Big Dumb Robots

‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ Is an Empty Pit of Nihilism

‘Age of Extinction’ is two hours and 45 minutes of guns and cars and explosions and babes. And a vagina-shaped alien that ejaculates on robot John Goodman. Why does this exist?

Paramount Pictures/Photofest

Over the last two decades, by sheer force of personality, Michael Bay has managed to make himself immune to any and all forms of failure. Transformers: Age of Extinction currently sits at an 18 percent on Rotten Tomatoes and you can split the reviews into two camps: those who have cheerfully bought into Bay’s cult of personality and those who resist and helplessly wave the white flag in exhaustion. But despite the protests of tastemakers, Bay’s latest exercise in robots and ugliness made $100 million at the box office this weekend.

Listen. If what you’re looking for is an air-conditioned haven from the heat, then by all means go to Transformers: Age of Explosions. It’s two hours and 45 minutes long, plus previews, and if we’re going to trust Einstein and his theory of relativity, then the three hours you spend in the mind-numbing inertia of Trans4mers: Age of Exertion is the closest you can get to an infinity in the cool theater air.

But as far as I know most people don’t go to Michael Bay movies looking to expand time into a mindless infinity where nothing exists but air-conditioning and explosions. No, most people seem to be under the impression that these are fun movies.

Well, I’m curious. What is it that’s so fun about Transformers?

Is it the vulgarity that’s driving ticket sales? I admit, no other movie this year will offer the opportunity to watch a vagina-shaped alien ejaculate on robot John Goodman, but no other movie would have robot John Goodman respond by screaming “BITCH” and shooting the vagina alien to death either.

But hey, maybe that’s the fun part. If you’re looking for retrograde sexual politics, then by all means Transformers is the movie for you. Watch as the camera ogles barely legal Nicola Peltz! She was born in 1995, but don’t worry if you’re a bit older than her—her movie godfather thinks she looks hot so it must be OK. Watch as she moves out of the watchful eye of her father directly into the arms of her boyfriend (who still looks eerily similar to her father).

And if it’s racism that gets you going, there’s plenty of that too. Despite the fact that Transformers are alien robots from a galaxy far far away, Bay for some reason feels the need to code them into racial stereotypes—look, that one is slightly darker and seems to have visible lips! He’s the black one! Oh and he’s evil, got it! That one’s wearing samurai armor and he talks in aphorisms! Asia!

Maybe those are cheap shots. But then I’ve got to ask, if it is just about the explosions and the guns and the cars, is it really all that thrilling to watch endless sequences of robots you don’t care about threaten people you don’t care about, while destroying buildings you don’t care about, in a movie you don’t care about?

No, it’s not Transformers that’s showing you a good time. You’re doing all the work! Every time you laugh at one of the foul jokes, every time you clap at big dumb Optimus Prime and his big dumb words of wisdom, you’re telling the screen, “Haha! I see how stupid you are, and I choose to have fun anyway!”

So why not choose to have fun at a better movie?

Like most evil masterminds, Michael Bay is an opportunist. He knows you’ve had a long week of work, and he knows there’s nothing more attractive than being given a safe space to behave badly.

Is it a personal vision? Sure. A personal vision of evil and shit. Congratulations. We don’t valorize Hitler for his fully realized and uniquely personal vision of politics, but judging by the mostly lukewarm and sometimes enthusiastic response to this movie, we seem to be a bit confused at the moment about how to handle those impulses in our entertainment.

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There’s a nasty undercurrent of racism, sexism, and unchecked entitlement that’s been festering around the world since the start of the recession in 2007. The first Transformers film was a bit vulgar and a bit sexist and a bit dumb, but it wore its Spielbergian influences on its sleeve. It wasn’t an empty pit of nihilism the way this latest installment is. Transdumbers: Age of Excretions exists for one purpose and one purpose only—to give the world a space to indulge in its worst impulses and to pat its audience on the back for having those impulses in the first place.

I know, I know, you’re never the one to suggest movies like this. You only went because someone asked you. Well, ladies and gentlemen, you owe it to yourself to excise that person from your life, because in the battle between good and evil, they’ve either given up on their own souls or they’ve sided with evil.

If your boo asks you as a date, dump him. He doesn’t respect you anyway.

If your friends want to go throw popcorn at the screen, find new friends. The ones you’ve got now are only going to tie you down.

If your kid wants to go, for god’s sake, hold onto the reins! You’re still the one in charge here!

Just try to think of Michael Bay as the Pied Piper of shit, come with his panpipe of explosions and unbearable metal screeches to lure away your children, steal their innocence, and collect his hundred million-dollar paycheck before he moves on to the next town. And if he can, he’ll steal your soul while he’s at it.

I know, I know, it’s just a movie. I should relax, just go with it. Have fun! Live a little! It’s not the end of the world if some people like a big dumb movie like Transformers. But here’s the thing. I can see vulgarity and ugliness anywhere I want to look, and I can see it for free. I want my movies to give me something to believe in. Michael Bay is just taking up space where our fantasies ought to be.

Save the world. Don’t see Transformers.