Transformers: Age of Extinction is 165 minutes of oddly perverted blow-upness with fast cars, sexy women and faster cars. Brawny and brainless and oozing with a boyish charm, Hasbro’s golden goose toy franchise’s silver screen reboot certainly feels big and glossy. Bay channels his inner grease monkey for this bombastic robot romp and his film is full of hyperbolic action sequences with overwhelming scope and scale. Bay does display moments of dazzling and technical virtuosity, but the problems of Transformers are too many and too familiar in modern commercial cinema.
Under the threat of eviction (and soon to be extinction), struggling father and inventor Cade Yeager (played by a joyful Mark Wahlberg) pairs up with a band of chiselled misfits and Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) to outrun an outer space bounty hunter. Humans soon find an alternative to the Autobots and decide to build their own, apparently improved versions of the transformers; all the while the mysterious being from outer space tracks down Prime, as his nameless creators want him back.
Michael Bay directs Age of Extinction like he would a Victoria’s Secret commercial. The visuals are certainly smooth and glossy, albeit slightly dirtier than the previous iterations in the Transformers franchise, and the film is literally littered with outrageous product placement. Prime and his morphing comrades have been remodelled and re-suited with shiny coats of armour; fan favourite Bumblebee sports a fresh lick of mustard yellow and Prime is sadly still a tin-man without a beating heart. Bay does have a talent for framing motion and movements and there is much depth to the image. Perhaps the film is too ambitious in certain scenes but when the action swoops, dodges and dives through the many urban playgrounds, the film is very impressive. There are grand moments in Age of Extinction and Bay lavishly shoots the gun-toting brawls and excessive set pieces, but the film offers little more than gear-grinding chaos.
Bay’s films are unique in the way he almost eroticises the action genre and his formula is certainly bankable. Bay uses the camera as a tool of his perversions. Age of Extinction is a laddish fantasy of cars and (wo)men and whilst the film is tirelessly pushing its superficial machismo, it is charmingly juvenile. Indeed the film looks like a double page spread from Zoo Magazine with its pouting and coolness and Age of Extinction explores Bay’s attraction to manliness. The teenage Tessa (Nicola Peltz) is poised like a pin-up poster and for Bay, women and cars are interchangeable; the camera often ogles the body of under-aged Tessa just as it does its machines. But the action hero is always the centrefold in Bay’s lavish paradise. Whilst the groomed boyfriend Shane Dyson (Jack Reynor) is a waxwork of former hero Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky, Wahlberg’s muscular character offers a playful role for the actor and he is amusing in his older age.
Ultimately, Transformers has those first-world problems where the budget is too much and the resources are seemingly unlimited. Bay’s slipshod and rackety romp is just like any number of uninspired blockbusters to gross large figures at the box-office and yet still offer mediocre entertainment. The film is a symphony of mayhem; indeed explosions are Bay’s dosage of Viagra, as random city blocks crumble needlessly under a hail of loud bangs and the destruction toll is far too great. In a grand battle in the downtown cityscape that recalls Avengers Assemble (2012), dinosaur-mounted Zords tussle and fisticuff with expendable enemies aplenty; the scene is sleazy, screechy and sweaty. As the messy plot spools over into an unbalanced third act, the Autobots take their fight to the streets of Beijing and Hong Kong and the film reveals that Transformers is, and has always been, a studio tent-pole. Whilst it struggles to eschew the tropes of summertime blockbuster fever, and it is more playful in its mockery, Age of Extinction succumbs to the humdrum and tinnitus of the overcooked action romp.
Bay-bashing often overlooks any merit in Michael Bay’s canon of work, indeed the digital filmmaking auteur frequently substitutes strong script and story for explosions and slickness. Age of Extinction, however, plays fondly to Bay’s shtick, although in Age of Extinction he does have a tin-ear for humour. There is nothing delicate about him; Bay is loud and brash and Age of Extinction is, down to it nuts and bolts, commercial schlock.