A Michael Bay movie is much like a special effect from about 30 years ago. Think of cheesy 80s science fiction movies that were loaded with models, matte shots, and live explosions with bad exposure. If the director lingered too long on one of these effects shots the quality quickly broke down. The edges of the matte can be seen or the model begins to look less and less real. That’s how I feel about the latest Transformers. Michael Bay is a good director. He’s a horrible editor. Michael Bay is a magician at crafting chaotic action and magnificent at creating a grandiose feeling inside of a single shot. But like an exploding model from a Roger Corman movie, the longer Bay lets us view his film, the more tiresome and flimsy it becomes.
To even assume that the makers of Transformers 4 could not find at least 30 minutes to cut from their movie would be like saying that taking a cup of water from the ocean will kill all the fish. Here’s a perfect starting point. In the final climax, Lockdown’s ship, Lockdown who is working with the humans to find and capture Optimus Prime (more on this in a minute), goes about sucking giant chunks of anything metal into the sky to simply let the debris fall back to the ground again. I assume this is some kind of weapon but all it really does is annoy our protagonists and cause them to run around some more and more explosions ensue. There’s about 5 minutes of this sucking up weapon before the humans exclaim, “It’s sucking up anything metal and letting it fall.” Thanks for clearing that up. Sure, this is only a minute worth of film time, but this sort of trim could have been had throughout the film. Heck, cutting out the product placement alone would have saved 10 minutes but then how would American audiences know that Victoria’s Secret is as popular in China as it is here? Sure we would lose some jokes along the way, like the hilarity of the upset driver who demands to see some insurance after a spaceship crash lands on his car, but I’m okay with that.
With the extra 45 minutes the plot also takes a beating. Much like 2 and 3, as the movie grows longer and longer, the plot becomes more and more muddled. Two human factions are working with the bounty hunter transformer Lockdown. One is the CIA, motivated by national security and the other is a corporation headed by Stanley Tucci. Tucci’s corporation is backwards engineering slain transformers, both Autobot and Decepticon, in order to create a technological revolution. The CIA wants its own army of transformers and is doing the dirty work to provide Tucci’s corporation with what it needs. And what it needs is something called the seed which will turn organic matter into transformer metal. Seems simple enough, a company wants to make transformers to earn billions and the CIA wants to make transformers to secure America and the planet from more transformer incursion. But wait, the CIA is hunting Autobots too? And not only does the White House not know they are killing Autobots but it has no clue, nor seemingly the authority to know, that they are working with Lockdown? Kelsey Grammar’s little black op group is so black op that it can thumb its nose at the White House and is so obsessive with covering itself, because they are obviously not supposed to be killing Autobots, that even in the midst of another transformer attack, they must hunt down and kill Mark Walberg and his group or else be exposed. Huh? And what about the seed? In the opening scene we witness dozens of seeds being dropped on a few herds of dinosaurs. These dozens of seeds cover a small valley. When Tucci gets his hands on a single seed though, somehow this single seed will wipe out an entire city. Look, it’s a Michael Bay film, there’s bound to be a plot inconsistency or two or three and throw away continuity problems. Like what does Lockdown consume their sparks? Or how did her boyfriend know to show up just in the nick of time? What about the human made transformers? They can basically turn themselves into a flying liquid and we even see one transform from street level as a car to the top of a parking garage in robot form. But just a few minutes later these same transformers must scale a building the old fashioned way, by climbing it, when they seemingly can fly. Or my favorite was the complete disappearance of the entire Autobot troupe from one shot to the next when Galvatron is sent out after Prime. Prime gets taken in this scene and the other Autobots who were all right behind him a second ago on the same stretch of highway are just gone for no apparent reason.
And that is the main problem with a Michael Bay movie. The action in a Michael Bay movie doesn’t evolve from the plot. The action in a Michael Bay movie happens for the sake of the action itself. Prime runs into a building just so Lockdown can blow it up to no effect. A magnetic weapon is used with little actual planning as a weapon and the ship just meanders out over the ocean at one point. Hey, if you’re using a magnetic weapon I think the ocean is the last place you’d go to use it. A highly damaged Prime scans a passing big rig just so he can dramatically change into his iconic form and is suddenly completely healed. Bumblebee shoots at Galvatron only to watch as he transforms and flies away. Bumblebee doesn’t go after Galvatron. If he did that we wouldn’t get the one on one fight with him and Prime in the very next shot. All this is what truly makes Transformers 4 disappointing. Bay had some good material to work with on this one. Lockdown is mysterious and evil but more time is given to snappy dialogue in the middle of insane chase sequences than to any exploration of Lockdown or his mission. The new human characters are interesting but again, silly plot points and too much witty and snappy dialogue. And the Dinobots? Would you be at all surprised to know that they don’t even appear until the last 20 minutes of the film? But don’t fret; maybe we’ll get some actual information in Transformers 5: Prime in Space. Or maybe Transformers 6: The Search for More Money.