I spent about two seconds last weekend thinking about whether I should go see “Transformers: Age of Extinction.”
Nah. I’d rather binge watch “Orphan Black.” Or stare at the wall for three hours. Even banging my head against the wall for three hours would be a more attractive alternative to sitting through Michael Bay’s latest extravaganza of shape-shifting robots, wanton destruction, senseless civilian casualties and explosions, explosions, explosions.
Based on the 1980s toy line and cartoon series, the original “Transformers” trilogy is packed with colossal morphing creatures, sleek technology, things that go boom and gratuitous shots of voluptuous pinups posing as leading ladies. They are flicks made for boys, both the literal sort and the kind who never grew up. And I just can’t bring myself to sit through another one.
I know I’m in the minority here, considering that “Age of Extinction” set a record for biggest box office debut of 2014, grossing $300 million worldwide. It may be futile, but I’ve decided to take a personal stand against Hollywood’s most annoying, antiquated and nonsensical filmmaker.
I’m sick of the way Bay blithely mingles jokes catering to the 8-year-olds in the audience with wildy inappropriate innuendo, harsh violence with treacly sentimentality, and cutting-edge filmmaking technology with politically incorrect, hackish storytelling that borders on quaint.
I’m weary with sitting through movies that double as jingoistic recruitment videos for the armed forces.
Bay may have an impressive grasp of how to serve up insane visual effects sequences, but he’s sexist, juvenile, self-indulgent, wildly unfunny — and judging from his on- and off-set antics over the years — something of a douche bag.
So while I dutifully sat through last year’s utterly pointless and morally bankrupt “Pain & Gain,” I won’t be seeing “Age of Extinction” or the upcoming “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” which Bay produced. This despite the promise of Dinobots and Mark Wahlberg.
And the only justification I need for this decision can be found in the original “Transformers” trilogy.
2007’s “Transformers” is big, loud, bold and brainless, and mostly diverting in that insanely excessive, more-is-more Bay kind of way. It has car chases, explosions, air strikes, ambushes and all varieties of mass destruction.
Then there’s the cleavage, bare midriffs, gratuitous slow motion and weirdly uneven mingling of wacky, politically incorrect humor with laughably “serious” moments set to overbearing symphonies of strings.
The plot is straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon and treated alternately with the utmost gravity and tongue-in-cheek glee. It’s essentially the tale of a boy — Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) — and his car — trusty Camaro Bumblebee, who is actually an “autonomous robot from the planet Cybertron.”
The highlight of the film is its computer generated vehicular stars, who are not only stunningly and realistically rendered through the considerable marvels of CGI but are surprisingly intriguing as personalities. The Autobots, with their sad, robot eyes and agenda of peace, are far more engaging than the film’s overstuffed assortment of human characters.
If the first “Transformers” is a flashy sports car, the sequel, “Revenge of the Fallen,” is simply a piece of junk as the robots in disguise are rendered virtually indistinguishable. With this second installment, the king of Hollywood excess’ trademark profusion ceases to be enjoyable, threatening the audience with total exhaustion.
There’s too much going on in the movie: too many characters, too many robots, too much so-called comic relief, too much mayhem and too much of a plot that is at once vague and over-complicated as Sam heads off to college and is swept up in an Autobot mission to stop the evil Decepticons from resurrecting their leader, Megatron.
“Revenge” isn’t 2½ hours long because it’s stuffed with actiony goodness. It’s seemingly endless because of the nonsense Bay fills it with, like sexy coed Isabel Lucas, who turns into a serpentine assassin, a conspiracy theorist roommate (Ramon Rodriguez) and Sam’s mom’s (Julie White) wacky interlude with a pot-laced brownie.
In the previous film, the Transformers were the stars of the show, hulking, meticulously detailed hunks of metal with personality and heart, showcased with loving care. In “Revenge,” there’s no time for that. In some scenes, it’s a strain to even tell them apart.
The third “Transformers” film, “Dark of the Moon,” may be an improvement over the virtually unwatchable “Revenge” but it’s still a ridiculous, cacophonous spectacle built on equal parts juvenile humor and superlative special effects.
The film depicts an epic battle between the Autobots and Decepticons, which results in the gleeful destruction of large swathes of downtown Chicago. The movie clocks in at two hours and 37 minutes, but there’s a lot of nonsense we could do without, including another appearance by Sam’s annoying parents and John Malkovich’s funny but utterly pointless cameo as Sam’s eccentric new boss.
In the grand, unenlightened tradition of “Transformers” babes, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley traipses around in her underwear and waits for Sam to come rescue her.
Bay continues to beat us over the head with supremely silly moments, as when Optimus Prime gives an inspiring speech in front of a battered American flag while thundering music threatens to drown out the dialogue.
The only reason he gets away with it is because we all love Optimus Prime.
Perhaps the director’s biggest crime is ruthlessly and relentlessly preying on the insatiable nostalgia of the children of the ’80s.