Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Ghoul Versus Transformers: Age Of Extinction (Part 1)

Previously on Transformers: Dark of the Moon...

Wait, what? The new movie is out already?! Dammit... alright, I'll play. The original leader of the Autobots, Sentinel Prime, was secretly in cahoots with Megatron to save their race from dying so they cooked up an extremely convoluted plan to- rhaaargh!  This is futile, as virtually EVERYONE from the original trilogy is gone and this new movie skips ahead five years to really put some distance from the last one. Honestly, they should have just rebooted the series instead of trying to build off three movies of some of the repulsive garbage ever recorded by a camera outside of whatever E! TV is currently airing.

It's the first October on A Ghoul Versus..., which SHOULD mean I review awesomely bad horror movies but unfortunately I “lucked” into a copy of Michael Bay's latest middle finger to competent movie making: Age of Extinction. Morbid curiosity won out over the stack of horror movies I've been stockpiling, so let's once again reluctantly return to the world of Bayformers, the land that intelligence forgot. A disturbing world where the heroes solve their problems by committing graphic murder, women don't know what clothes are, and- actually, that's about it. Grab your gun that looks like a sword and is human sized for some reason, get a bunch of snacks because this movie is sadly almost three hours long, and get ready for A Ghoul Versus Transformers: Age Of Extinction!

Our film opens with a Star Destroyer flying towards Earth- no my bad, it's a different ship just using the exact same iconic shot from Star Wars. We see it's not alone, as at least a couple dozen other huge ships are pulling up in formation around the planet. Quick shots of dinosaurs on Earth establish this is in Earth's past, the movie cutting back to the ships which are STAFFED BY ALIENS.  Yes, ALIENS. Oh, this is going to be good!

The aliens begin to bomb the Earth's surface with strange devices that not only cause explosions, but turn any living being that comes in contact with them into metallic skeletons. So it wasn't the Ice Age or a giant meteor that killed the dinosaurs, it was bad screenwriting. Seems legit. We transition to modern day, where a woman named Darcy arrives in the Arctic to view a discovery her fellow team of geologists has made. It's a giant metal dinosaur skeleton, but no time to dwell on what that's about so let's see what's shaking in Texas. We're introduced to what passes as the hero in a Transformers movie: Cade Yeager, played by Mark Wahlberg.

Wahlberg CAN be a really good actor when paired with a good director (see The Departed) but on the other hand can be a REALLY bad actor when working with a not good director (you remember Max Payne don't you? Oh you don't because it was COMPLETELY forgettable? Yeah, I get that.).  We also meet his friend Lucas Flannery, who is a total surfer bro that probably should have been played by Matthew McConaughey but I guess he was too busy making bizarre Lincoln car commercials when they called him.
They're junk scavengers/inventors of some kind, looking for anything useful in an out of business movie theater owned by old man. The old man immediately launches into a rant about today's movies being crap because they're all remakes and sequels. HAHAHAH, get it?! Michael Bay is taking a witty shot at himself! I wonder if anyone ever told him just because you make the first joke about your movie sucking doesn't mean it still doesn't suck?

Cade finds an old semi truck inside the theater because why not, opening the driver side door to find it filled with empty mortal shell casings. Gosh, whatever could THAT mean? Again, the film gives us no time to dwell on that because it jumps elsewhere in Texas to introduce us to the next character of the movie: Blonde Girl. Why yes, yes she is wearing a cleavage revealing tank top and the shortest shorts humanly possible, why do you ask? Did you honestly forget what movie series you were watching?  Blonde Girl, who is Cade's seventeen year old daughter, comes home to their farm as we see Cade specializes in robotics. That's right Hollywood, keep casting Wahlberg as a super science genius, it's BOUND to stick sooner or later, right?

We're treated to a news report detailing the aftermath of Chicago from the last movie (which was five years ago), as the catastrophic death toll led to Congress ending their alliance with the Autobots altogether. Yes, because that worked SO WELL in Dark of the Moon. We cut to a dark room somewhere where shadowy government officials help with the exposition dump, telling us a handful of Autobots were given sanctuary after Chicago as well as the fact the CIA's own strike force “Cemetery Wind” has hunted down all but a dozen Decepticons on Earth. Continuing the series trademark of casting actors WAY too good to be in it, the head of Cemetery Wind is shown to be a man played by Kelsey Grammer. How does Bay do it?! Oh wait, truckloads of money. My bad.

