I really like the “Transformers” movies. There, I said it. I’m sure it won’t be long before some figurative hit has been put on my movie life for saying such a thing, so I’ll consider a cinema version of the witness protection program before I find myself floating at the bottom of the Hudson wearing nothing but a smile and cement film reels for shoes.
It feels dangerous, and a little thrilling, to come to terms with the idea that maybe Michael Bay isn’t quite the devil I once thought he was. There was a day when I sided vociferously with the more literate film minds of the world that Bay was nothing more than a hack—a singularly talentless wannabe whose drive for money and women and blowing shit up real good put him on par with the coming of the anti-Christ. I was convinced that Bay had perhaps not gotten enough hugs as a child, and was therefore hellbent on destroying the world one obnoxious lens flare after another.
After watching “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” and thinking back on the three “Transformers” movies that came before it, I realized something that should have been obvious long ago: Michael Bay is a pre-pubescent thirteen-year-old boy trapped in a grown man’s body who makes movies for people who love, or can at least appreciate, a good explosion, and he makes no apologies for it. He is stridently who he is, technically proficient (depending on who you ask), and capable of doing exactly what he sets out to do, and nothing more. Maybe Michael Bay’s movies aren’t for you or anyone you know, and that’s fine, but Bay doesn’t seem to care what you think, and I find something admirable in that sentiment.
As to the movie, a review such as this almost exists in a vacuum: anyone who has any intention of spending their hard-earned dollars to see it knows exactly what they’re going to get, will probably be more than satisfied, and won’t expect anything more, so that deep analysis becomes meaningless. All others need not apply. With that in mind, I’ll keep things down to a shout and say this: “Transformers: Age of Extinction” is about as good a “Transformers” movie as you’re ever going to get. It’s loud, brash, confusingly plotted, involves not only robots that beat the holy living crap out of one another, but dinosaur robots that do the same, and seems fit to destroy pretty much the whole of Hong Kong. It involves Mark Wahlberg as a destitute single dad with the greatest action movie name ever—Cade Yeager—who’s so desperate to keep his teenage daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz), a virgin, that he creepily attended the girl’s prom—as her date. So, how apoplectic do you think he goes when he finds out that Tessa’s been seeing a local boy with the equally-impressive name of Shane Dyson (Jack Reynor), who happens, conveniently enough for the movie, to race rally cars? Let’s just say Cade refers to the kid as “Lucky Charms,” owing to his thick Irish accent, and not in an affectionate way.
One day, Cade, who fancies himself an amateur inventor, discovers a beat-up (for a Transformer, anyway) Optimus Prime while trying to salvage parts from an old truck. Optimus explains that the Autobots went into hiding after the Decepticons destroyed most of Chicago, and there’s still a bounty on their giant metal heads. A bunch of CIA folks, lead by a menacing Kelsey Grammar, show up at the farm in their menacing black SUVs, ready to murder people in the name of protecting Americans from giant robots, but Prime escapes. In retaliation, Grammar orders Cade’s farm and all his family’s possessions blown to smithereens. This leads Cade, Tessa, and Shane on a mission to find out why the CIA are in bed with the mysterious KSI corporation. I can tell you it has something to do with a new metal called Transformium, but will leave the details for you to discover. I can also tell you that KSI is headed by the indispensable Stanley Tucci, and that’s alll you really need to know about that.
Look, this is my best recollection of what happened. To be honest, I wasn’t really paying attention to the story line. I was mesmerized by the action, pure and simple, and to say there’s a lot of it would do a serious disservice to understatements. Cars get pulverized in every way imaginable. Buildings are bulldozed through with abandon. Many people die, I’m sure, although because this is a PG-13 movie, the bloodshed is kept to a minimum. Cade and his friends find themselves in every possible situation in which logic, luck, chance, and statistics say they should not survive, but, of course, they do. Bay manages to squeeze every Bay-ish camera trick out of his cinematic rag, including countless shots of lovely sunsets, slow-motion chaos as things smash through other things, and the aforementioned lens flares. It’s all so absurd, implausible, and grossly excessive, and I loved every second of it.
So why am I onlyI giving the movie two-and-a-half star? Easy, because I refuse to either recommend or reject “Transformers: Age of Extinction” to anyone, lest they bitch and moan for one reason or another. You need to see this one on your own terms, not mine. As I said, you know very well if this movie’s for you. If it is, then you’ve likely already seen it, and my opinion doesn’t much matter. If it isn’t, then I suggest you move on to something that appeals to your decidedly high-brow taste. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to find out if Bergman’s playing at the Egyptian this weekend.