I'm generally pretty fond of director Michael Bay, whose penchant for unchecked bombast can actually be a lot of fun at times. Giant robots! Punching stuff! And turning into dinosaurs! Who doesn't enjoy that?
But a sense of fun is exactly what his new film, Transformers: Age of Extinction, is missing. From my review in today's Washington Times:
It is sometimes said that certain massively expensive summer movies are "critic proof." The label, given to films unlikely to be impacted by negative reviews, implies a form of resistance, a defensive shell against critical judgment and thinking.
It's useful enough for some movies, but in the case of "Transformers: Age of Extinction," it's not enough.
The fourth installment in director Michael Bay's series about a series of shape-shifting robots does not merely resist critical interpretation, it seems purposefully designed to actively thwart it.
Mr. Bay's garish, violent, incoherent, repetitive, exhausting, and punishingly loud movie goes straight for the viewer's lizard brain, the part that does not think or feel, but merely reacts as if poked repeatedly with a stick (and that's before the robot dinosaurs appear).
It is a movie made to tap into base, subhuman instincts. Like the giant robots it features, it is precision-designed to crush, kill and destroy.
In some respects, then, it merely follows in footsteps of its predecessors. The first three Transformers films were all exercises in unchecked cinematic excess, $200 million vehicles for playing out adolescent adventure fantasies on the big screen.
But the first film in the series was carried out with a genuine sense of joyful, childlike enthusiasm. There were giant robots that transformed into cars, and explosions that looked like fireworks, and it was awesome and silly and ridiculous and wonderful.
Yes, I know: Michael Bay demands things to be awesome. That's his thing. He's good at it. But I almost wonder if he's getting bored of it. By the end, the movie almost becomes a parody of a Michael Bay movie, and I got the definite sense that Bay is growing tired of his own shtick and just trying to see what he can get away with.