REALLY? At the end of Dark of the Moon, there were at least 200 Decepticons on Earth with God knows how many in space. A CIA team has managed to take all of them out? The worthless, pathetic humans that couldn't do jack in the entire original trilogy are now Robobusters extraordinaire? I will only accept this if we get a scene where we meet their trainer: Sarah Connor.

Cade and Lucas haul Optimus- I mean the broken down truck back to Cade's farm, much to Blonde Girl's dismay. It appears the Yeager family is quite broke due to Cade's hoarder tendencies, which Lucas and Blondie both call him out on. We also learn Cade is the standard issue overprotective father, as he won't let Blondie go to prom with a date unless it's him. Transformers! Cade starts trying to defend his purchase of Totally Not Optimus, but the camera starts focusing on Blondie's ass so much even HE is forced to stop the movie to address it. How NOT AT ALL creepy is it Bay loves to oversexualize woman who are under 18 in these movies?

The Yeager financial troubles drone on forever, so the movie switches to Cemetery Wind in action as they hunt down a Transformer somewhere on an old cruise ship. It's revealed to be Ratchet, who begs for his life as the humans have indeed taken lessons from Sarah Connor because they blast the crap out of him and disable him. Ratchet tries to tell them he's a friend, one of the soldiers asking why he's running if that's the case. Ratchet plays an audio recording from Optimus instructing all the Autobots to hide from the humans, but before anything comes of this another Transformer emerges from the water and shoots him with a GIGANTIC cannon blast. The humans join in, Ratchet trying to defend himself but gets his metallic ass handed to him.

The robot that attacked him is shown to be working with Cemetery Wind, Ratchet recognizing him as Lockdown. Lockdown, who apparently isn't an Autobot OR a Decepticon, demands Optimus' location but Ratchet refuses, getting his FREAKING HEART RIPPED OUT for his trouble. Well, that's another iconic Transformer dead in the series. At some point they're going to have to change the name because there won't be any actual Transformers left!

We jump to what is instantly the greatest scene in the entire series, as we're introduced to the United States Chief of Staff played by the insanely awesome Thomas Lennon of Reno 911! fame. He's talking to the heads of Cemetery Wind, as the White House wants to know more about their plan to eliminate the rest of the Decepticons. Grammar's character, Mr. Attinger, declines as it's pretty obvious he has more power than anyone else in the government. Attinger clearly states the war won't be over until ALL the Transformers are dead, Autobots and all. Dun dun duuuuuun!

Cade and Blonde Girl, who Bay begrudgingly is forced to admit is more than just hot body parts so he gives her the name Tessa, argue some more over his rule that she can't date until she graduates. And yes, she has a boyfriend she's been hiding from her father but no one cares so let's just skip to the next day to Lucas finding an eviction notice on the door of the Cade farm. He and Tessa try to show it to Cade, but he's much more interested in his theory that the truck he bought is actually a Transformer based off spending the previous night working on it.

Cade attempts to restore power to the Transformer, which actually works as OPTIMUS PRIME emerges before our eyes and barks out his patented catchphrase of this series “I'LL KILL YOU!”. He spazzes out and almost kills Lucas until Cade talks him down, Optimus snapping to his senses. He wants to go out and find the rest of his friends, but is in bad shape from the mortal attacks he incurred from a Cemetery Wind attack. Cade offers to repair him, because I'm sure his barn full of junk has the right parts to fix up an intergalactic robot. Not to mention the film has been going out of its way to show us what a crappy inventor Cade really is, as he couldn't even build a robot to deliver a beer across the room, but I'm SURE he'll have no problem fixing up an intergalactic robot.

We return to the Arctic, where Attinger is meeting with Lockdown on top of a giant ship. Lockdown really, REALLY wants Optimus for some reason, agreeing to help Attinger take out all the Transformers in exchange for him. My question, which I highly doubt will get answered, is WHY is Lockdown working with the humans instead of going after Optimus himself? He has a giant ship complete with a private army, I can't see him being afraid of some idiot humans to the point he'd cooperate with them.

