Transformers: Age of Extinction
Written by Ehren Kruger
Directed by Michael Bay
I took a course on auteur theory in school and in the first class my prof asked me if Michael Bay was an auteur. A more apt question would be is Michael Bay the modern John Ford? Since Bad Boys he has made each of his movies in the same style: his style. All of these films are entertaining if you enjoy big dumb action films. Just like John Ford’s oeuvre is entertaining if you like Westerns of all shapes and sizes. So with that being said, Age of Extinction is Michael Bay’s masterpiece in the auteurist sense. It is exactly the film that Bay has been trying to make since Bad Boys. Does that make it a good movie though?
This film is still a part of the Transformers mythology that Bay has been using even if the original cast is gone. This time Mark Whalberg is an inventor and single father from rural Texas. He and a friend of his find a run-down semi-truck and try and strip it down for parts until Lockdown (a transformer bounty hunter) and a CIA team come into get this truck from them. Of course the truck is actually Optimus Prime who then reveals himself and saves Marky Mark and his daughter and their friends. The rest of the plot revolves around a company named KSI who has discovered the element that makes the transformers tick and them trying to build new transformers.
Transformers: Age of Extinction is an incredibly long movie. It has so many plot holes and character missteps that it’s hard to believe the movie coalesces at all. At one point the story just packs up and moves to China and it feels like a second movie has begun that has almost no relationship to the first. Narratively the film makes almost no sense and its resolution feels like a Band-Aid solution to an immediate problem that is being used to set up future sequels.
But I’m going to be the Transformers apologist here and say this may just be the best Transformers film yet. If you can put aside the need for narrative consistency it isn’t hard to view this as the most “Michael Bay” Michael Bay film ever. Unlike the second and third Transformers movies, the action in this film is incredibly clear. Who is punching who is almost always discernible frame to frame which makes the action pretty entertaining. Bay also goes full cartoon here with the introduction of the Dinobots which while ludicrous are also really entertaining. The big three actors in this film, Mark Whalberg, Stanley Tucci, and Kelsey Grammer also give really good performances (for this series at least). And to highlight the conflict between how ludicrous this film is and how balsy it is; the aforementioned element that helps KSI uses to make new transformers: its name is “Transformium.”
And that’s the film’s greatest strength. Age of Extinction isn’t self-serious like the first three films are. While the plot makes (almost) no sense, you can tell that the world isn’t really at stake if the autobots don’t win. This film is bigger in every sense except for its own internal context, and in a weird superficial way, it works.
This film is not a good action movie in the vein of Commando where you have one ludicrous story line that is followed through to conclusion. This film is entertaining in its own way, the Michael Bay way. Perhaps I’ve just been conditioned by too many years of Bay’s filmmaking. Perhaps I’m predisposed to like this film because I like Mark Whalberg, Stanley Tucci, and Kelsey Grammar. Or maybe there is something more to this film than we want to admit. Maybe Age of Extinction is the kind of big dumb action movie that we say we don’t enjoy even though secretly the unveiling of the Dinobots makes our inner child giddy with glee.
This is the Transformers movie that gets the transformers franchise the best. It understands what it is and goes for it 150%. Does that make it good? Even I can’t answer that honestly, but I think I’m okay with that. I may be okay with Michael Bay.