Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

(Netflix Streaming, October 2015)  My loathing at the robotic aesthetics and the awful scripts of the Transformers series is only matched by my curiosity at its visual effects and how low the series will sink.  I knew I wouldn’t enjoy the experience, but I had to take at least a look.  So it is that I purposefully made an effort to see Transformers: Age of Extinction in the worst possible conditions: on my phone’s tiny screen, wearing crappy headphones (usually only one earbud), watching a few minutes in bed as the last thing I did before going to sleep.  Given that the film weighs in at 2h45, it took days –most of them ending with “Ah, I can’t be bothered any more… zzzz.”  Unfortunately, my scheme may have backfired, because taking in such a big movie in bite-sized increments minimized the accumulation of stupidity and incoherence that could have been lethal had I seen the film in one big gulp.  The small screen and tinny sound minimized the audio-visual aggression, making the experience ironically more pleasant.  I can’t properly express how powerfully dumb the script actually is: I would describe the scene in which a twentysomething character patiently explains (card in hand) why it’s not illegal for him to date the 17-year-old daughter of the protagonist and you would not believe that such a scene made it in a two-hundred-million-dollar-plus movie.  I’d describe the nonsense that passes for plot, the contortions the film takes in order to film in China (thus ensuring healthy Chinese box-office revenue) or the wretched dialogue and characterization given to the supposedly-heroic Autobots but it doesn’t really matter, doesn’t it?  This is about action scenes, grand images, swooping cameras and state-of-the-art special effects.  And, praise being given properly, everyone has to acknowledge that Michael Bay’s style remains just as effective: he presents Midwest America as if it was a heroic succession of golden corn fields, somehow manages to keep a film of that logistical magnitude under control and finds ways to maximize the dramatic potential of everything on the table.  Too bad he can’t focus, simplify or sustain – but as I’ve said, watching ten-minute snippets for two weeks can lessen the pain.  The point here isn’t to determine whether Transformers: Age of Extinction is a bad film or not (it most assuredly is), but how to make it feel less awful in order to watch it to the end.  As much as it’s designed to be an all-out widescreen 3D assault on the senses, the way to rebel is to refuse it all the crutches it needs in order to reveal it for the hollow shell it is: small screen, bad sound, confused fatigue and short attention span it is.  That’s called leveling down.  I’m sure that a sequel will follow, although I rest assured that it’s still a nightmare a few years in the future.

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