Transformers: Age Of Extinction Review
Posted by Terry Lewis on 07.07.2014
Michael Bay rides the Transformers big screen merry-go-round for a fourth time, but how does it stack up? 411's Terry Lewis checks in with his full review!
Mark Wahlberg - Cade Yeager Nicola Peltz - Tessa Yeager Jack Reynor - Shane Dyson T.J. Miller - Lucas Flannery Stanley Tucci - Joshua Joyce Kelsey Grammer - Harold Attinger Sophia Myles - Darcy Tyril Li Bingbing - Su Yueming
Peter Cullen - The Voice Of Optimus Prime John Goodman - The Voice Of Hound Ken Watanabe - The Voice Of Drift John DiMaggio - The Voices Of Crosshairs & Leadfoot Robert Foxworth - The Voice Of Ratchet Reno Wilson - The Voice Of Brains Frank Welker - The Voice Of Galvatron Mark Ryan - The Voice Of Lockdown
So Michael Bay of mega action blockbuster director fame returns once again to ruin your childhood some more with another not particularly good entry to his sub-par Transformers series with a soft rebooting of the franchise with Transformers: Age Of Extinction. All of the original human cast are jettisoned and only a couple of our favourite shape changing robots survive in the cut in a much darker tale. However, the film is surrounded by controversy with a rumoured inflating of already great box office numbers by Paramount to spin away from negative reviews from critics whilst the film is testing much better with audiences. Is this a possible line in the sand where critics are out of touch with audience wants from a big summer blockbuster? Or is it just a smokescreen to make the film's faults? Whilst there are massive failings, Age Of Extinction manages to find a middle ground.
Apparently, The Creators of the Transformers came to Earth and wiped out the Dinosaurs to plant "Seeds" to transform life into techno-organic material to harvest, millions of years ago. Fast forward to the modern day and the USA is recovering from the Battle Of Chicago. Both Autobot and Decepticon factions are hunted and destroyed for their part in bringing a war to American soil. Whilst black ops sections of the CIA plot the end of the Transformers (via renegade transforming bounty hunter from space Lockdown - Mark Ryan, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen) and allow technology company KSI to create their own, struggling inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg, Lone Survivor) stumbles upon a wrecked truck and sets about stripping it for parts. Little does he know he's harbouring Autobot leader Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen, Sofia The First).
One very notable loss in this soft rebooting in Age Of Extinction is the swapping of Wahlberg for Shia LeBeouf - and thank god! I feels a ludicrous action film in case of something out there like Transformers needs a suitable action star to head up the human cast and Wahlberg does a decent job as the straight Average Joe American who soothes Prime and helps him recognise that humans aren't so bad (in some ham-fisted bludgeoning character development) - until the daughter & rally driving boy friend get involved. It's not so much barely legal Nicola Peltz (Bates Motel) or Oirish charmer Jack Reynor (Delivery Man) aren't very good at acting but it's just part of a forced triangle with conflict between the dad and the boyfriend which takes place instead of sensibly trimming the runtime down or showing more robots. There's a very weird and incredibly awkward scene in case you're wondering how they explain a 17 year old girl dating a 20 year old guy through the "Romeo & Juliet" law apparently of which Reynor's character Shane is a card carrying member. Jaw-dropping I tell you.
Aside from that abomination, Kelsey Grammer (upcoming Expendables 3) leads the human bad guys as the head of the Transformer hunting black ops Government strikeforce whose duty sways between protecting America and being out for profit. Dodgy character aside, it's simply brilliant to see Grammer as a bad guy he's not used to. Whilst his character is bloody terrible, Stanley Tucci (Hunger Games: Catching Fire) taking his businessman scientist role and going off into space doing Stanley Tucci comedy is worth watching. There's one thing that bugged me throughout Age Of Extinction with the cast - not once, not once do any of the human characters seem to realise that they are in a film with them being paired up with shape changing alien robots and act accordingly. The scene with the Dinobots rampaging, you totally expect a couple of the comic relief characters to high five and go "Holy F*** did you see that?! Radical!" Instead, it's just a worrying not batting an eyelid or acknowledging the absurdity of the situation which is not very healthy. Embrace the fact you're in a film like this and stop trying to make it overly serious.
For the best part of a decade (excluding Pain & Gain), Bay has been helming these Transformers movies and for the best of everyone involved, it's time for a change. This time round, Bay thinks he's making an absolute epic of cinema - something that could be compared to say Lord Of The Rings... and he fails. The storyline goes completely off the sane train about two hours in and starts to crowbar in poorly explained macguffins in poorly executed plotting. One of those "seeds" from the plot description has the power to transform organics and anything into a material Transformers can use for... well it's never flat out said why, or how it's important in the modern times. Also, why the hell did they need to make it to that bridge with the seed at the end? Nothing story wise seems to stick that well at all annoyingly and it keeps falling out of your wearing thin attention. Considering the film is well over halfway it's stupidly overlong when it starts to throw this garbage in and make in mean something, it's far too late for anyone to care at that point.
