You can accuse Michael Bay of many things — overblown spectacle, formulaic hackery, using CGI as a massive crutch, general lack of anything resembling original vision — but false advertising ins’t among them : when you go see a Bay-directed flick, particularly a Bay-directed Transfomers flick, you know exactly what you’re in for.
Oh, sure, his latest — Transformers : Age Of Extinction — alters the basic cosmetic trappings somewhat, most notably by banishing Shia LaBeouf to whatever hell for dead careers Megan Fox was earlier castigated to in favor of proven “action hero” star Mark Wahlberg, and yeah, Stanley Tucci is about the only major holdover (as far as human beings go) from previous entries in this series (look for more newcomers in the form of Kelsey Grammer and Nicola Peltz as Wahlberg’s daughter), but this is no reboot, by any stretch.
For one thing, the story continues directly on from the previous efforts, with the Transformers having been “driven underground,” so to speak, thanks to a government witch-hunt until no less than Optimus Prime himself is discovered and “resurrected” by Wahlberg’s Cade Yeager (there’s a focus-group-tested name if I’ve ever heard one) character, who —
Oh, fuck it. Does this even matter? Does even the most hard-core fan of this franchise — and that’s precisely what it is, a franchise — care what the plots of these films are about? If so, you have to feel a sort of pity for them, because Bay and screenwriter Ehren Kruger (who was supposed to be the “next big thing” once upon a time for a few minutes there) clearly don’t. Every single “slow” or “quiet” scene is obviously just set-up to carry us into the next big CGI set piece, so we won’t waste our time here with a terribly detailed breakdown of the story. Sound fair?
All in all, Transformers : Age Of Extinction is all about getting the job done, slapping the finished product up on the screen, and opening up those cash register drawers. In that respect — and that one only — you’ve gotta say “mission accomplished” here. This movie is making money hand over fist and evidently the public’s appetite for more and more robo-carnage is proving to be flat-out insatiable. We apparently love this shit.
The question I have is — who’s “we”? Like the ever-ephemeral “they” of “well, they say you should — ” and “they say it’s not good for you to —” fame, the target audience for these films eludes me. I don’t like ’em. Nobody I know likes ’em. Nobody whose reviews I read online likes ’em. Nobody anywhere seems to like ’em.
And yet there it is — an 87% CinemaScore rating and another sequel already germinating somewhere in the pipeline. How, exactly, does this happen?
The short answer is — I don’t know. There’s obviously an appreciative audience for these things out there somewhere, but I can’t figure out where it is, beyond perhaps in junior high schoolyards. That’s not enough to explain the phenomenon, though. I know it’s purely anecdotal, but when I went to see this film, the theater had maybe 30 or 40 people in it, and the crowd remained silent throughout. No clapping and cheering. No gasping in awe. No chuckles at the limp one-liners. And yet it wasn’t a rapturous, devotional silence these folks were in the midst of — it was just a kind of “blah” sense of resignation. We were here. This was happening. Everything, apparently, was as it should be. Until the end credits rolled, and we all left to do whatever it is we were supposed to do next.
And maybe that’s the genius and/or malevolence of what Bay and company have come up with here in a nutshell : Tranfromers movies, for all their empty-hearted and empty-headed spectacle, aren’t huge pop culture events anymore. But a lot of us — myself included — keep going to them because they’re supposed to be. And we’re supposed to be there for them. It’s almost like a kind of Orwellian mass conditioning going on : we’re told this is a big deal and, lemmings that we are, we don’t want to miss out on that. Final score : Michael Bay and Paramount Pictures 1, hope for humanity 0.
Pessimistic? Sure. But is there any reason not to be? A family of four left the theater at exactly the same time I did and their car was parked right next to mine. We followed the same route for a few blocks (I wasn’t purposely tailing them, I promise!) — until they pulled into a McDonald’s. And that pretty much says it all right there.