Transformers: Age of Extinction is exactly what I expected.
That's always the counter-argument to criticism about these kinds of movies, isn't it? "Well, what did you expect it to be?" In the case of Transformers: Age of Extinction, I expected it to be exactly what it is. Nothing more, nothing less.
Well, maybe a little more; I'm an eternal optimist, always hoping that maybe there'll be some positive tweaks to his formula, but really, there's no need for Michael Bay to change a damn thing when his methods make so many kazillions of dollars. For better or worse (depending, among other things, on whether you're a stockholder of Hasbro and/or Paramount), Michael Bay is as close to an auteur as is working within the blockbuster idiom right now, and Transformers: Age of Extinction is more of the same from him.
If you liked the previous Transformers movies, which I did not, then Age of Extinction will deliver for you, and now with 100% more robot dinosaurs. (Though it lacks robot dinosaurs, the best action movie opening this weekend is Bong Joon-Ho's Snowpiercer, starring Chris Evans. Check it out.) I will say Age of Extinction was a bit more tolerable than the first three films - heaven help me, I find Mark Wahlberg a more interesting actor than Shia LaBeouf - and it's a vast improvement over Bay's only non-Transformers movie since 2005, last year's Pain & Gain. (I really, really hated Pain & Gain.)
In other words, Michael Bay is as Michael Bay does. Let's look at some of the things he does in the Transformers: Age of Extinction. Also, MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
...did I mention there would be SPOILERS? There sure will be!
To provide a bit of a buffer betwixt you the spoilage, I'll tell you about how I've been dealing with this movie for the past few months. I'm a film critic for SF Weekly, and in mid-June we did an all-comics issue; the editor's mandate when he first told us about the project back in March was that we do a comic in which my colleague Jonathan and I discuss summer blockbusters. The editor hooked us up with comic artist Ben Costa, and I wrote the outline and script. The final product begins how I'd always pictured it: with me and Jonathan leaving a theater showing Transformers: Age of Extinction, me ruminating on how summer blockbusters got to this point. I do this kind of thing in real life, too. (I'm lots of fun to be around!)
And hey, speaking of movie theaters...
1. Old Things, and Old People, Are Silly and in the Way.
Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), an inventor who collects broken things to turn into new things, unknowingly comes across a dormant Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) in an abandoned movie theater. It's a nice one, too, an old-school movie palace of the sort which hasn't been built in years and probably never will again. The theater's elderly owner speaks longingly of how movie projection used to be, before digital and IMAX, and a younger relative of his makes a light-hearted comment about how he's this close to poisoning the old man.
An old-fashioned riverboat also gets destroyed, and during a chase, a car crashes into a VFA building full of retirees. It's almost enough to make you come nowhere close to forgetting the scene in which the homes of hundreds of impoverished people get destroyed in Bad Boys II.
2. Sexy Co-Eds!
The female lead is introduced as she must be in a Bay film, in the most sexualized-plastic way possible. Tessa (Nicola Peltz), Cade's 17 year-old daughter, is dropped off at their isolated farmhouse by a carful of giggling, aggressively sexy Bay-dream girls who disappear just as quickly. (Sorry, screencaps are not an option.) Peltz was 18 at the time of filming, but we're told several times in dialog that she's 17, as so to ensure her entry into the key demographic's collective spank-bank. Also, there's a conversation about loopholes in the statutory rape laws, so that's nice. Maybe it's a remnant of the first draft of the script, when it was called Transformers: Age of Consent.
Though the majority of the released images from the film show in her jeans, much is made of her tendency to wear Daisy Dukes, as she does for much of the first act. She's also in high-heeled boots and wears breast-enhancing, frequently see-through tops. Again, none of this is any surprise whatsoever. Bay's been doing this kind of thing for years, and he's been rewarded handsomely for it, and I'm too numb at this point to register anything more than, "Ugh." I might as well go scream at the ocean for all the difference it would make.
And there's no question that Michael Bay has a type. Megan Fox was a brunette, it's true, but Bay tends to lean towards blondes (how original!), and it's occasionally distracting how much Nicola Peltz looks like Dark of the Moon's Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.
3. Seriously, Nicola Peltz Looks a Lot Like Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and It Weirds Me Out.
Granted, it's not just the women. When Titus Welliver's character first appeared onscreen, I was all, "Yay! Stanley Tucci! He's good in everything." Then Stanley Tucci appeared f'reals, and I was all, "Yay! Stanley Tucci is in a dual role! He'll be doubly good." I fully admit I was grasping at straws by this point.
4. T. J. Miller.
Most recently seen as the second-most problematic element of Silicon Valley, T.J. Miller is Cade's business partner and a general lazy lecher, frequently saying utterly inappropriate things about the sexiness of Cade's daughter, who is 17 years old. (Did I mention yet that she's 17? Because she's 17.) His performance in Age of Extinction goes to show how important Mike Judge's steadying hand is on Silicon Valley, because here Miller is playing to the rafters, and those rafters are pretty damn high in an IMAX theater.
He still doesn't deserve the kind of death he gets in the movie. It's implied that it's karmic retribution because he snitched on Cade and Optimus, but his character dies horribly, and Bay lingers waaaaaaaaaaaay too long on his horrifying remains. It doesn't have any of the the emotional resonance of the charred corpses of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru, either. Maybe it was because Bay knew he could get away with it within the confines of a PG-13 rating?