That's the most frustrating thing in the plot; because it's going for epic it adds in needless rubbish it doesn't need. There's actually a perfectly fine storyline in there already about the black ops side of the US Government offing Transformers for illegal gain whilst in public eye they're doing it under the guise of protecting their people, before the Autobots rally and show them up and then fight off manufactured Decepticons and whatnot. With no snipes or sarcasm, I was seriously digging that. I was surprised I was finding myself invested in the characters involved with the Autobots fighting a whole country and hints of possible attractive themes of Americans in fear of aliens that can shapeshift into any vehicle. After Bay turns it up to 11 though, that hope and engagement of the passable aspects of the plot evaporate quickly. What he fails to realise that making something bigger, louder and longer does not make for an epic movie. Everything has to work - engaging characters of all kinds, an easy to follow quest, good thematical elements, clear and top drawer action - they have to pitch in for any film to be worthy of that title. Age Of Extinction does not deliver what Michael Bay wants to achieve at all.
Getting away from Bay since he's not the star of the show, how do our giant shape changing robots fare on the fourth time on the merry-go-round? Quite well actually. Whilst the human cast was a very mixed bag with dodgy characteristics, there's been a conscious effort to add name talent to some of the new Autobots. John Goodman (Monuments Men) feels right at home as weapons specialist Hound with his macho, right hand man spiel, even if it's a bit odd to have him threaten to blow away humans at every opportunity. Whilst he plays a stereotyped Asian samurai triple changing robot, I'd be lying if I did not enjoy Ken Watanabe (Godzilla) lending some credibility to the voice of Drift. I feel this was a bit of a missed opportunity all along; some name talent giving some star power to the bots themselves. Imagine if John C. McGinley had been the voice of Ratchet for example. Still least we got there in the end. A nice treat by all means and it's always great to see Peter Cullen as Prime but even more so as original TV Megatron & Galvatron voice actor Frank Welker turns up to voice the movie version of Galvatron.
If you're a fan which I am of the Transformers themselves, there is still some elements to be entertained by in Age Of Extinction. Lockdown himself is a pretty badass Transformer showing no mercy or allegiance to either side of Autobots or Decepticons, given his bounty hunter character. There are enough character moments (original 80's truck mode Prime FTW!), skirmishes and sweet transformation scenes to keep you going. Oh and the Dinobots are totally worth the wait - as poorly introduced and too long to turn up as they are. Such childlike glee from me when you see the Autobots riding all the fire breathing dinos, marauding in and wrecking a Decepticon's day. Of course, they have to run the traditional Michael Bay gauntlet of poorly shot action sequences like that hair pulling Lockdown/Optimus fight early on taking place off- and corner of the camera and that ridiculous star shape shooting out fireworks doubling for pyro, but they're the names on the marquee the end of the day and they will pull you through the butt hurting three hour runtime.
I feel as a summer blockbuster, Transformers: Age Of Extinction is pretty much reviewproof anyway. Hell I'm not a fan of the first three and I still went to see this one opening day in the UK because I'm a fan (and I still hold out hope I'll see a big screen 'formers film that I actually want to one day) and the Transformers themselves are such a draw in a mega blockbuster sense that people are going to see it anyway - Michael Bay comments & mainstream reviews or not. Whilst I loathe myself to call myself a critic exactly, I realise I am employed by 411mania to give a balanced view and a written opinion on many aspects of visual media so there has to be some level of ego involved in regards to being a film reviewer, my scale up to mainstream. Michael Bay has a notorious ego on him as well according to people he's worked with. Hell, Megan Fox was fired from the third after she compared Bay to Hitler jokingly in terms of how pushing he was on set. The fact that he rather egotistically and childishly said that "critics were going to see (Age Of Extinction) anyway" in response to the overly general critic consensus of the film's failings fuels that. I don't really feel Bay should be allowed to get away with a douche attitude if a vocal aspect of critical review want to voice a popular and known opinion that he has been doing the same movie four times now filled with his own Bay-isms of a girl lust object, ridiculous explosions and stupid comedy stock characters at the worst points. He's embarrassing himself by biting down hard on it now and it's not the first time in the franchise's history he's shot from the hip either. Thinking he's the star of the show over a popular toy and media franchise is borderline maniacal too.
I feel there's a middle ground not explored in the relationship between critic and audience in the analysis since. Whilst I've always maintained such aspects of critique writing such as review scores are too definitive when reviews are purely opinionated explanations which require thought, it is wrong to compare one film to another on the same criteria. Giving a 10/10 to Her is not the same as giving the same score to Anchorman 2 - the only aspects in common are the fact they are movies. They're not the same genre, same expectations and as such should be judged differently. I feel Transformers as a whole, whilst it does deserve criticism most definitely, does not deserve to be compared on a supposed higher quality of scale which it can not reasonably compare itself to. In the end, think about it like this - the teaser of Transformers: Age Of Extinction which aired during the superbowl was the most eagerly awaited trailer. Further trailers have crept into the season finale of The Walking Dead and similar shows. It's an unashamed popcorn summer blockbuster film based on a popular media franchise about transforming robots from another planet fighting other transforming robots - how can mainstream media critically compare this audience interesting juggernaut to something like 12 Years A Slave fairly? Simply - You can't.
The 411: I've seen this labelled as a lot of things - a reboot, an epic, a travesty, a bit of summer blockbuster excitement - but overall it's a big, stinky, Michael Bay standard, explosions filled and bad comedy distracting failure. It's not the worst Transformers movie made ever and there are genuinely entertaining moments with the giant robots themselves and some fun performances from certain cast members, but there is simply too many Bay-isms which people are becoming sick and tired of to sit through the stupidly overlong and majority pointless near three hour runtime. Age Of Extinction falls in on itself by overcomplicating a simple concept of good robots fighting bad robots with the small amounts of decent filmmaking far outweighed by the downright terrible.