Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) ☆ ☆

Maybe because “Transformer” toys didn’t exist when I was a kid and I was too old for them when they did appear, I’ve never thought much of the concept.  It doesn’t seem even remotely believable that big ol’ transformers can turn themselves into things as small as cars; where does the mass go?  It also seems likely to me that they could easily be blown apart, since much of their mass seems to be made of joints, and no muscle or tendon is in place to keep everything together and innards from falling out.  And movie after movie proves that good movies just don’t evolve from toys.

Michael Bay has staked his reputation on these “Transformer” movies.  He made movies before this franchise, with mixed results, but he has dedicated most of the last decade to directing and producing four of these multi-hundred-million dollar blockbusters.  If that is what he wants to do with his time, that’s fine.  Some people must really like these special effect monstrosities, although I’ve never met anyone who will admit to it.  Bay has cornered the market in Transformer-movieland, which prevents him from directing movies that actually have a chance of being good, which then gives other directors more opportunities.  So everyone should be happy, except for audiences who spend their money to sit through two hours and three-quarters of his latest movie.

Shia LaBeouf and his goofy family are history; hunky Mark Wahlberg takes over as the face of the franchise, and that is a definite improvement.  Wahlberg is sincere as an inveterate inventor who stumbles across Optimus Prime and then spends the rest of the movie running from everyone, trying to keep his hot daughter (Nicola Peltz) safe.  The human stuff is directed with some flair, but mostly it allows the audience to rest between the interminable battles between Autobots, Decepticons and some new alien menace that made not much sense to me.  There’s a lot of fuss about duty and honor that may serve as a metaphor for the political dilemmas currently holding our country in gridlock, but then again, maybe not.  If so, then the film is definitely democratic, because it’s the right-wing hawk (Kelsey Grammar) that causes all of the trouble to begin again.

The vaunted special effects are, in their kinetic way, remarkable, but I hold very little regard for visuals that zip past one’s eyes so fast that the detail is lost.  It all looks cool, but has surprisingly little impact.  Only the scene in which Wahlberg, Peltz and her boyfriend (Jack Reynor) try to climb down the anchors from the spaceship to Chicago’s John Hancock building were truly effective, and that’s because I am afraid of heights.  That sequence was nicely done; it slows down enough to generate actual suspense and thrills.  The rest of the movie is mostly bombast, and I spotted quite a few lapses in continuity and, of course, logic.

One might reach the conclusion that it doesn’t matter if I like it or not, because I am not the intended audience.  Evidently young people are, presumably the ones who actually play or played with the toys.  That’s probably true — but I still maintain that good moviemaking should appeal to all ages, and just because popcorn pablum like this is aimed at the young doesn’t mean that they should swallow it and consider it cinematic cuisine.  It is what it is.  This is akin to cotton candy, all fluffy and sweet and cool looking, but with no discernible or lasting value.  ☆ ☆.  8 July 2014.

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