Transformers: Age of Extinction – A Review of Strange Happenings
(for M Lifestyle)
One of the most lucrative and commercially lauded movie series, the Transformers saga has been incredibly well-received by consumers and critics alike. In my humble opinion, esteemed director Michael Bay has done admirably for the past four movies, keeping the average un-geeky Joe interested with fairly detailed storylines and unparalleled CGI effects.
The latest Transformers instalment is no different, delivering a good three hours of crowd-pleasing robot battle action, hot female lead close-ups and crisp comic one-liners. The show is a little lengthy though. While the plot was engaging, my goldfish attention span had me fidgeting after an hour and a half of being glued to my IMAX 3D seat.
One of the main draws of the film was the appearance of Grimlock and his crew of pure badassery, the Dinobots. As the name quite un-subtly suggests, the Dinobots are robots that can also transform into dinosaurs (bet you didn’t expect that one), and this is the first time they have appeared in the real-action movies. These behemoths are appropriately awe-inspiring, towering over Optimus Prime, and they save the day for the forces of good. Despite only appearing for about a half-hour in total screen time, the Dinobots are arguably one of the highlights of the show.
As I watched the movie, I (subconsciously) picked up on certain cinematic elements that that made me feel a range of things, from quite perplexed to incredibly weirded out. In retrospect, if my brain hadn’t gone into overdrive and picked out all of the below, my movie experience would have been significantly less complicated.
1. Blatant Product Placement.
Product placement is inevitable in movies. The Transformers quartet is, besides being a series of great shows, essentially a giant robotic cash cow, and various companies can profit from it. My issue isn’t with the existence of product placement; it’s with the painfully obvious attempts to get brand names right into the faces of the audience, to a point where the effect isn’t even congruent with reality any more. There was one distinct battle scene on some busy road somewhere, featuring a double-decker bus with the words ‘VICTORIA’S SECRET’ emblazoned all over its front. When said bus gets destroyed by a giant robot ploughing into it, the entire vehicle goes up in flames. After the conflagration, guess what? The entire back of the bus disintegrates, but the front remains intact. And the ‘VICTORIA’S SECRET’ words are untouched. Marketing teams everywhere, take note. VS has obviously risen to the top of the advertising game indeed, if they are able to invent a certain sort of paint or stick-on that cannot even be scratched, even by fire and metal debris. Maybe that’s the real secret of Victoria, who knows.
2. The Very Uncomfortable Father-Daughter Relationship Dynamic.
The first thing that one notices when the father (played by Mark Wahlberg) first makes his appearance in the movie is that he looks almost too young to be a father. The reverse happens when the daughter (Nicola Peltz) enters: she is mature beyond her years, both in character and appearance. It didn’t happen instantaneously, but the more the pair interacted, the more awkward I felt. Despite their obvious roles as father and daughter, was it possible that they were appearing more and more intimate than they were supposed to be? (I know right, I cringed as I was typing that too.) At the end of the movie, when they embraced and declared their love for each other, I was tempted to yell at the screen ‘No! Bad parenting! Hands off!’ It was honestly the most disconcerting interaction between a purported father-daughter pair that I ever saw in any movie at all.
3. Asian stereotyping.
It’s a known fact that Asians really don’t feature much in Hollywood films, and often, the token Asian presence in a show is probably going to be based on the perception of a Westerner. I was pleasantly surprised when I watched Age of Extinction, however, because the main fight scene took place in the iconic Chinese city of Hong Kong, with Asian people galore. I was quite astounded, however, and more than a little amused, when I realised that out of the two Chinese characters that featured for more than five seconds (the pretty manager lady and the male passer-by), both of them were masters of Chinese martial arts and could kick butt without breaking a sweat. I mean, wow, talk about playing to typecast perceptions of Chinese people! I’m not offended, no, but for your information, not all of us have been trained in mystical kung-fu mojo in a Shaolin temple atop a mountain, thank you very much. Maybe Hollywood should consider hiring some real Asian Asians, in order to develop a less narrow image of us in the movies.
Despite all the above, however, Transformers is undoubtedly a crowd favourite, and this movie does do the intended: awe and enchant with spectacular special effects, and give viewers a feel-good show that ends on a relatively high note. Go catch it! (And try to disregard all the things I just highlight so you can focus on the good stuff.)