Attinger returns to the CIA apparently like an hour later because the Arctic is right in the backyard of Virginia, right? What was even the POINT of that meeting? Attinger flew all the way across the world to discuss something with Lockdown they BOTH already knew... and WE already knew as well. That scene added NOTHING to the movie except to make it even longer, because if the Transformers movies are great at one thing it's brutal run times. Attinger gets a message they've located Optimus in Texas, so he begins to ready the troops. It'll be revealed in a few minutes that Lucas called the CIA in hopes of getting some reward money for turning in Optimus, so at least the film is attempting to explain how they'd be able to pinpoint him so quickly.
I guess instead I'll just bitch about how the sun is setting when the agents are driving through town towards the farm, yet when they get there it's the middle of the day. Maybe they stopped at the local IHOP for a twelve hour pancake session or something.  Cade continues his repairs on Optimus, which sure enough are going perfectly. You'd think if Cade was THIS smart that his family would be drowning in money. They discuss a missile which almost hit Optimus' power source, which he says is his “Spark” that contains his life force and memories. Cade replies humans call that a “soul”, and Bay wisely cuts away before the stupidity of this statement can sink in.

Cemetery Wind advances on Cade's farm, the field commander introducing himself as James Savoy. Played by Titus Welliver, you might recognize him as “The Man In Black” from the trainwrecky last two seasons of the TV show Lost. He demands Optimus but Cade plays dumb(er), Savoy ordering his men to search the farm. We get a dose of that award winning Ehren Kruger dialogue as Cade says they can't do that without a warrant, Savoy responding “my face is my warrant”. Uhh, burn? I guess? What is it with federal agents having the WORST one liners in movies nowadays?

Because their vicious treatment of Ratchet wasn't enough to show us Cemetery Wind are really the villains of this movie, we get a scene where Savoy has a soldier hold a gun to Tessa's head and threaten to shoot her unless Cade reveals where he's hiding Optimus. This prompts Optimus to spring into action, shooting up the soldiers while our three “heroes” take off running. Tessa's boyfriend Shane, who somehow knew to show up at this exact moment, pulls up in his car and tells them to jump in. This leads to two different chase scenes, with Cemetery Wind chasing the humans while Lockdown appears to pursue Optimus.

Shane's car chase is borderline magic, as one second they're in a giant cornfield, then in town racing through back yards, then somehow teleport onto the main roads in the span of about fifteen seconds. Shane's pimped out race car better be revealed as an advanced Transformer, or I'll have to say what we just saw was complete bullshit.

They end up in a factory, where Optimus and Lockdown also happen to have wound up and are battling. I'd bitch about this amazing coincidence but we still have TWO HOURS of this movie to go so this gets a free pass. Through a complete and utter breakdown of ANY SORT of continuity, Optimus gets away from Lockdown and changes back into his truck form, the humans running towards him because Shane totaled his car.

Lockdown reappears and throws more of those metal making bombs from the beginning of the movie, and this scene HAS TO BE an outright attempt by Bay to parody himself. The human run in slow motion from the explosions for about half an hour, from every angle conceivable. It's so ridiculous and overblown it goes full circle from being awesome to totally stupid, all in the same shot! Lucas isn't so lucky though, as he falls behind and becomes a metal skeleton. To this I say: THANK GOD because he's been the film's attempt at comic relief where everything he says is a “funny” one liner. Why couldn't Sam's despicable parents have gotten the same treatment in the first movie?  Optimus drops off the three at an abandoned gas station while he goes to “secure the perimeter” or some such nonsense. We also see Attinger has warped to Texas in the past few minutes, or maybe the Transformers universe has a different geography where Texas is right across the street from Virginia?

Cade and Shane begin butting heads OH MY GOD I don't care! I knew this was coming the second we got the overprotective father subplot, but could you be anymore cliché Kruger? I mean seriously, this makes Cade look like an idiot from the 1950s and Shane a cocky douchebag asshole, both of which I hate more and more each time they open their mouths to deliver some testosterone soaked dialogue. I NEVER thought I'd miss Shia LaBeouf- hmm, no I actually don't. Moving on.

Then, things get worse if that's possible. Cade, sick of Shane's bullshit machismo, asks how old he is. Upon learning he's 20, Cade calls him out for dating the under-aged Tessa and threatens to call the cops on him. Oh, but Shane has a response already loaded up: they're protected by the “Romeo and Juliet” laws as they dated in high school. WHAT THE FUCK?!? WHY IS THIS IN A TRANSFORMERS MOVIE?! Masturbation, leg humping, and cunnilingus is a “kids” movie SURE, but FUCKING THIS?!?

