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The mission should have been simple: Create a high-tech, big-budget action movie based on the classic cartoon characters a generation of guys grew up adoring, throw in some humor, a hero to cheer for and just enough soul to make it sing.
Do that, and Paramount Pictures would make hundreds of millions of dollars off of “Transformers 4” and reboot their whole franchise to make hundreds of millions more.
You’d think when hundreds of millions of dollars are on the line, someone at Paramount would insist on following the formula of success.
But, oh, no.
Instead, we get a 3-hour movie with more flash and bang and action than any human brain can endure. Instead “Transformers: Age of Extinction” gives audiences a weak script, gaping plot holes and painful character inconsistencies. To top it off, the director simply can’t hide his misogynistic ways and left-wing politics, especially on the issue of immigration.
And that’s a shame. Because I really, really like the Transformers. And there are parts of this movie that are truly entertaining.
I mean, the greatest of the alien robots, the noble Optimus Prime, rides to save the day on a giant, mechanical Tyrannosaurus Rex, wielding a flaming sword – how could it possibly get any more awesome than that?
And no, I’m not kidding. As a kid who grew up loving the Transformers, that … is … awesome.
And if you’re going to go into this 3-hour, non-stop action movie looking for just some mind-numbing fun, that’s probably enough to get you through.
But this column is about more than just how fun a film may be; it’s about examining the worldview behind the film.
And I have two, major qualms with “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”
The first is the female character, whose role in this movie is simply to parade around in obscenely short Daisy Dukes. The actress brings little to the table in terms of talent, the script offers her nothing to work with and the character is there simply to scream and act like an idiot in need of constant rescue.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think teaching boys to rescue the princess is a noble endeavor. I actually like chivalry and think feminists ought to rethink their position on the ancient art. But the girl in this movie actually is everything the feminists complain about: helpless, foolish, shallow and the constant butt of jokes about the very shorts her butt is practically falling out of. It’s shameless.
Even her one, great skill trumpeted in the film is her ability to “grab a stick,” and all the innuendo that implies.
My other qualm is the way the film serves as a thinly veiled, mocking and shallow argument against those who object to illegal immigration.
The stereotypical argument is that people who want to seal our borders and deny instant amnesty to illegal immigrants are just bigots wrapping their xenophobia in the U.S. flag. It’s a straw-man argument, attacking the position of a wide swath of Americans by painting them all like fringe loonies and arguing against the loony position instead of the legitimate one.
In “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” we get a villain who plays the straw man perfectly.
Kelsey Grammer, normally known for being a political conservative in Hollywood, nonetheless plays the film’s villainous CIA black-ops leader, in cahoots with the greedy corporations to make a fortune off alien, Transformer technology before he retires.
Naturally, as the obvious villain, everything he says is portrayed as villainous, making even his noble statements sound sneering, because he’s, well, the bad guy.
Now, in the real world we use the term “alien” to describe both Martians and Mexicans, and it seems the line gets blurred in “Age of Extinction.”
The film is about a group of extraterrestrials who came to earth, some for nefarious purposes, others for noble, but in the film, the villainous humans have decided all “aliens,” good or bad, need to go.
“The alien combatants came here illegally,” Grammer’s character states early in the film. “It’s not their planet, never was. It’s time we take it back.”
The words sound quite similar to those who advocate strong immigration laws, but coming from the sneering lips of the film’s villain, it seems an ugly caricature that effectively scores points for the opposite position.
The caricature gets worse when Grammer’s character defends his actions by asserting he’s done it all for “God and country.”
By the end of the film, when he declares, “There are no good aliens or bad aliens; it’s just us and them,” it’s clear Grammer’s character really is just a xenophobic jerk. I mean, c’mon! He’s killing Autobots! Obviously, people who don’t like aliens and want to see the U.S. border defended hate Optimus Prime! How can you hate Optimus Prime? Amnesty for everybody!
It truly is so obvious it’s laughable.
It’s also totally unnecessary.
Beyond this director’s lefty politics and juvenile objectification of women, the movie actually has some bigger lessons, some of which are very positive.
“Look at all the junk, see the treasure,” the hero of the movie says in defense of the value of fallen humanity. “You gotta have faith in what we can be.”
Whether it’s advocating a humanistic worldview or a message of Christian grace, it’s hard to tell, because it gets lost in all the explosions and car chases, but there are some hopeful messages in there. There are some feel-good moments. Had the makers of “Age of Extinction” tried to make an excellent movie, instead of just a big-budget one, those messages might have actually meant something.
As it is, “Transformers 4” is little more than a spectacular bore.
- “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” rated PG-13, contains nearly 70 profanities. Though mostly mild, I find myself wondering how they found enough time between explosions to fit that many in.
- There’s no outright nudity or sex scenes in the film, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t dripping with sexuality. A bit of innuendo, a couple of kisses, but the bulk of the alluring content is a constant display of the female lead’s legs in tiny shorts, comments about the shorts, close-ups of the shorts and other minor characters rinsing and repeating, only in skirts instead of shorts.
- Violence in the film is nothing short of extreme, though mostly in quantity, not in severity. There’s not much for bloodshed or death, but the movie is a never-relenting stream of car chases, robot fights, gunplay, hand-to-hand combat and explosions. It’s cartoonish enough in depiction, but in reality thousands of people would have died had these events happened in real life.
- The movie has almost no religious or occult content, only a reference to the phrase “for God and country” and a couple of brief discussions about the alien robots having “a soul,” which is defined as the place that “contains our life force and our memories.” There are a few scenes that depict the dinosaurs, referencing their lives and extinction tens of millions of years ago.