Movie Review: “Transformers: Age of Extinction” Breathes New Life into Franchise

Michael Bay films are usually a mixed bag for anyone who’s a critic: for many so-called critics, it’s an excuse to practice how to insult and trash a film while “criticizing” it. Most Michael Bay-made films bring out the rabid wolves of critics, very few of which have a legitimate criticism of his work or a decent review, most just wasting the space with hard-hitting insults, trying to one-up each other.

Of the few critics that do the job right, they have perfectly legitimate arguments: most, if not all, of Michael Bay’s films aren’t Oscar-worthy contenders outside of the production/design area. They’re not thinking-man films by any stretch of the imagination, and sometimes they’re not even good films, either in the critical sense or the fan-based one. What they are, to borrow a term from modern music, is the film-equivalent of arena rock: the blockbuster. They’re designed like a roller coaster in a film, from the explosions to the action, from the cars, sci-fi elements and pop culture to the end of the credits.

If you’ve come here to read insults, this might be a good time to stop reading, because you won’t find any. Transformers: Age of Extinction does have a few criticisms to take to task for future films, but none to which deserve the proverbial insults others might throw his way.

With that in mind, a few notes before my review:

  • This is a long film – make sure to hit the bathroom before you watch it. (If you can’t sit through nearly 3 hours of film without getting up, you may want to wait to rent this.)
  • As of this writing, there are no mid-credit or post-credit scenes – once the credits start rolling, you’re free to go.
  • If you’re not a fan of the films because of the humans from the first trilogy, you should really like this cast. If you hated the amount of human involvement in the films, you’ll be disappointed.
  • If you’re a fan of the original cartoons that dislikes the changes made to the characters, there’s some hit-and-miss on the new characters, but chances are you’re not going to change your opinion of the series with this film.
  • 100% Shia Labeouf-free.  (Depending on how much you like him in the films, this could be both a good and a bad thing.)

The Story

5 years after the “Battle of Chicago” (the events of “Transformers: Dark of the Moon“,) the Transformers – both Autobot and Decepticon – are exiled from Earth, hunted down like fugitives and killed. We watch as one CIA group, “Cemetery Wind,” which is headed by Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) and lead by James Savoy (Tom Welliver, who looks almost like Anthony Bourdain in all-black,) hunt down and dispatch Ratchet, one of the remaining Autobots from the first trilogy (voiced briefly by Robert Foxworth, who voiced him in TF:DotM, aka the last film.)

Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) is a junk-fixing inventor who’s not very good at what he does. We meet him and his partner Lucas Flannery (T.J. MIller) outside of an old theatre, where they’re there to buy some of the “junk.” Among the junk: A very familiar, beat-up semi cab that we all know and love. He borrows the money from his “employee” and brings it back to his place, hoping to fix and sell it to help pay for his daughter Tessa’s (Nicola Peltz) college – trying to keep a promise to his dead wife of making sure she graduated.

He realizes, from the mortar shells that emptied out back in the theatre to some other exploration, that what he had was an Autobot, and after trying to calm Tessa and Lucas down and NOT to call that CIA organization, he has Lucas run to town to get supplies while he works getting Optimus Prime (voiced once again by Peter Cullen) working. Unfortunately, this brings Cemetery Wind to their door as he gets Optimus working just in time. Battle ensues, and during the escape we meet Tessa’s boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor,) trading him for Lucas ultimately.

Once they calm down, the remaining Autobots meet out in the middle of the desert: Optimus and the humans, BumbleBee (the only other survivor from the original trilogy, once again using the radio to speak for him), Hound (the military vehicle, voiced with what sounded like a lot of fun by John Goodman,) Drift (the Blue Bugati, voice by Ken Watanabe,) and Crosshairs (the green-black Corvette, voiced by veteran voice actor John Dimaggio.) They come to realize that much of the tech the humans have used to hunt and kill robots has been developed by KSI, located in the rebuilt Chicago, where they decide to visit.

KSI, which was modelled after a certain fruity computer company and headed by inventor/”Steve Jobs wannabe” Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci,) has his hands in many areas: a discovery near the Arctic Circle (coincidentally, the same part of the world where Megatron crash-landed years ago, though not the same place) of dinosaur bones entrapped in metal and the CIA group headed by Attinger, where he’s getting access to the alien scrap. From this he uses the metal “transformium” to create new Robots, hoping to build their own replacement military modelled after the original heroes Prime and Bumblebee. To help in programming these machines, they use the heads of Megatron and other fallen Decepticons, creating Galvatron (voiced by another Generation one voice actor Frank Welker, who like Cullen reprises one of his voices as the original voice of Megatron and Galvatron after the movie) in the process.

Our heroes discover what’s going on, but not without getting caught, and the Autobots come in to rescue Cade, in the process freeing Brains (one of the two small robots from the last film, voiced by Reno Wilson,) but not without confrontating Galvatron and the main bad guy transformer of the film, Lockdown (the Lamborghini, voiced by Mark Ryan,) a bounty hunter who captures Prime (and inadvertently Tessa, who’s trapped in the car they pull Prime from) and forces the Autobots to rescue him.

