June 27, 2014

Movie review: 'Transformers: Age of Extinction'

By Carl Kozlowski *

I’ll give credit to the “Transformers” movie series for one thing: never has a series of films been so stupid yet attempted to have such pretentious subtitles: “Revenge of the Fallen” was the first sequel, followed by “Dark of the Moon.”  In “Moon,” a battle royale between the good Autobots and humans united against the evil Decepticon Transformers pretty much obliterated Chicago and seemed to bring a conclusion to the series.

Sadly, that assumption was wrong, and now we have the most pretentious title yet, with “Age of Extinction.” While the trilogy’s main human star, Shia LeBeouf, decided he’s had enough, director Michael Bay, writer Ehren Kruger and Paramount Pictures decided there were more stories that needed to be told – or at least, that they could keep making billions of dollars by cranking out additional entries in the series.

Amazingly, they managed to vastly upgrade their leading man, replacing LeBeouf with two-time Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg , who apparently decided that he could not only set his kids up for life with the paycheck but was also looking for a movie his kids could finally see after a career filled with violent and profanity-packed films. Sure, the “Transformers” films are violent, but society tends to give a pass to graphic violence and mass mayhem when it occurs between giant robots rather than humans, and Wahlberg manages to keep his mouth clean for once.

Wahlberg plays Cade Yeager, a struggling robotics inventor and widowed father living deep in the heart of Texas with his teenage daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz). He runs his business with his goofy friend Lucas (T.J. Miller, easily the best part of the movie), on the verge of eviction, until they discover an old 18-wheeler truck cab hidden in the back of an abandoned old-time movie theatre.

This human-scale early segment has some funny banter between the friends and some sweet father-daughter interaction as well, giving brief hope that Bay and Kruger have finally realized that the “Transformers” films have human beings in them too, not just special effects. But Cade and Lucas’ discovery comes after a geologist has discovered an ancient Transformer frozen in the Arctic, setting off  a race between a corporate tycoon (Stanley Tucci) who wants to unearth the ancient robots to use their specialized metal for industrial purposes, and shady US government officials who want to capture and kill the few remaining Transformers first.

It turns out that Cade and Lucas have discovered the ultimate Transformer, Optimus Prime, which has been hiding from attack in the form of the truck. When Lucas cluelessly reports their find to the CIA in hopes of collecting a reward, the feds show up and in an evil alliance with the Decepticons draw Cade, Tess and Lucas into a nonstop chase across Texas that also winds up in China for no real reason other than exciting moviegoers to hit the theatres in the most populous country on the planet.

Now, no one’s expecting a movie about robots that can turn into cars and other forms of transportation to be an Oscar-winner. The “Transformers” movies are meant to be big, dumb fun that makes viewers’ jaws drop in astonishment at the sheer inventiveness and scale of their destruction. And I can definitely see their appeal to kids, thanks to the shiny colors, countless explosions and propulsive action.

Your kids will probably be fine with watching this because living vehicles are undeniably in the realm of fantasy and unlikely to inspire real-life violence in the way that Robert DeNiro in “Taxi Driver” inspired President Reagan’s attempted assassin John Hinckley Jr. But at the same time, maybe parents should be asking why the sheer level of violence in films like the “Transformers” is given a free pass by so much of society.

For instance, one evil robot is stabbed through its heart with a giant metal spear, and then the spear slices upwards through his body and all the way out through his head, making it vomit acid and other robotic fluids before dying. Our human heroes react with Cade pumping his arms in the air and rushing to hug Tessa, only to find that she’s in the middle of a deep romantic kiss with her boyfriend.  I’m not sure if a kiss would be my first reaction to seeing my opponent sliced in two and heaving bodily fluids on the way to expiration, but then what do I know about love compared to director Bay and writer Kruger?

I’ll give the movie a couple of points for its moral tone, as there is little to no profanity and Cade makes it clear he has high standards for his daughter and doesn’t want her sleeping with anyone.  Cade also mentions that the “spark” that gives life to the Transformers is much like our soul, reiterating that human have souls at another key juncture in the film. But that's kind of like excusing Osama bin Laden for the destruction of the World Trade Center because he was a good dad.

One might think that with Wahlberg aboard, there might have been enough glimmer of artistic integrity to make this be a one-time film. But there’s undeniably more to come, as the movie ends with a ridiculous closing narration by a Transformer that says there are many questions left to answer, existential questions like “Why are we here?”

I was asking that question myself after enduring 2 hours and 45 minutes of this junk. I know why Wahlberg, Bay and Kruger are making these films, but the question of why the masses keep watching them remains unanswered.  I can only pray that these movies truly do become extinct someday.

Carl Kozlowski has been a professional film critic and essayist for the past five years at Pasadena Weekly, in addition to the Christian movie site Movieguide.org, the conservative pop culture site Breitbart.coms Big Hollywood, the Christian pop culture magazine Relevant and New City newspaper in Chicago. He also writes in-depth celebrity interviews for Esquire.com and The Progressive. He is owner of the podcasting site www.radiotitans.com, which was named one of the Frontier Fifty in 2013 as one of the 50 best talk-radio outlets in the nation by www.talkers.com and will be relaunching it in January 2014 after a five-month sabbatical. He lives in Los Angeles.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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