Written by Ankit Ojha
DISCLAIMER: This review will be slightly casual – and probably long – in nature, because it’s going to be the only way I’ll be able to express my opinions on the film fully and freely.
What to Expect
From a Michael Bay film, what in the world are we supposed to expect anyway? And more pressing than that question would be: how different are we supposed to expect the film to be from his previous directorial ventures? Considering I’ve personally has been a huge fan (guilty!) of his impeccably dynamic visual styling through the different kinds of films he’s made, I’ve fortunately been able to watch almost all of Bay’s films – right from the time of unapologetic-but-fun action classics of the likes of the Bad Boys franchise and The Rock, among others. We can all agree, however, that for the extreme laypeople, the name ‘Michael Bay’ has of late become more synonymous with the towering – now critic-proof – summer blockbuster franchise, the fourth film of which I was able to witness just last night. Bring in any of his previous films and they’ll be rightly surprised to watch his name in the credits of the movies, because – that’s right – they haven’t really heard of him (only his films) before Transformers actually happened in 2007.
And I gotta say, when the first installment released, I actually didn’t mind it at all. In fact, I actually enjoyed the film – a lot like all the other Bay films I’ve enjoyed. Then again, I was in high school. It successfully did what it set out to do: make a loud, larger-than-life action-adventure entertainer, unapologetic of its flaws and out there to entertain – no more, no less. And for me that was just fine. But when Bay and the studio decided to bite off more than they could chew with the absolutely repulsive second one – and I couldn’t get past half-an-hour of the film – they realized they had successfully made a franchise that was solid, critic-proof, moolah-raking genius. Not that the content of the movie mattered in any way, because the audiences continued to throng the cinemas for a third helping in 2011 – and I gotta say – so did I. While the third one was massively better than the second one in terms of entertainment value – and the IMAX 3D experience most definitely helped – it was longer than it deserved to be and louder than my head could afford.
“But that’s the point of these films, isn’t it?”, a friend of mine remarked. He had a point. The inclusion of a fourth film in a franchise that barely deserved three didn’t. But that’s just how I’d look at it.
What’s it About?
Four years since the epic Chicago battle in the last film, the “aliens” are being eradicated to make the Earth a safer place. The government mercilessly kills both the Autobots and the Decepticons, and keeps looking for more of those hidden robots in the vicinity. Now because Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) conveniently doesn’t give a rat’s rear-end about the robots he’s been with from high school to college and beyond (or so we’re forced to assume), the story goes to Texas, where struggling inventor Cade Yeager finds a truck and brings it to his home in Texas. They’ve got no money (I will not believe that) and they’re struggling to get past each and every day (why am i finding it hard to believe all of that? Effin’ pictureque locations!). One fine day he’s made to realize the truck’s a Transformer (holy SHIT! I did NOT see that coming) and things start to change from there.
Oh, just in case you didn’t know, the Transformer’s Optimus Prime (oh my GOD! Spoiler!).
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Now the problem with Michael Bay is this: the storytellers he chooses to spin a visual yarn with make stories that are over-the-top, unapologetic and plain regressive in means more than necessary. And for those who question the change in tone from the second one round – there’s one answer: writer Ehren Kruger. With Orci-Kurtzman (J. J. Abram’s Star Trek franchise) sliding out post the major fall in the second one, one could definitely see that the movie went absolutely nuts with its writing – and not in a good way. This movie suffers a similar fate, featuring cookie cutter characters – which also include the protagonist and the people he interacts with in the first act. Everybody is given a role they’re to over-perform to, and while the actors do what they’re told, it’s the audience that may not care about them at all. And while I’ll continue to question the abrupt shift in characters with this movie and where they left them (considering this is not a reboot and begins four years after the last film left off), the inclusion of Mark Wahlberg and his character seems to be a part-wise decision. On the positive side he’s portrayed to be a proactive, useful inclusion, and someone you’d probably root for in bits and pieces. That his character has a terribly written, predictable graph otherwise ruins what could be the only other thread that could form a better emotional connect than the last two (considering the franchise even deems itself to have any).