Joyce realizes the lack of control he has over Galvatron, the risk, with everyone escaping, of the public becoming aware of the truth behind the Autobots, and move operations to China. As part of payment for helping to capture Prime, they get their hands on a much-wanted piece of tech: the seed, a bomb believed to be needed to make these new human-made transformers fully functional (though in reality a bomb designed to turn everything within the blast radius into Transformium, thus creating new transformers.) Combined with a phone conversation between inventors, he realizes how bad this seed really is, and does his part to keep it away from the rest of the bad guys in the film.

By this time, however, in China Galvatron has become fully aware, taking over the factory and bringing life to all of the finished “product” (the new transformers,) creating a new army of Decepticons. Lockdown, pissed off with Prime’s escape, returns to Earth to get his prison back. Optimus, realizing he’s in need of a larger army, recruits the Dinobots, though not without a much-needed confrontation between him and Grimlock, their leader. (Sadly, none of the Dinobots are voiced.) Battle for Earth ensues.

The Criticism

Continuity-wise, this film does a good job of sticking within the story created for the films so far, referring to the first trilogy through the robots and events, but not the Humans. Labeouf and his parents are gone (hopefully with a much-needed happy ending,) while the new human groups do their part to bring the audience closer to relatability in the film. Much of the character differences between returning Transformers are handled as expected: Prime and Bumblebee have a new dislike/hatred for the humans, while Galvatron’s an upgraded combination of Megatron and Starscream. Those hoping for a closer tie to the early cartoons (particularly the 1980’s “generation 1” series) will be sadly disappointed: While some characters have either physical or characteristic similarities, such as Hound still being a military vehicle and Grimlock still being a bull-headed kid, they’re similar to the other transformers in the movie series thus far, with the characters from the movie series only being part of the more famous characterizations.

Movie-wise, the movie is hit-and-miss. The humans are a huge upgrade over the previous series, with Cade, Shane and Tessa being a very likeable group to follow in the future. Grammer and Welliver also bring some convincing bad guys to the films – much better than Lockdown, whose motives aren’t fully explained in this film. Tucci’s Joyce does a great job of straddling the weasel role, straddling the fine line between bad guy and good. Li Bingbing, who plays a secretary/security guard for Joyce, and Sophia Myles (who fans might recognize from the Underworld films as Erika, who helps Selena escape in the first film) plays an archaeologist who discovers the truth about the extinction of dinosaurs millions of years ago, and both actresses make the most of their characters. Likewise, geek nods were made to “Office Space” and “Reno 911” courtesy of Richard Reihle and Thomas Lennon.

The main misses of the film are because of its length: while only a few of the parts felt like they were too long, the story itself could have used a trimming in spots that felt a little duplicated within its own story (such as the scenes in Chicago, which could have been moved to China to shave 20-30 minutes of unneeded story.) The characterizations of Prime and Bumblebee, while understandable given the context, shift too far away from their original movie characterizations, and are less connect-able/relatable to this time. Fans waiting for the famous words “Me Grimlock…” will sadly be disappointed. Finally, while not the film’s fault, a rumored mid-post-credits scenes did not happen – which sucks, because a few pieces missing in the film would have been better explained. (Ah, fan boys…)

One last thing worth noting, for those that were fans of the music:  the switch from Linkin Park (whose music featured prominently in the first trilogy) to Imagine Dragons for this film was done masterfully.  While I’m not as big of a fan of “Battlecry,” the new theme song for this film, as I was with “New Divide” (the theme from “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and the only other song specifically written for the series,) it’s no worse than the previous entries, either – especially the songs not made for the films (“What I’ve Done” and “Iridescent,” both tracks on albums that were out at the same time as their respective movies.)  Whether this is a plus or a minus depends on how much you either like “Imagine Dragons” or hate “Linkin Park:”  For me, it’s a bit of both, as I’m a fan of both films, but for most, since it’s not used much differently from past films, it will probably be unnoticed.   (What would really be cool is for the two groups to work together on a project!)

Overall:

This movie will do good in converting some of the people who hated the humans in the first trilogy, as the film gets a huge upgrade in this area. Fan boys waiting for them to make the robots more relatable to the Generations one line might like this film, but most will likely remain disappointed. While it does make a lot of nods to the original trilogy, it does stand enough on its own to not need viewers to rush and watch the first 3 films beforehand.

This movie gets a 8 out of 10 – it’s a great popcorn blockbuster film whose fans should not be disappointed. It does have areas that need improvement, and it’s not a thinking-man’s film by any stretch of the imagination; However, these movies were never designed to be that way. It’s definitely a “bring your butt to the theatres” Blockbuster film, and a fitting way to start the new trilogy.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s