it. No one can honestly tell me that they really expected quality film-making; we all knew better than that. These films appeal to our inner child who desires to see Optimus Prime and Megatron exchange punches in 3D, and I for one loved it.