The Blockbuster's Nadir
Is there a serious point to be made about Transformers: Age of Extinction? The question has some urgency as surely every flippant dismissal, every leaden metaphor, every morbid simile, indeed every joke, must have been applied. If the challenge for the heavy hearted hack is not to give into temptation, to do their job and attempt a critique of this iteration that evaluates its efficacy as entertainment while solving the riddle of the series’ popularity, then sneering at Nicola Peltz’s battle proof makeup won’t do. Yet Michael Bay makes it so very difficult.
So let me start as I hope not to finish and invoke the psychology of battered wives as we try to understand what’s driven each entry in Bay’s boom time bangaround to an alliterative billion dollars at the global box office. We’re flummoxed when an abused partner, corrupted by naivety and self-delusion, rationalises returning to the mate that professes to love them while trading their trust for split lips, unnatural insertions and organ damage. Yet what is a love for Transformers, if not a doomed infatuation?
Every few years we listen to Bay, the coke fuelled maestro with the fascist eye, when he tells us he’s learned from his mistakes and it’ll be different this time. But a series this damaged, directed by a man this crude and lascivious, can never be well. Each film is guaranteed to hurt us, to break us with its punishing length, as Bay lines up young actresses, ripped from his adolescent imagination, hoping, when the cameras aren’t rolling, to break them with his punishing length.
Bay’s now made the same film four times, swapping out characters and maguffins while ensuring an identikit tone; that uneasy, unedifying blend of gung-ho preening, sadistic violence, vindictive humour and creepy sexuality. One can get past Mark Wahlberg transformed into an engineering genius with the addition of some glasses, and bully-approved jokes at the expense of obesity or physical imperfection are so par for the course you could almost miss them, but it’s tempting to ask why the NSPCC aren’t picketing a picture that contrives to leer at 19 year old Peltz’s breasts and legs. Sure, Bay’s covered himself with an in-movie rebuke for his on screen proxy, but this is balls out hypocrisy. Still, count your lucky stars; at least this sequel doesn’t feature a robot with his balls out.
Writer Ehren Kruger, who at this rate will soon join his cousin Freddie as an antagonist in people’s nightmares, dares to include an early joke in an abandoned cinema about cynical sequels and remakes. This cheap and obvious crack at the critics Kruger knows will despise his work as surely as if it had murdered their kids is of course, absurd. Age of Extinction is both a cynical sequel and remake combined. No degree of self-deprecation, however insincere, can mask its rote structure, stock characters and familiar situations. A damsel – vacant, tearful and frightened, just as Michael likes ‘em, is a given: so too an ancient secret, military interest and citywide destruction.
“One day I’m going to build something that matters,” says Wahlberg at one point but you can’t help feel this is a line inserted by Bay, one he’s said to himself during those long dark moments of the soul. He’s unlikely to realise his dream while the emphasis remains on overwrought stylisation, hyperactive ciphers and cornball patriotism. For Bay’s movies to evolve he’d need an interest informed by something other than cocaine and his erection. His third sequel shows no sign of a breakthrough. For his sake, and that of young girls everywhere, let’s hope it’s his last.