Tag Archives: action flicks

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

More Than Meets the…BANG, ZAP, POW!

Don’t see this movie! Megatron commands you! (image: http://crabscorner.blogspot.com)

Put away the pitchforks, extinguish the torches, call off the rabid dogs. Transformers: Age of Extinction isn’t the death knell of cinema my fellow critics are claiming it is. Like John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Michael Bay’s opus of noise, clanging metal and eye scorching visual effects is an easy target. Always has been, always will be. But after my first experience with a franchise pulled straight from my childhood, I ask the above question. It may be loud, crass, poorly written and full of brain bending nonsense but let’s be honest. What did anybody reasonably expect? Perhaps a result of dismally low expectations, Age of Extinction stinks pretty bad but it’s not the rancid pile of dog meat the world has made it out to be. Barely.

The story is a muddled mess but here goes. Inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), while scrounging around in an abandoned movie theater, discovers and salvages a dilapidated truck (don’t ask). Wahlberg, after doing some amateur mechanical work, fixes and discovers it’s none other than Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots from the Battle of Chicago. Meanwhile, Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), a Steve Jobs style media mogul, has perfected the manipulation of “transformium”, the material our Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robots are made of. With the help of CIA agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) and the evil mercenary Lockdown, the remaining Transformers become hunted for their raw material. But when a mysterious device known as The Seed becomes the target, the fate of the planet hangs in the balance.

Off the bat, let’s make one thing clear. Transformers isn’t a movie. It’s a product, a cinematic pop song designed to be digested quickly and forgotten about moments later. It’s a commercial for Budweiser and Beats Audio, complete with horrible product placement and a Twitter feed of constant sensory distractions. We’re not supposed to enjoy the movie. We’re supposed to absorb it and everything it’s selling. Let it jack up our blood sugar and take us on a mind numbing ride and in that sense, it succeeds. Like a great Superbowl advert or a Katy Perry concert, Age of Extinction only cares about distracting you enough to pull in your dollar and provoke you to spend more. It’s a movie screen car salesman.

Jack Reynor and Mark Wahlberg sneak around an alien ship in Transformers: Age of Extinction (image: http://www.grantland.com)

But that doesn’t mean it has to be this confusing and convoluted. The story of Transformers is a pot luck of pieces that never jells into anything tasty. Without going into a film school discussion on the concept of tone, the movie has no idea of what it wants to be. One minute it’s a family drama, the next it’s a buddy cop car chase flick and further on, it becomes science fiction, complete with spaceships and aliens. If movies are car trips, Transformers is like riding in the back seat of a crazed NYC cabbie dipping in and out of downtown traffic. Simply put, it doesn’t need to be this twisty turny or attempt to appeal to everybody at once.

All of the above is held together by mind numbing action. About half of Transformer’s massive three hour run time involves car chases, fighting robots and crumbling buildings and for the most part, the effects look great. In particular, the practical effects, a hallmark of old school Michael Bay, are very effective and add some realism to the CGI madness. There’s just too much of them. The final thirty minutes is a constant drone of bullets and fiery explosions that normal brains simply can’t handle. Thanks to a terrible script and non-existent character development, it’s impossible to care about the carnage, turning the wonderfully created computer whiz-bangs into nothing more than shiny distractions. The film is literally exhausting to sit through.

All that said, this isn’t the worst movie I’ve seen all year thanks to a surprisingly solid cast. With the exception of Nicola Peltz, who has little to do but scream and wear short shorts as Wahlberg’s daughter, they make the best out of a bad situation. Mark Wahlberg is completely serviceable (if unbelievable) as the broke inventor, Stanley Tucci is over the top but entertaining and Jack Reynor surprises as Shane, the love interest of doctor Cage’s daughter. The cast is let down by cliché ridden script, but at least none of them mail it in. There are also a few well constructed and paced action set pieces, including a great bit where cars, trucks and tanker ships fall from the heavens to crush our “who cares” heroes.

Optimus Prime hurts my eyes. Too much for a frontal lobe to process. (image: http://www.tfw2005.com)

The saddest bit, however, are the robots themselves. Born from the nostalgic ridden 80’s cartoon, these CGI’ed monsters are caricatures of better, more interesting characters. While much of the problem lies in the stale archetypes, the filmmakers tried to make them too human. With faces made of metal, the Transformers have a thousand flexing plates to express emotion but without the elasticity of skin, they look creepy and strange. I’d site specific examples, but I have no idea who was named what or what their role was in the story. Not even a Wikipedia search helped. Giant, hulking and generic, the characters you’re supposed to root for and care about are as distinctive as a highway McDonalds. It saddens my inner child to see the once awesome Optimus Prime reduced to a “rally the troops” ball of corn.

But, in the end, what did anybody really expect? A hulking monstrosity of a movie franchise, Transformers: Age of Extinction isn’t about being subtle, engaging or even entertaining. It’s about throwing gallons of spine melting action in your face, tying it together with a threadbare story and hoping you walk away tired and thirsty for a cold Bud Light. Thanks to a cast that cared and some very impressive visual hootenanny, it’s not the worst movie of the year but given the spread of above average action flicks released this summer, it’s easily worth avoiding at all costs. Unless you enjoy screaming through Manhattan traffic in a beat up cab while the back seat TV plays a commercial for Subway sandwiches. If that’s your bag, then feel free to give this a spin.

