Transformers: Age of Extinction is fascinating. Not in a good movie kind of way. Not even in a bad movie kind of way (although, make no mistake, it is positively atrocious). It is fascinating in that it feels as if it were the result of an experiment to see what a diagnosed sociopath would turn out if asked to helm a summer blockbuster aimed at kids. What else to make of a scene where rotund, bearded good guy robot Hound (regrettably voiced by the great John Goodman) deems a caged alien creature “too disturbing to live” before blowing it to smithereens for shits and giggles? How else to interpret another scene where, in a bone tossed to Bundy Ranch sympathizer-types, a gaggle of government thugs storm onto the protagonist’s land and hold a gun to his daughter’s head, the camera lingering almost sadistically on her crying expression as she pleads for her life? Perhaps the more likely explanation than Michael Bay being a sociopath (although that is definitely still on the table) is that Transformers: Age of Extinction is the defeated product of the kind of cultural toxicity it serves to perpetuate by instilling mores of violence, ludditism, and medieval gender politics into minds young enough to internalize those messages. It’s all one big party for Bay, and he’s just considerate enough to bring the arsenic laced Kool Aid.
As if you or anyone care about the plot of this thing: Since the destructive battle of Chicago in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” all Transformers — both Autobot and Decepticon — have been being hunted by the government for fear of another city-wrecking battle. Enter Cade Yeager (snicker), the world’s most Bostonian Texan and a struggling inventor with a teenage daughter (who Bay misses no opportunity to skeevily objectify) and a farm about to be foreclosed upon. One day, he and his buddy find an old wrecked truck in a run-down movie theater that turns out to be, upon repair, Autobot leader Optimus Prime. Among all this, a CIA director (Kelsey Grammer) works with a hunter/Terminator robot named Lockdown to deliver Prime in exchange for an ancient doohickey called “The Seed” which will produce enough of the alloy Transformers are made of to produce endless manmade alien robots for the military.
For those of you still with me, no, none of this makes any more sense on screen than it does on paper, none of it is interesting, and none of it really matters in the scheme of things other than to provide the film with a headache-inducingly convoluted yet insultingly simple-minded set-up for the 40 minute action scene that exists for Bay to placate those in his audience (read: The majority) who are so numb to senseless mayhem, both in their entertainment and in the world in which they live, that they won’t give a second thought to the astounding collateral toll implied by his flashy special effects toy box tantrums which, for the record, remain as weightless and impersonal as they have ever been.
Perhaps even more irresponsible than Bay getting his jollies off on city-wide destruction is his choice to tie it in to his method of preaching an archaic and dangerous brand of anti-intellectualism that sees mankind punished for having the gall to dare and innovate. Having a callous boom boom spectacle designed to elicit awe from the unthinking act as retribution for attempting progress is bad enough on its own, but when it’s hit home by an arc that concludes with a once-ambitious character learning the valuable lesson that “some things shouldn’t be invented,” Bay and buddy-in-crime screenwriter Ehren Kruger’s regressive social agenda becomes as clear as day and the result, taken as a whole, is almost nauseating.
As if we needed any more evidence this film was made by people bent on preserving an alternately violent and apathetic social landscape, our heroes, The Autobots, come in the form of joyfully-destructive psychopaths who express little pleasure in anything but killing others of their race while still being held up by the film as protectors and vanguards of justice. It speaks to a deep-rooted collective nihilism when we scarcely blink an eye as the ones who serve as the noble in our youth-targeted media routinely display behavior similar to the helicopter gunner in “Full Metal Jacket.” Even more so when we cheer while they perform Mortal Kombat-style fatalities on others of their kind as they lay waste to city blocks without a second thought (from them or us). It’s all so very depressing to think about, which is probably why it condemns the very act of thinking at all.
Transformers: Age of Extinction is the symptom of a culture that’s given up. Given up on demanding anything from their entertainment other than flashing lights and loud noises, given up on discerning what kind of ideas their next of kin assimilate as they sit slack-jawed in front of an ideologically poisonous mess such as this, and given up on the charade that they have any pretense of standards as thousands of parents, children, and arrested adults flock to the latest shiny piece of corporate product designed exclusively to instill brand loyalty. With “Pain and Gain,” Michael Bay convinced many he was chronicling the burning of Rome. If anything, Transformers: Age of Extinction simply cements the fact that he’s content to sit back and throw gasoline on the fire.