Shane, staring at Cade while looking 110% like a psychopathic sex offender, says they have a “preexisting juvenile foundational relationship” and even knows the FUCKING STATUTE NUMBER of the law! Wow, I am SPEECHLESS. That really makes me want to cheer a lead when they know the law right down to the page number to justify their statutory rape, because that's obviously what's going on here. Oh God, Shane CARRIES A LAMINATED CARD OF THE LAW IN HIS WALLET. FUCKING. SHIT. Without hyperbole, this is the most vile scene I've EVER seen in a movie. Sorry pointless rape scene in Showgirls, you just got served.

You KNOW Bay wanted to work a sexual relationship into this film somehow because of all his previous failed attempts didn't go far enough, but I guess even HE had to back off when it came to an underage girl. Hey, why not just make Tessa 18 years old? There are 18 year olds still in high school, and living under her father's roof I'd still buy she'd have to obey his rules. Hey, look at that, I literally just put more thought into this than the guys who get paid millions of dollars to make it did. And just think, the actor playing Shane is signed for TWO MORE MOVIES so that means we get to enjoy another six hours of this total piece of shit sleazebag. Yay...

On top of ALL OF THAT, they're arguing about this while being pursued by the CIA, killer robots, and after Cade's lifelong best friend was just horribly murdered. Nice to know this series still wears its “Fuck Tone” bumper sticker as proudly as ever. Tessa, who I now feel SORRY FOR as she's clearly being manipulated by a sex offender, quickly turns everything on Cade and blames him for Lucas' death. Whoa, that was almost five minutes I felt sorry for her! LUCAS CALLED THE CIA HIMSELF, and everyone knows this because he admitted it back on the farm. We officially have the most unlikable cast in a Transformers movie, which is a fucking achievement and a half after Dark of the Moon.

But whatever, time for the next scene. Cade, remembering he grabbed one of Cemetery Wind's drones during the ruckus, starts examining it to find some evidence or something. He finds recorded footage of the agents killing one of the Wreckers, which is just as sadistic as Ratchet's death. I'd like to say this is Bay's way of saying he's done with this inane series, but he's also signed on for the next two movies. Le sigh.

The next morning Optimus returns and everyone loads up, hitting the road. As they drive along, Optimus scans a passing WHITE truck which somehow enables him to return to his old RED AND BLUE form, instantly repairing all his damage as icing on the cake. What's that? Why didn't he just do that earlier if that's all it took? Because MICHAEL BAY. And maybe it's just me, but I probably would have picked a different form that doesn't look like the one that your bloodthirsty enemies are looking for. Just saying.

They drive out to the desert, where Optimus meets up with the remaining Autobots. I'll get the good news out of the way first: after three films featuring arguably the worst character designs of all time, Bay FINALLY got a fucking clue and dialed it back. The robots still have about a thousand too many individual parts on them, but they do look more streamlined and robot-like instead of the living scrapheaps they have been.

Now the bad news, because we have to meet the new Transformers. There's Redneck Stereotype-bot, complete with Action Beer Gut, Asian Stereotype-bot, complete with Action Samurai Armour and Action Haiku, British Stereotype-bot, complete with Action Trench Coat, and Bumblebee, complete with “They Still Haven't Fucking Fixed My Voice Box” Action. In an interesting look into how much thought is put into these movies, Bay signed actors John Goodman and Ken Watanabe to provide voices for two of these Autobots (guess which ones) a mere TWO MONTHS before the movie hit theaters. Most high end animated movies spend months upon months honing an actor's voice work so they can bring their character alive as vividly as possible, but nah let's just throw some lines down in a couple of weeks and call it good.

The movie, which started off pretty good and has proceeded to steamroll downhill since then, REALLY starts hitting its “stride” here. All the Autobots do is fight and threaten to kill each other, which I guess is funny but you'd think there's bigger fish to fry since all of their friends have been hunted down like dogs and executed. Even worse, Optimus doesn't even care when Asian-bot tries to cut off Bumblebee's head with his katana, instead declaring they need to find out why Lockdown is working with the CIA. Hey, I got an idea! How about telling us who Lockdown is and why everyone knows him! You know, try to tell at least the BASICS of a story?

Or not, Cade plays them the footage he recovered from the drone. He points out a truck from KSI (Kinetic Solutions Industries), a tech company working for the government that has headquarters in... Chicago. OH NOES! Optimus, long since established as a bloodthirsty sociopath, vows to everyone present when he finds the person behind this mystery he's going to break his vow to never kill a human and KILL HIM. ...even though he probably killed handful of Cemetery Wind agents back at Cade's farm, but those were just faceless goons so they don't count.

