Thursday, July 10, 2014

Movie Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction

Genre: sci-fi action
Director: Michael Bay
Rating: ** (2 out of 5)

Michael Bay is at it again. For the Fourth of July long weekend, this multiple Golden Raspberry Award winner and maker of Armageddon and Pearl Harbor has served up another sagging plate of all-American kitsch. Transformers 4 is a Hollywood all-you-can-eat buffet: nonsensical plots, cheesy one-liners, stock characters, with a pinch of shameless product placement and cheap CCP propaganda thrown in.

Transformers 4 by Michael Bay

The only missing ingredient is Shia Labeouf, who was taken off the menu by the studio like yesterday’s guacamole dip. The over-exposed actor (Transformers 1, 2 and 3, Indiana Jones 4, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) has thrown his own movie career into the garbage disposal by pulling the “I am not famous any more” stunt at the Berlin Film Festival and having numerous brushes with the law. He is over, finished, and done like a steak on a barbecue grill.

Taking Labeouf’s place is Mark Walberg. After all these years, Marky Mark still can’t act to save his life. He plays Cade Yeager, the most unconvincing nerdy inventor in Hollywood history. The last time we saw such a beefy scientist was Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind. Cade, who often talks to himself to express his inner thoughts (a tell-tale sign of poor storytelling), has a hard time reining in his teenage daughter Tessa (played by Nicola Peltz). And we wonder why. Tessa dresses like a Hooters waitress and flirts with anything that moves, including her father, his assistant and a team of beer-serving androids. It is like watching E.T. starring a grown-up Drew Barrymore. Together, father and daughter manage to drag out a painfully dull and mildly disturbing first half. Our hearts go out to Stanley Tucci (The Devil Wears Prada, Hunger Games) and Kelsey Grammar (Frasier, X-Men), who try to make something of their supporting roles, only to be pushed aside by the lead characters and mindless alien robot demolition. They are simply too good for the movie. 

Please take the Golden Bauhinia

But then, suddenly, everything changes and the audience wakes up. The second half of the movie takes place almost entirely in Hong Kong, our Hong Kong! None of the geography makes any sense of course – one moment the robots are destroying buildings in Quarry Bay, another moment they are smashing things in a Guangdong countryside or a San Francisco intersection done up to look like Hong Kong – it is nevertheless thrilling to see our streets and our buildings turned into a battlefield. When a giant spaceship starts sucking up metal over Victoria Harbour, taking with it a Star Ferry and the roof of the Exhibition Centre, we crane our necks to see if we are finally rid of the god awful Golden Bauhinia. All in all, we are immensely grateful to have our beautiful skyline showcased on the big screen for all the world to see. So much so that we are willing to forgive Li Bingbing’s pitifully small role playing a stereotypical oriental femme fatale, and to overlook the gratuitous Communist propaganda when a Hong Kong policeman is heard saying “Let’s call the Central Government for help!” and when the Chinese Defense Minister promises to “defend Hong Kong at all costs,” as if addressing the Occupy Central protestors.

To less forgiving audiences outside Hong Kong who didn’t have their cities put on display, sitting through 165 minutes of mind-numbing action sequences and gibberish dialogues must have been unbearable. But we have to hand it to Michael Bay, for he alone can manage a franchise that is on the one hand commercially successful enough for the studio to keep popping out sequels, and on the other hand so artistically dreadful that no self-respecting director will want to steal it from him. It is a unique formula that has guaranteed his place in Hollywood.

"Just look angry the whole time and you'd be fine."


  1. I suspected this would be a terrible movie. Thanks for confirming. I'm morbidly curious how HK is represented, but having Chinese actresses portrayed stereotypically and infusing such obvious mainland propaganda does not seem to be worth it.

    However, I'm also curious how the Dinobots fit in!

    The nerd in me must add, not even 80s Transformers cartoon-related, Shia Labeouf’s downward trajectory began when he shamelessly plagiarized an indie comic by Daniel Clowes. Also, isn't Kelsey Grammar's sitcom Frasier not Frasiers?

  2. This part is AWESOME of all because I haven't seen that much action in any movie before. Yes little drag but this movie is for REAL fans who follow transformers not for those who are looking for LOGICS :). Also I like new storyline with the role of Wahlberg and entry of all new bots. Good job Mr. Bay