Movie Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)
Here are the final words Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) intones in his stentorian, 1950s-Disney-nature-film voice at the end of the last “Transformers” movie, after he, the Autobots, Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf), his hot, hot girlfriend (Rose Huntington-Whiteley), and a ragtag team of Army men save Chicago, and thus the world, from Megatron and the evil Decepticons:
There will be days when we lose faith, days when our allies turn against us. But the day will never come that we forsake this planet and its people.
“Transformers: Age of Extinction” begins five years after that promise. As Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), your average junkyard inventor with biceps like pillars and a hot, hot teenaged daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz), drives through magic-hour light to his ranch home where U.S. and Texas flags forever wave, he passes a billboard with the following message: “REMEMBER CHICAGO: Report alien activity.”
It seems the U.S. government has repaid the Autobots for saving Chicago, and thus the world, by, um, hunting them down. Why? Cuz government. Cuz Congress stoopid. Just as, in the last movie, Congress succumbed to terrorist demands that Autobots leave the planet, so here it abruptly ends our alliance with the Autobots, allowing CIA chief Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammar) to step into the power vacuum. The CIA is supposed to be hunting down Decepticons but Attinger has something more all-encompassing in mind. “Alien combatant—here illegally,” he says of Optimus Prime. “It’s not their planet. Never was. Time we take it back,” he says. “The age of the transformers ... is over,” he adds.
Oh, if only, I thought.
Executive oversight? None. Just a visit from the President’s stammering Chief of Staff. Cuz weak executive. Cuz black helicopters. Cuz gummit.
Again, it would’ve been interesting if Attinger’s deception was strictly in the national interest—if he just hated transformers as much as I hate “Transformers”—but screenwriter Ehren Kruger (“Transformers 2-4”) and director Michael Bay (you know) stack the decks. Attinger is trying to protect America from giant robots by secretly aligning us with ... a giant robot: Lockdown (voice: Mark Ryan), an intergalactic bounty hunter, who wants to bring Optimus Prime, and only Optimus Prime, back to its creator. But apparently he’s so incompetent in locating OP he needs the CIA’s help. That’s why the CIA is hunting Autobots as well as Decepticons. It’s a traitorous quid pro quo. Lockdown gets OP from us and we get, from Lockdown, “the seed,” which will allow another Attinger ally, Chicago tech billionaire Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), to create “transformium” and thus his own, or our own, Transformers. He’ll corner the market, and we’ll have a superstrong military without a need for Army men.
Military-industrial machinations aside, you can make an argument for Attinger here, too. He still has the national interest in mind. Except not completely. He’s actually getting a multimillion-dollar kickback from Joyce. He’s just another longtime public servant who betrays everything he believes in for some quick dough at the end of the career. Cuz free market wins.
Wait, it gets worse. Because the seed? It will destroy all of us. An earlier version, 65 million years ago, is what killed off the dinosaurs. What, you thought it was a meteor? Dude. You also probably thought Transformers had nothing to do with the space race or Chernobyl, either.
In other words, Joyce and Attinger, with dollars in their eyes, have unknowingly set us on a course for planetary destruction. Joyce realizes this and tries to set things right. (So he’s not a bad guy.) Attinger doesn’t and doesn’t. (So he is.) Joyce lives, Attinger dies. Etc.
Some part of me is still attempting to unravel the levels of paranoia here. The fear of aliens and the hype of “Remember Chicago”? That’s bullshit, bro. But black helicopters in league with anti-American forces attempting to crush, and possibly kill, freedom-loving Texans on their own property? That shit’s true, yo.
Tech geeks stoopid
I have to admit, Wahlberg and his ridiculous biceps is still an upgrade over the frenetic everymanness of Shia LeBeouf, whose character, Sam, the one true friend the Autobots ever had, goes unmentioned here. Better: shaggy-haired T.J. Miller, recent of HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” plays Lucas, Yeager’s friend and business partner, and provides genuine rather than cringeworthy comic relief. For a time, I thought, “Hey, this ‘Transformers’ movie isn’t as eye-stabbingly awfully as I thought it would be.”
Then it is.
Lucas dies, Optimus, a junkyard reclamation project for Yeager, is defeated by Lockdown, who, because he uses a net to reclaim him (rather than the magnetic beam he uses everywhere else), also scoops up, accidentally, the hot, hot daughter, who cries for daddy, and whose daddy’s tells her not to worry, even as he and the daughter’s Irish stock-car racer boyfriend, Shane (Jack Reynor), race to save her. They do this in Chicago with the remaining Autobots: the fat American one (voice: John Goodman), the Japanese samurai one (voice: Ken Watanabe), and the comic-relief Negro one (voice: Reno Wilson).
But will it matter? Optimus, despite his promise at the end of the last movie, has sworn off helping “the humans.” So Yeager and his biceps not only have to rescue his hot, hot daughter, spar with the boyfriend, and lament (for a second) the loss of Lucas, he has to convince Optimus to believe again.
The big showdown occurs in China, where ... whatever. Running, fights, explosions. Optimus, cheesecake, Bumblebee, BOOM! The series villain, Megatron, reborn as Galvatron (cuz tech-geeks stoopid), survives to fight another day, but Lockdown—one of the more honorable characters in the movie—is crushed; then Optimus takes “the seed” into outer space, where it won’t harm “the humans.” Joyce winds up with the hot Chinese chick (Li Bing-bing), Yeager acquiesces to her daughter’s relationship with the Irish stock-car racer, and the Irish stock-car racer’s Irish accent keeps fading in and out. “Why hire a non-Irish actor to play an Irish character?” I thought. Answer? The actor is Irish. That’s how bad a director Michael Bay is. He can’t get an Irish dude to sound Irish.
A few years ago, when I was railing against the second “Transformers” movie, my friend Laurion, one of the smarter guys I know, told me he loved it. “It’s giant robots battling each other—what could be better?” he said. It’s the best answer—certainly the most straightforward answer—to explain the popularity of this awful, awful series. If you want to watch giant robots battling each other, and many people do, well, Michael Bay is your man.
I get that. What I don’t get is the extra layer of stupidity Bay forces on us. Just as at the end of the last movie, Optimus says the stupid thing he disproves for most of this movie, so, at the end of this one, just before he takes off into outer space, he says one of the worst lines I’ve ever heard anywhere. He says it after a worried Yeager asks him if he’s ever going to return to Earth. Optimus doesn’t know. But he adds, in his stentorian, 1950s-Disney-nature-film voice:
Whenever you look to the stars, think of one of them ... as my soul.
Bay doesn’t need Megatron to crush me.