Could Michael Bay be considered an auteur? He certainly has his own line of distinctive tropes: the migraine-inducing noise, the fetishistic gloss, the playground-bully characters elevated to hero status and a fervently male gaze. That’s to be applauded for some – he has brought $3 billion into cinemas with the Transformers series, after all – but let’s consider the opening scene of the franchise’s latest entry, Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014). We’re in a derelict movie theatre, forced to close after its proprietor blames sequels and reboots are killing cinema. Don’t be tricked, however, into thinking this is one big meta-theatrical joke (he’s no Samuel Beckett), as we’re soon back in rock ’em sock ’em territory.
Series débutante Mark Wahlberg – who is at least more likable than Shia LaBeouf – plays Cade Yeager, a ludicrously-named small-time inventor who dwells in ‘Texas, USA’. Yeager uncovers Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots, in disguise and takes him home to…well, we never actually find out why…where he lives amongst the cornfields with his teenage daughter. The Last Airbender actress Nicola Peltz is Bay’s latest unfortunate victim of the director’s fetishisation of women’s bodies in a supposed family film. Peltz plays Tessa, Cade’s 17-year-old daughter who’s about to graduate high school, but not before she’s shacked up with the hunky Shane (Jack Reynor, last seen in Ken Scott’s Delivery Man remake), an Irish rally driver who turns up from nowhere to back up our man Marky Mark.
Somewhere the plot tells us he’s twenty, and the film comes to a halt in one scene where he explains their relationship is legal under an old Texan state law. For what it’s worth, the plot involves the development of the terrifyingly dangerous ‘Transformium’, a liquid-metal type substance that only leads to unflattering comparisons with James Cameron’s rip-roaring Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991). There are some hitherto unseen Dinobots thrown in for good measure, but because the screen is now so incredibly saturated with CGI, we simply don’t believe for a single second that anything that happens in front of us is anything other than millions of engineered pixels jostling together for our ill-deserved attention.
Stanley Tucci turns up as a megalomaniac Steve Jobs-like scientist – an attempt at comic relief, perhaps – but even he can’t compete with the sheer insanity of John Turturro in the last few Transformers outings. Directing actors has never been Bay’s strong point, but Peltz and Reynor are desperately poor (sure Megan Fox couldn’t act, but at least she had ‘presence’). Elsewhere, writer Ehren Kruger struggles with some clunky dialogue – one CIA operative’s line, “My face is my warrant”, will soon surely become a meme – and even composer Steve Jablonsky has more-or-less plundered Michael Giaccino’s Star Trek score for Age of Extinction’s deafening soundtrack. One for Transformers fanatics only.