Transformers: Age of Extinction

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In a strange mixture of zero planning and coincidence, I found myself at Vue Angel Islington this weekend watching Michael Bay’s latest Transformers film, and this is what I thought.

When a philanthropic businessman (Stanley Tucci) unlocks the Transformers’ genome, a program that is supposed to save humankind from extinction threatens to spiral out of control. Can Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), a Texan inventor and doting father, use his tech savvy in a mission that looks like it will involve the certain death of him, his beautiful daughter and her loving boyfriend?

Bay is not renowned for his use of subtext. I have not been his biggest fan in the past, I must admit, which is why I was so shocked while watching Transformers: Age of Extinction; Michael Bay has matured. Gone are the days of vacuous action and insulting representations of minorities. Woven into the texture of this movie was a thick, culturally-relevant allegory about acceptance, tolerance and liberalism, all while delivering a series of expertly shot action set pieces and rich, multi dimensional characters…

…is something I would say if I was twated on bath salts.

I will start with the good. Michael Bay can shoot sweeping vistas very well. He has the ability to point his camera at a vast expanse, which then makes for a sequence of compelling frames that I can look at for an extended period. This talent must be because he has eyes. Also, Stanley Tucci is actually very good in this film. I made a noise with my face about twice when he said some of the script.

In all fairness, that’s where I have to stop with the good.

Transformers: Age of Extinction (or How I Learned to Hate Optimus Exposition and his merry band of AutoBlands) rehashes the same old formula from the previous three movies but cranks everything by the Nth Degree. Not only are the characters so superficial they make Mickey Mouse look like he was written by Harold Pinter, but once again we get overloaded with style yet are forced to accept a critical lack of substance.

Wahlberg is at his The Happening best here as Yeager. The “All-American” hero Bay paints Wahlberg as – somehow he is a whizz with a sheepskin and can fix a Sony Walkman – is flag-waving patriotism at it’s most insulting; I think the stars and stripes flag is actually one of the supporting cast. Bar Tucci, the rest of the characters are just awful; Yeager’s daughter (the beautifully-dull Nicola Peltz) is one grimace away from inverting her face and don’t get me started on the “comedy sidekick”. And it wouldn’t be a Bay movie if we didn’t get a horrifyingly stereotypical portrayal of an African American woman, complete with “aaah, heeeeeeeeewll naaaaaaaaw”. Yes, it really is that bad.

Superficial characters who make incomprehensible decisions aside, this film makes very little sense from a narrative or world-building perspective;

  • Throughout the film we see Optimus Prime travelling everywhere by road, yet after the final battle sequence versus Lockdown, and after putting Yeager, his daughter and THE WORLD in danger, Prime just flies off with some rockets anyway, and I am like “why didn’t you fly back at the beginning of the movie, dude?”
  • One of the Autobots smokes a cigar, and they all cough when injured; do they have robotic lungs?
  • Yeager calls himself an old man, yet his daughter is 17 and he had her the day of his prom, which would make him 32-35. Is that old?
  • Breaking into a high security complex? Better pull up in a pimped out muscle car
  • Statutory rape is apparently funny
  • If all of the Transformers are made of transformium (which is a programmable alien metal), why don’t they all fly around as supersonic fighter jets?

This could be seen as clutching at straws to find something to hate because it’s Bay, but when you are sitting down for 161 minutes, don’t do something at the beginning of the film that contradicts what you are preaching at the end.

It’s also edited weirdly, with conversations paced and toned like Bay has never interacted with another human being in his life, and throughout we have to tolerate the director’s music choices; almost every scene is punctuated by either a heavy metal guitar or a song that would fit perfectly over the nauseating codswallop at the end of Armageddon.

I think what summed up how terrible this experience was occurred 90 minutes in, just over halfway through the film. By this point, Optimus Prime was out and proud, looking for his Autobot friends; for a number of scenes we see a the character traversing the sweeping vistas of the rocky American deserts, and it hit me – I had paid £15.60 to watch a heavy goods vehicle drive around…in 3D. That moment of self-awareness made me laugh out loud, much to the confusion of the 25 or so people in my screening.

There really isn’t much to sum up anymore with regard to Transformers: Age of Extinction, or even with Michael Bay. There is absolutely zero soul in these films. It’s just mindless, insulting dialogue, awful characters, boring, boring action, and I am really upset with myself because that £15.60 will go towards making this the UK Box Office number 1, and the cycle of shit will continue. Oh, and if you’re expecting the Dinobots, I wouldn’t even bother, they are only in it for about 15 minutes.

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Broken City

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Broken City, a political, recession-themed thriller, directed by Allen Hughes and starring Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones, teases the audience with a promising start as we are instantly introduced to the anti-hero and the story hits the ground running with an engaging opening scene. Unfortunately after the initial momentum, the film loses pace as the story becomes obvious and safe, with plot twists offering no surprise to any viewer with an at least average intellect. Hughes’ direction and the cinematography are pleasing on the eye however they both mimic the cautious and safe overture of the narrative itself.

The cast try hard to brighten up proceedings; Mark Wahlberg as Billy Taggart and Russell Crowe as the slimy and charming Mayor Hostetler both manage to pitch characters with pleasant enough results however neither of them strain any acting muscles here. Crowe and Wahlberg are too comfortable, resulting in average performances. A firmer directorial hand was needed to draw out the expected hefty performances from the leads. Wahlberg alone has proven more capable in recent years with films such as The DepartedThe Fighter and even the highly enjoyable, but arguably less cerebral, Contraband- all of which have showcased his range and ability, neither of which are seen here. 

It would be unfair to lay the blame solely at the feet of Hughes and the cast here however. The script is marginally above average and fails to ever entice or bring originality to an already over worked topic. Broken City never comes close to the heights reached by it’s TV counterparts; Homeland alone could teach this film a thing or two about smart, political film making. It could also teach Zeta-Jones a thing or too about strong women on film. Her phony, hammy performance is a real low in a movie with not a lot else to enjoy but some, at least, sincere acting from it’s cast.

Not abhorrent just not exciting, thrilling or engaging which is a bit of a problem when you’re trying to make an exciting, engaging, thriller. Sorry Broken City, must try harder…