Score: 4 out of 10

The Expendables (2010)

Originally Reviewed – 8/25/2010

About forty five minutes into Sylvester Stallone’s latest opus to testosterone filled action flicks, the main bad guy of the film, played by Eric Roberts, is wandering through the hovel of the general’s daughter, looking for something. What he’s looking for, the film never explains. When he sees some drawings, one of which the daughter gave to Stallone for reasons the movie never explains, he removes one from the wall and examines it closely. Why he would care about her sketches, as he has no idea she gave one to the very man who’s after him, the film never explains. Upon leaving the building, he confronts the general, brandishes the accursed drawing in his face and bellows, “This is how it STARTS!”

Huh? This is how what starts?

Maybe he’s trying to say that allowing the general’s daughter to cultivate a love of the arts has somehow turned her against her murderous father. Or maybe he’s ruminating on the freedoms the island has lived under and how a more tyrannical rule would help the generals’ and ultimately his cause. Or maybe he just prefers charcoal sketches in favor of colored pencil and is lashing out against this affront to his artistic taste. Guess what. The film never explains, but maybe I can. The aforementioned point in the film is actually the start of something. It’s when the movie stops being a mindless homage to the action stars we grew up with and becomes plain mindless. At that exact point, the film doesn’t jump but soars over the proverbial shark turning something that could have been a lot of fun into something stupid, sophomoric and almost painful to watch. The result is a one of the bigger disappointments of the summer.

The ham-handed and awfully penned story is the standard ‘group of ex-CIA soldiers gets hired to take down a dictator fare you’ve seen a hundred times in a hundred different movies. Stallone, along with Jason Statham, Jet Li, Randy Couture and Terry Crews round of out the team but if you’re looking for a big old 80’s reunion, you will be sorely disappointed. In fact, the bulk of the film really revolves around Stallone and Statham, with the rest of the crew merely splitting time and eardrums. While Stallone plays his usual grim self, Statham is the only other cast member who actually looks like he’s trying. The rest of the team badly panders to long established action stereotypes; Li mumbles something about needing money for his family no fewer than four separate times, Crews talks about his weaponry as if they were lovers and Couture talks about going to therapy. Yep, you read right. Therapy and no, it’s nowhere near as funny as they thought it would be. The result is bland, witless banter that serves only as filler between the inevitable fight sequences.

As far as the rest of faces on the movie poster go, they don’t fare much better. The rest of the screen time is split between Dolph Lundgren as ex-member Gunner and Mickey Rourke as Tool, the elder statesman of the group who has retired from mercenary work to become a tattoo artist. While Lundgren is perfectly acceptable as a monstrous ass kicker, Rourke is horribly misused. Given minute after minute of banal monologue, Rourke’s character does nothing but grind the film to a screeching halt. Even Stallone himself looks bored during these drawn out scenes and he wrote the damn thing! The other cameos are simply thrown in as fan service. Bruce Willis overacts his way through the only scene he’s in and Schwarzenegger makes an appearance for exactly thirty seconds. While Stallone and The Governator do share the scene, a moment much ballyhooed by the Comic Con crowd, the result is cheesy and tacked on.

That being said, I cannot blame the actors in this mess, nor can I blame the story. The story is too simplistic to get in the way and the actors are…well…not actors. They’re tough guys with lines. The cardinal sin against this film is in the horrific writing and direction. Note to writer / director Sylvester Stallone: there is a little thing in filmmaking called timing and pacing. This film is a horrid mess of jump cuts, drawn out scenes that go nowhere and timelines so mangled, you would think entire sections of the story were cut out. With a potentially explosive movie like this, the thing should have flown by at breakneck speed but instead stutters, stumbles and jerks its way along like a Ferrari with a stuck transmission and two flat tires. Stallone fails to realize that it actually takes skill and an even hand to create moments of pure violent madness. Blowing people up like an 8th grader with ADD playing Halo just doesn’t do the trick.

Billed as an homage to 80’s action movies, The Expendables does nothing but make audiences wish they were home watching a good 80’s action movie. Going into the film, I told people that I was expecting something along the lines of Commando; a stupid, corny movie that is still a heck of a lot of fun. What I got was a stupid, corny movie that never got better than stupid and corny. Even a few well drawn action scenes, such as the very fun pier explosion scene and Jet Li’s fight with Lundgren, couldn’t save this film from being less than mediocre. In fact, when the much talked about final 40 minutes of constant carnage arrived, I was so thrown off by the badness of the thing, I really couldn’t care less. Besides, after the eightieth explosion and the two hundredth death of a henchman, it all becomes din and white noise anyway.

Promising nothing and delivering less, The Expendables could have been a whole bunch of mindless fun but ends up choppy and incoherent while sporting a story that a third grader could have written. While the film does serve up a healthy dose of visual wizbangs and explosions, the whole experience is too poorly executed to be anything more than a brutal assault on your senses. While I’m fond of saying that action means nothing if you don’t care about the characters involved, I’ll give The Expendables a bit of a pass on that point. Drawn up as mere caricatures of better action stars, the actors in The Expendables really do give it the best they have, which for most of the cast isn’t much. Too bad they couldn’t find a director that spent as much time writing a cohesive story as he did attaching C4 to set pieces and blowing fake soldiers apart with copious amounts of cadmium red. Walking in hoping to get a thrilling ride, I left sporting a splitting headache. At least I got to laugh a little; not with the film, of course, but at it. A film that makes me wish for Mystery Science Theater 3000 to come back on the air, The Expendables is exactly that; a ridiculous and completely avoidable piece of summer blockbuster fluff.

Score – 40%