That does not mean the movie doesn’t have positives. The movie knows its only strength – and it flaunts it to no end – and that is the massive visual spectacle it sets itself to be on-screen. If viewed over the IMAX screen, one can totally get the potential it serves up. Amir Mokri (Man of Steel) whips up a lot of deliciously directed moving frames – but himself and his set of camera operators can’t seem to find their own trademarks among Bay’s set-in-stone visual styling and signature camera movements and angles he seems to keep repeating in almost every film of his. That being said, they aren’t half bad. The action set pieces are very well composited and directed, supported by visual effects of the strongest kind. 3D modeling seems to be the order of the day in the franchise, and while that definitely works in most places, it’s the Dinobots that get slightly off-tack. The CGI isn’t able to save how distractingly unreal the fire-breathing looks and it kind of got to me. The sound design, as usual, sticks to being absolutely loud and unapologetic throughout. The music is gritty and supports the nature of the movie.
The problem with having the kind of ambitiousness in visuals here is that when it’s not supported by even remotely decent writing, they will continue to tire on us. Bay, on the other hand, seems to be content on continuing to increase the runtime with every film in the franchise, simultaneously letting his writers continue to get lazier and lazier. With a runtime of almost 2 hours and 45 minutes, the movie tends to exhaust one highly by the time it reaches its almost-hour-long climactic battle. As if that’s not enough, the climax calls for a weirdly abrupt end, making one wonder where’s the payoff in all of this. It’s like the makers suddenly realized they were inching toward the wee-end of the second hour and they just dropped filming the rest.
To Perform or Not to Perform
Honestly speaking, for a Transformers movie, there’s absolutely no need to give any shoutout to the performers, because – let’s be honest – who cares?
Mark Wahlberg (The Departed, I Heart Huckabees), however, despite having been given a cookie cutter character, is someone you MAY remotely care about. He tries to sincerely give his all to the role he plays and works. Also, unlike the highly repetitive Shia LaBeouf-helmed character, what the movie really needed was someone proactive and does stuff to help the plot, and Wahlberg definitely helps here. Nicola Peltz (The Last Airbender. Sigh.) as Wahlberg’s daughter does nothing but look pretty and be eye-candy. Period. Jack Reynor (Delivery Man) as the boyfriend is functional and doesn’t go out of bounds of the role. Kelsey Grammer (X-Men) plays “the bad guy”. He looks it and he pulls it off. But haven’t we had enough of the quintessential bad guy already? If there’s one performance that I really, really appreciated of all, it was Stanley Tucci’s (Easy A). He’s great fun to watch, provides the requisite comic relief and gives the film a bit of an edge after Wahlberg. Oh, and before I forget – TJ Miller was great fun too. It’s too bad his role was so short lived.
Oh did I forget the actors who voice the Autobots, Decepticons and other Transformers? I did not, but really – it’s the same damn thing they do. Every freaking movie. I therefore won’t bother.
Ah, that’s a difficult question to answer. Because for the audience it’s directed at, it does a pretty damn good job at doing the exact same thing it did with the last two movies as well. They’ll love it, their minds will be blown and they will all go gaga about the film telling everyone how “awesome” it is. But that’s all there is to the movie – a massively mounted visual spectacle with superb production design and a remotely likeable Mark Wahlberg. This is an overlong, unapologetically loud film with an unoriginally functional storyline that breaks absolutely no grounds. In short, it’s an ambitiously packaged pile of turd. And after a decently done Pain & Gain, and the inevitable change in starcast, I was bound to expect even a wee bit from it. Guess I was horribly wrong.
“But that’s the point of these movies, isn’t it?”
Yeah, that’s exactly the point: watching an overlong melange of loudness and getting a terrible migraine that lasts longer than you’d like. That is exactly it.
Star Rating: 1.5 / 5
PS: Stanley Tucci’s character going “OH MY GOD!” during one of the action set-pieces continues to crack me up for no reason. Even right now.