Our merry band of cold blooded killers and statutory rapists make their way to Chicago, which I thought would be a LOT harder because of the whole “Transformer” detectors that NEST had installed in every major city in the last film. Maybe they were uninstalled when NEST was disbanded, but still you'd think there'd be SOME kind of anti-robot system after half the city getting blown up.

We're introduced to the CEO of KSI, who is baffingly played by Stanley Tucci. Although that's probably too strong of a word, while a great actor Tucci seems to be in more bad movies than good. Here Tucci is playing Steve Jobs- no wait, Joshua Joyce, and everything you need to know about his character I just told you.  Joyce meets with Darcy over the find in the Arctic, revealing he's cracked the mystery of the alien metal (dubbed Transformium) and can now make it transform into anything. How was this accomplished, you might ask? By MAPPING ITS GENOME. I love scripts where the author has absolutely no idea what he's talking about, so he just throws in whatever big “sciencey” sounding word he's heard on TV.

Transformium, which shockingly doesn't bother me at all as a name because it's probably something they would have said in the original series, has a GENOME. That means its a living, breathing organism? This means the Transformers AREN'T robots, but actual freaking aliens. Either that or, and this is just a REMOTE possibility here, Ehren Kruger is one of the worst writers working today!

Joyce demonstrates the capabilities of the genome having METAL by changing an orb of it into a Beats Pill bluetooth speaker, because this film DESPERATELY needed some product placement this far in. Bay gets a great shot of the Pill while Joyce calls it by name, probably the tightest shot he's filmed in any of these movies. Next stop on the tour is the Transformer Joyce has been working on: Galvatron. Oh, they're making my favourite Decepticon of all time into a human built robot eh? Can't wait to see how this goes!

Joyce modeled Galvatron after Optimus, but each time they start rendering the robot he comes out looking like Megatron. This, of course, is completely stupid because we just saw Joyce completely bend Transformium to his will in explicit detail but hey... why should the film remember something it just showed less than a couple of minutes ago? How was Joyce doing that anyway?

We also see they're holding Brains prisoner, forcing him to translate all the information they can scour out of the severed heads of Megatron and Starscream. I hate to be THAT zombie, but remember earlier in the movie when Optimus said a Transformer's memories are kept in its “Spark” and not its head? And don't try telling me Megatron keeps his Spark in his head, the first movie clearly showed he doesn't. Oh, maybe he had a redesign after that movie and had it moved? Or, and again this is just an EXTREMELY slight possibility here, Ehren Kruger is A FUCKING HACK EXTRAORDINAIRE?!

Using the Autobots' tech to replicate a KSI ID badge (which makes zero sense but I'm giving that a pass too), Cade and Shane sneak into the building. Many failed attempts at comedy pass until we return to our regularly scheduled story as Joyce meets with Attinger, where they discuss they'll get “the Seed” when Lockdown gets Prime. They also setup Attinger's motivation for his role in this whole thing, that he'll retire from the CIA and join KSI in a lucrative venture. None of this really matters, but I do have to give them a point for trying to infuse ANYTHING into this story as far as characterization.

Cade sneaks- no that's not right, just walks around KSI with absolutely no one getting suspicious. There's absolutely no security in the entire building other than the front door? Aww, I'm sure that how all multi-billionaire dollar companies operate. He enters a lab where they're melting down Ratchet's corpse, broadcasting the whole thing via the drone's camera. Optimus flips out and starts smashing stuff as I lament the loss of one of the most noble and wise characters in all of science fiction.

KSI isn't all idiots though, as security catches Cade not long after and takes him to Joyce. The Autobots show up JUST IN TIME to rescue him, Joyce deploying Galvatron and Stinger (an approximation of Bumblebee) to deal with them. The gimmick of these fake Transformers is they turn into CGI cubes when they change forms, which after three movies of insanely detailed transformations comes off looking CHEAP AS HELL.

The battle is typical “Michael Bay nearly impossible to follow bullshit with tons of slow motion”, but to be fair this does set up a REALLY sweet looking shot of Bumblebee transforming in midair while his human passengers are sent flying only to be saved by Optimus. Joyce is actually concerned by all the civilian causalities his robots just caused, but Attinger is all “chill dawg, innocent people die all the time!”. He's the bad guy, just in case you weren't able to follow this complex storyline.

Click here for Part 2!