Thursday, August 28, 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction

If the Transformers franchise has proved anything, it's that nostalgia sells.  It sells big time.  With a new Ninja Turtles movie recently released, and a Jem and the Holograms AND new Power Rangers movie in the works, it's safe to say that children of the 80s and 90s are going to be milked for all their warm and fuzzy feelings for their cheesy saturday morning shows for at least the next decade.  We all know a live-action Pokemon movie is inevitable.

It's interesting that the bafflingly successful Transformers franchise started this trend, despite the fact that the films themselves often don't reflect the tone of the original series or anything resembling an 80s cartoon.  I guarantee that some of the biggest fans of the movies are people who didn't even grow up with the show, i.e. kids and teens of today.  There's fun to be had with the explosions, action scenes, and special effects, but I've found the Transformers franchise to be increasingly shallow and empty.  I did like the first film when it came out, and while I don't think that the sequel was, as Roger Ebert described, "a horrible experience of unbearable length," but it definitely wasn't as good.  I didn't even bother with the third film, as it seemed just as bloated and empty as the first sequel.

Now we come to this; the third sequel and a mini-reboot of the franchise featuring different human characters.  Instead of Shia LeBeouf and his Hot Girl of the Day, we get Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeagar, an overly-optimistic inventor living on a farm in Texas, and his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz).  Cade and his best friend Lucas (T.J. Miller) discover an old pick-up truck with the intention of selling it for parts, but everything changes when Cade realizes that this truck is no truck; it's Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots.  Meanwhile, Joshua Joyce (the hilariously over-qualified Stanley Tucci), the C.E.O. of a corrupt corporation, has made a breakthrough in weapons technology thanks to a metal called (groan) Transformium.  He plans on using it to create his own transformers, which proves deadly enough for Optimus and a group of other Transformers (who surprisingly have distinct personalities) to try and stop him with the help of Cade, Tessa, and her boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor).

That basic outline would barely fill a 90-minute movie, let alone the film's true runtime of nearly three hours.  The opening bits with Cade, Tessa, and Lucas are so hollow and laughably cliche that I don't even see why they bothered with it.  Lucas is a horrible character, with his creepy fixation on how "hot" Tessa is (despite the fact that she's 17 and he's pushing 40), his clunky and aggressively unfunny jokes, and an air of annoyance that rivals two Jar Jar Binkses. (MINOR SPOILER) Let's just say that I literally cheered in the theater when I found out he would only be a main character in the first act.

Joshua Joyce is easily the best of the bunch, with Tucci giving a good performance and his character experiencing a (gasp!) CHARACTER ARC.  Every other character goes through hollow changes like Cade trusting Tessa to date Lucas or Optimus learning that "all humans are not so bad," but wow does none of it matter.  But you know what kind of movie this is when Cade being able to "throw a football real good" becomes a plot point.  The action is laughably over-the-top, the CGI is hit-or-miss, the comedy is awful, and the plot is so tension-free that it actually becomes boring.  If there's one thing you want your movie about giant, fighting, transforming robots to be, it's anything but boring.  Oh, and did I mention Kelsey Grammer was in this? He's in this.  He's the bad guy who does bad things.

I will say this though, the thing is shot beautifully.  From an opening in a prehistoric world that glides over gorgeous mountains to arial shots of cities (both in China and in the U.S.), Michael Bay and director of photography Amir Mokri, who also shot last year's Man of Steel, do a terrific job of capturing great angles and delivering on dynamic action set pieces.  Unlike Steel though, Age of Extinction is bright, colorful, vibrant, and most importantly, doesn't resort to shaky-cam for its action scenes.  I saw this in IMAX 3D, and that is truly the only way to go (if you must).  The open spaces, the swirling camera movements, and the grand-scale action are a lot of fun to experience on the big screen.  It's sort of like going to a Universal 3D theme park ride; there's no real story, it's just sort of fun to watch.

If only the fourth Transformers movie had been a theme park ride, I'm sure I would have liked it a hell of a lot more.  But at almost three fucking hours, and that's unforgivable.  In addition, I was pretty turned off by all the misogyny on display; women in this film are objects, and not one of them is even the slightest bit unattractive.  Two women walking by on the street apparently think it's cute when the despicable Lucas whistles at them and checks them out.  Was that supposed to be funny?  Was any of this movie supposed to be funny?  I was pretty much done with it by the two hour mark, and not all the giant robot dinosaurs in the world could have gotten me back into it. And I love giant robot dinosaurs.