This series focuses on the one and only Michael Bay. Attempting to deconstruct his filmography, one film at a time. The ideas explored here may or may not end up in my Dissertation about Michael Bay and Post-Cinema.
And to answer the question: Does it ever rain in a Michael Bay movie?
After making his smaller movie, Michael Bay returned to the TRANSFORMERS series. TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION brings Mark Wahlberg along for the ride, adding (according to the marketing) Dinobots, Stanley Tucci, and Bud Light.
This one goes back to basics, but doesn’t forget the narrative threads of the previous film.
Before we get onto those previous narrative threads, the TRANSFORMERS series brings in some more mythology, some more world building. And it’s pretty out there, for a series about transforming cars. So, Aliens killed the Dinosaurs. What we end-up learning about them is that these ‘Creators’ killed all the Dinosaurs with Seeds that turn all organic matter into organic metal. Pretty much what David Lindelof and Ridley Scott did in PROMETHEUS and ALIEN: COVENANT, minus a murderous Michael Fassbender.
This prologue in the past then brings us up to speed with the ‘present’. The Autobots are now our enemies, on the run. Chicago is a ruin, with us humans having collective PTSD over the events in DARK OF THE MOON (which took place 5 years previous).
The idea of the ‘past’ is throughout AGE OF EXTINCTION. When we first see Optimus Prime he is dusty, rusted, broken, beat and scarred. Saved by Cade Yeagar (Mark Wahlberg) from a broken movie theatre, Cade brings him to his workshop. Scattered with broken pieces of obselete technology.
With the introduction of Stanley Tucci and ‘Transformium’, the idea of the new and future replacing the old comes in. “The past is history”, Stanley Tucci declares. Galvatron represents the dangers of the future, it turns out he has no heart, no spark, no soul. “That is why I have no fear” he snarls at Optimus Prime. Gunhead, who is hunting Optimus Prime, makes it known that he is doing so because the Creators do not like the mixing of species, they want to reclaim the old.
I would argue that this theme of old vs new, past vs future could be Michael Bay coming to terms that he is now, as a filmmaker, is part of the ‘old-guard’. That his style of filmmaking of practical effects driven location shooting is old and antiquated compared to the green-screen CGI worlds of the MCU and other modern blockbusters.
But true to form, the past adapts. It mixes with other species, or in this case it moves to new markets like China. The film shifts action to Hong Kong, here the action sequences get shot at ground level, with Mark Wahlberg becoming a more active participant in the action than Shia LeBouef ever did. What is also interesting is that here in Hong Kong, the Chinese central government is portrayed as responsible, proactive, and caring for its residents of the ex-British colony. Which is the complete opposite to how Bay has portrayed his own US government in his past filmography.
A few passing notes on the film. Having spent the last 2 months rewatching FRASIER, it is great to see Kelsey Grammer/Frasier Crane revel in being the bad guy, and then getting murdered by Optimus Prime. Speaking of murdering, the horrific death of TJ Miller (whilst totally justified considering him as a person) is lingered on with almost morbid glee by the camera. Again the series goes to some dark places for a kids film. The aspect ratio shifts ad-nauseum and totally, seemingly at random, so much so that I could swear it gave me a headache.
Lastly, there is a scene where the audience is told that the Daughter is a minor, and technically according to US law isn’t a victim of statutory rape by her older boyfriend. The boyfriend reveals a laminated copy of the law in his wallet, almost as though its a justification for his actions. In the history of Michael Bay films, this is the among the worst things he has done. Its totally unnecessary.
In TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, Michael Bay adapts. The past updates itself with a new coat of paint, a new sheen. And the past fights back, and wins. Michael Bay wins.
Does it rain? Nope
Next Up: 13 HOURS: THE SECRET SOLDIERS OF THE BENGHAZI