The continued monster success of Michael Bay’s Transformers film franchise is something I find baffling, and I can’t imagine I’m the only one. Together the three films in the series have collected over 2 billion dollars in box office revenue alone, despite never having been in the same zip code as good. The second still sits rather resolutely as my 3rd least favorite movie ever, which is quite an accomplishment when you think about it. Still, the 3rd movie showed signs of improvement, at least in the direction department (although that might be the restrictions imposed on Bay by the size of 3D cameras and their incompatibility with rapid fire editing, but never mind) and this movie displayed its distinct lack of Shia LeBouf on it’s sleeve. So it was with rare cautious optimism that I entered the theater. How did it turn out?
Well to put it simply: the script is a pancake pile of cliche, hackery, and bulls**t. The lead character is generally awful while the secondary characters are cardboard at best. The acting is mostly subpar, the story aimless and it STILL spends far too much time with the human characters. The pacing manages somehow to both be moving too quickly for me to have a firm handle on what’s going on and too slow for me to get swept up in it. The ad campaign has been at best misleading and at worst outright dishonest. The runtime is unforgivably long. The viewing experience winds up a mix of depressing, frustrating, irritating, boring, and exhausting.
So overall, probably the best of the series.
The plot, despite theoretically being about alien robots, is actually devoted to Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg). Yeager is a broke, down on his luck inventor who makes money repairing machines or selling things for salvage, but for some reason needs an entire farm to do that. Throughout the movie, Yeager reveals himself to be petulant, childish, bigoted, controlling, occasionally cruel, and a bully, which means he’s a big step up from Sam Witwicky. Anyhoo, he finds a badly damaged Optimus Prime, having been attacked by the US military after a falling out between them and the Transformers in the wake of the attack on Chicago in the last movie, that’s led to all Transformers being hunted down by the CIA and a new Transformer named Lockdown, who’s major requirement appears to be dibs on Optimus. After the CIA threatens Yeager and his daughter, they must go on the run with Optimus and his daughter’s boyfriend, find the remaining Autobots and get to the bottom of why the CIA is killing Transformers.
As with all the other movies in this franchise, the biggest issue with this movie is the script. The pacing is incredibly wonky, moving far too fast through important scenes before grinding to a halt during unimportant scenes. The comedy moments and dialogue are still cringe inducing. There’s no consistent characterization for anyone; Yeager’s daughter’s boyfriend is introduced in a scene where he calmly risks death a dozen times but the next time he’s in danger he acts like a coward. The story has the same issue that the first 3 had, where it seems it was both overwritten and underplotted, which is a neat trick but it’s frustrating to watch.
The action and CGI are probably the best of the series, but they’re undercut by poor editing and an inconsistent sense of geography (not to mention a lack of dramatic involvement). There’s an action scene near the beginning where the two participants begin the fight well apart from each other (as in several miles) and when they come together to start the punching, I literally could not tell you how they got there. This problem persists throughout the movie, to the point where it renders a lot of otherwise good action scenes mush.
What else, what else…oh, it has an oddly inconsistent moral, which might go along with the inconsistent characterization. The reason given for the CIA hunting down Transformers is that their battles kill people, which is dismissed early on, but turns out to be totally, totally right as their final battle in Hong Kong results in billions in collateral damage and probably kills hundreds, if not thousands, of people. Optimus Prime continually waffles back and forth on whether he wants to protect humanity anymore. Yeager opens the movie talking about the importance of inventing and ends by talking about how some things ‘Just shouldn’t be invented.’ This kind of inconsistency can make a good movie irritating, but now it makes a bad movie frustrating.
The acting is similarly inconsistent in quality. Wahlberg is, as always, intensely sincere about every single line of dialogue, which actually kind of works here so I won’t complain. On the other hand, the actress playing his daughter’s (Nicola Peltz, if you were wondering) biggest previous role was as Katara in Shyamalan’s The Last Airbender and there’s a reason why she hasn’t been doing much lately, and Jack Reynor as her boyfriend is similarly bad, as well being unsure of whether he should do his accent or not. Kelsey Grammer is actually pretty committed to his role, but Stanley Tucci is on the same level of not caring as Jeremy Irons is Dungeons and Dragons, which means he’s really entertaining to watch if nothing else.
This is all a shame, because there is stuff in it I liked. As I said, the action and CGI has never looked better and when the editing can calm down enough to let me see what’s going on, it looks pretty spectacular. The Transformers themselves have undergone a major redesign and for the first time they actually looks visually distinct from each other. The casual racism that infected the other movies is still present, but now it seems less hateful and more just ignorant stereotyping which is an improvement…I guess. The Dinobots look great, there’s no question, but the marketing campaign hyping them up is outright lying to you; they don’t show up until the movie is nearly over (seriously, there’s like half an hour left when they show up).
As this movie approached its 6th hour, I leaned back in my seat and asked myself ‘Why did I do this to myself?’ And really, that’s the entire review in a nutshell isn’t it? I could nitpick specifics here and there, but honestly if I come out of a movie regretting having seen it, it can’t possibly be a good movie, especially if it’s supposed to be a popcorn munching summer blockbuster. So that’s the review: I regret seeing this movie.
Elessar is a 24 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he wants to come up with a theory where these movies and Cars take place in the same universe, but that would involve watching Cars.
– solid action
– great CGI
– less racist than its predecessors
– terrible script
– awful characters
– bad editing
– much, much, much, MUCH too long (Seriously, this thing is like 3 hours long, what the hell?)