“Give the fans what they want and let the sponsors foot the bill” may sound like some warped slogan for the World Cup, but it’s equally applicable to the increasingly-lucrative Transformers franchise Michael Bay seems intent on making into a major global economy in its own right. For this fourth installment he’s dropped a troubled Shia Labeouf for a more reliable, but equally bankable, Hollywood box office star Mark Wahlberg, added stronger family themes, moved a third of the action to China in a bid to make it more appealing to the huge cinema market there and thrown in a glut of product placement to help pay for it all. The result has already made Transformers: Age of Extinction the highest grossing movie of the year with more than $1 billion at the worldwide box office, and we haven’t even touched on whether the film is any good.
Well Ehren Kruger returns on writing duties having penned the previous two entries in the Transformers series, with other credits on the sloppy American remakes of The Ring and replacing original screenwriter Kevin Williamson for the limp Scream 3 when Wes Craven wasn’t happy with the way the final part of the trilogy played out. Again, Kruger will get no prizes for ingenuity. Reluctant heroes, a hot girl, shady American government officials and crazy inventors make up the predictable human contingent lobbed together to provide only the loosest of excuses to pack the screen full of expensive supercars and the most outrageous robot battle scenes ever seen, all in 3D. But that’s what we all wanted, right?
The savvy marketing ploy to boost takings in China has brought in the money, and practically ensured we’re getting two more Transformers movies in this ‘second trilogy’.
Bay’s latest on-screen obsession is Nicola Peltz, taking over from where Megan Fox and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley left off. She’s another hot girl Bay likes to linger the camera on at all times, only this time the female lead is high school student Tessa Yaegar who has to put up with constant put-downs for her hot pants get-up from over-protective inventor father Cade (Mark Wahlberg). They’re broke, Tessa is told she can’t take a date to the prom and Cade is struggling to nail that all-important invention required to get his beloved daughter through college. Enter the Autobots, leader Optimus Prime to be exact, who Cade finds in a derelict theatre and wheels home to his range in the middle of nowhere. Soon he’s firing up Optimus and getting onside with his new-found friend to the horror of his daughter.
Meanwhile we learn, in no particular order, that following the massive battle in CHicago at the climax of Transformers 3: The Dark of the Moon there is a black ops CIA project led by Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammar) to wipe out all the Transformers – Decepticon and Autobot – with the assistance of a Transformer bounty hunter Lockdown, that big shot inventor Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) has been using Transformer metal to build his own Transformers, and there seems to be something going on in the Antarctic too where some Transformers have been found buried. What all this leads to is Cade and Optimus Prime attracting the attentions of all the bad guys, Tessa’s secret boyfriend Shane Dyson (Jack Reynor) showing up and the trio of humans joining forces with Prime and four other Autobots to battling it out against the dodgy CIA operatives, Lockdown and a new set of Decepticons.
Hopefully they can put some of that cash towards hiring a better scriptwriter and an editor who can tell Bay when to cut.
For once, Bay seems to have learned from some of his mistakes. Everything is shot with a glossy finish with the same wacky angles Bay has become known for, but he’s managed to avoid going hyperactive with the action set pieces so you can actually tell what’s happening. This is a good thing most of the time during car chases and huge shoot outs, however there’s a few times when the frankly nuts physics would be better sped up to a blur so we don’t wince with disapproval. The 3D is also remarkably effective adding to the spectacle while Wahlberg, Grammar and Tucci do their best to give some kind of respectability to the script. The fools.
Transformers: Age of Extinction is just as laughable as the previous three movies; Peltz is given a thankless task of being a helpless teenager surviving with assistance from her Dad and boyfriend while many of the set pieces involve ridiculous build ups such as when five giant robots manage to jump on to a spaceship gearing up for light speed without the pilot realising. There’s mythology aplenty, with obscure references to the Transformer universe, and when the Dinobots show up their history is breezed over. Despite lasting nearly three hours, you’ll be quite shocked how little of the dialogue really matter and how often you’re being sold to via product placement – especially during the final third set in China with cameos aplenty. The savvy marketing ploy to boost takings in China has brought in the money, and practically ensured we’re getting two more Transformers movies in this ‘second trilogy’, but hopefully they can put some of that cash towards hiring a better scriptwriter and an editor who can order Bay to cut down on the mayhem. Fans don’t seem to care, and sponsors are happy to get the screen time, but I wonder if there cinematic behemoths are a further sign of the credibility of blockbusters being eroded away to long adverts for film merchandise and whoever will help pay for it to be on the big screen. I guess Victoria’s Secret need a new audience, right?