Minor Transformers: Age of Extinction Spoilers Ahead.
Really though, I can explain the movie right now to you: robot fights, following human characters you don’t care about, and what passes as “conflict” these days.
I was able to attend a family member’s 90th birthday over the weekend. A sweet older lady who is still surprisingly sharp, she had loved ones around her both domestically and internationally, and it was genuinely interesting to hear about her life. That’s not to say that I wasn’t bored out of my mind at times. This isn’t the fault of anyone, but it’s more the pitfalls of life: people you were close to years ago grow up and change, gain hobbies and interests that you don’t connect to, and generally have lives separate from you. Going into the experience, I knew that the majority of it was not going to be fun for me, but I knew that it was important to be there for the sake of being there.
This is how I felt watching Transformers: Age of Extinction.
To be honest, I don’t know what I expected from the experience, but I must have put some hope into it, because I still left the theater disappointed. I understand that it’s a summer blockbuster movie that may involve less thought than other theatrical endeavors, but it doesn’t excuse the film from its laziness and its unfocused plot. A few examples are as follows.
I’m a little tired of not seeing strong female leads lately. This being said, every female character in the movie had little to no impact on the story itself, and were only used to motivate the male characters into action. Take Tessa Yeager (Nicola Peltz) for example, the daughter of Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg): hopeful college student and love interest to Shane Dyson (Jack Reynor). She’s only used as a catalyst to keep the story moving forward, never making any real impact to the story itself: she’s held at gunpoint, kidnapped, and seen as helpless. There’s even a line in the movie to take away from her character even more, when Shane says to Cade that he isn’t present to save his daughter, but Cade is present to save Shane’s girlfriend. Even when we receive a semblance of a strong female character in Bingbing Li’s fight scene, she is ultimately saved and helped up by a completely random elevator guy with no character name, who has no connection to the plot whatsoever. But it makes sense though, right? Because the third act of our movie is in China, and everyone knows how to fight effectively there? Congratulations: you’ve combined sexism and racism fueled by awful stereotypes.
Sadly, the Transformers franchise is wrought with slightly off-putting racism, but this time they were able to target another racial demographic: Asians. Ken Watanabe lent his voice to Drift, a Transformer who takes the form of what less-sensitive people may refer to as a “rice rocket”, while stereotypically appearing as a Samurai warrior driven by honor. The problem is that the audience is never steered to take the Autobots seriously, while the three new Autobots that are characterized are caricatures of their respective accents: the US, the UK, and Japan. Drift’s character is by far the worst offender of this: in his few lines in the movie, most have the word “honor” in each sentence, and even calls Optimus Prime “sensei” in an attempt at respect that is all but lost in the third act.
The most egregious mistakes of the film come from the scripting though, and it was awful to the point where I was physically embarrassed for the characters on-screen. When Walhberg asks for a warrant to search his farm, Welliver’s character actually states “My face is my warrant”. My face is my warrant. Not his gun, or his authority, or the 20ish other armed thugs, but his face. I understand that through merchandise sales they’re trying to appeal to a younger demographic, but as an adult and a lover of science fiction and Transformers, it’s a slap in the face of nostalgia and innovation at the same time. At least in the last movies we’ve had an uplifting speech from Optimus Prime himself: now he’s a shell of himself, constantly talking about leaving Earth and blaming the entire human race for mistakes that a few of us make. Isn’t the whole premise of the movie that this kind of blanket-thinking is bad, and has led to Autobots being hunted to death? It’s like if someone scolded another person for being racist, and then turns around and calls them the worst racial slur they possibly could in passing.
Suffering from indistinct CGI (again), a lackluster and unfocused script (again), and little to no progression in character development (again), Transformers: Age of Extinction is another movie you’re probably going to watch, since it’s the summer and you tend to get bored sometimes. I highly recommend sitting this one out in theaters, and maybe viewing it on Netflix later on in the year when it inevitably finds itself there. There are other Transformers projects that are a better use of your time, but I also understand the impulse to see it because it’s in your genre wheelhouse and you feel like you have to see it. I mean, I know that I was subjected to the same feelings last night.
Verdict: I would rather go to another 90th birthday than have to watch the movie again.