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"Transformers: Age of Extinction"

Paramount Pictures

David Ives - published on 06/27/14

Michael Bay's movies are the epitome of fast-food filmmaking.

As Michael Bay tells the story, his directorial career began at the age of thirteen when he attached firecrackers to a model train set and filmed the subsequent destruction with his mother’s 8mm camera. There are plenty of folks out there who would say Bay’s talents as a filmmaker haven’t really progressed all that much since that day.

Of course, that’s not to say the man doesn’t have his defenders as well. The venerable Criterion Collection has placed not one, but two Michael Bay films on its list of “important classic and contemporary films” deserving of preservation and critical study. That means that sitting on Criterion’s shelves next to films from the likes of Kubrick, Cocteau, and Fellini, you can now find copies of The Rock and Armageddon.

Madness? Maybe. But from a certain viewpoint, it’s not that hard to understand why Criterion has included Bay in their pantheon. His film style is instantly recognizable and highly influential. In fact, if you were make a list of things which have irritated most film critics over the past two decades, the majority of them can be traced back to Bay. Quick cut, barely coherent action sequences. Endless litanies of gunshots and explosions. Paper thin characters spouting generic slogan-filled dialog while standing in front of ridiculously dramatic lighting. Women young and old filmed in such a way as to appeal to the sensibilities of a thirteen-year-old boy just hitting puberty.

On paper the formula sounds awful. On the big screen, well, it’s still kind of awful, but there’s no denying it’s also successful. According to The-Numbers.com, Bay is the fourth highest grossing director of all time, with his films having pulled in almost $4.7 billion worldwide. And that’s a figure that’s only going to balloon even more once Transformers: Age of Extinction hits theaters.

The fourth film in the inexplicably popular Transformers franchise, Age of Extinction picks up approximately five years after the end of the previous film. It appears things have not gone well for the Transformers since the Battle of Chicago. Not overly pleased with the idea of giant alien robots destroying large populated areas of the planet, CIA bigwig Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) has commissioned a special robot killing task force designed to eradicate Autobots and Decepticons alike. In addition, he has struck a secret alliance with the bounty hunter Lockdown, a rogue Decepticon who is willing to help massacre the Transformers in exchange for help in capturing Optimus Prime.

If that initial setup makes the movie sound a little on the dark, it is, at first. One of the earliest scenes in the film has Ratchet, an Autobot from the previous movie, being mercilessly blown limb from limb as he pitifully begs for his life. He finally dies a horrid, painful death as his metal heart is ripped from his chest. Yeah, I’d say the film might be a bit on the rough side for younger kids. Come to think of it, with the constant stream of profanities, maybe the little ones should just stay at home and watch the Transformer cartoons instead.

Anyway, while all this is going on, down-on-his-luck inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) stumbles across a shot-up big rig and tows it home in hopes of selling it for spare parts. With the introduction of this new main protagonist, two things need to be said. One is that no mention at all is made of Shia LaBeouf’s character from the first three Transformer movies or what happened to him. That’s probably because Bay realizes nobody cares. The second is that, sadly, Mark Wahlberg never belts out “You Got The Touch,” the heavy-metal power ballad from the Transformer’s 1986 animated feature film, which he so infamously interpreted for the movie Boogie Nights. That alone would have earned the movie my undying respect, but alas, it was not meant to be.

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