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REVIEW: Transformers: Age of Extinction

Bah-weep-gragnah-weep-ni-ni-bong, everyone.

We are in the summer months and who should be waiting to hypothetically blow our minds and eardrums?  None other than Michael Bay, Hollywood’s master of explosions. Yes, Transformers: Age of Extinction has arrived. The fourth film in the Transformers series (fifth if you count the 1986 animated film), Age of Extinction is great when compared to the mess that was the second film, and the slightly better third film. Yes it is pretty silly at times, with plenty of expected explosions and overly long action pieces, but is probably the best out of the four films directed by Bay. It has a mix of good points and bad points, but offers enough fun and excitement to make it enjoyable.

However, it is a little long. Heck, it is only ten minutes shorter than The Godfather. Now most film critics and long-term Transformers fan hate the movies, and I’ve been in the middle area for most of the time – I tolerated Shia LaBeouf, loved John Turturro, but hated the racist Twins, giving Devastator a scrotum, and seemingly turning Optimus Prime into a hypocritical warmonger. But the strange thing is, at times this doesn’t feel like a traditional Michael Bay movie – there is an engaging if not overcrowded story, there is actual characterization with the Autobots, Decepticons and humans being driven by motives, eye candy is kept to a minimum, racist jokes are completely missing, and the military is absolutely nowhere in sight!

Before I go further into the film, there are spoilers abound so be weary. Anyway, the film takes place five years after the battle in Chicago that ended with Cybertron’s implosion and Optimus slaying Megatron and Sentinel Prime. However, this film reminds everyone that people died so the Transformers are outlawed by the American government. While the Autobots are said to be living in peace, CIA agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammar) has his private black ops team hunt them down and execute them. The Autobots’ bodies are then melted down and their unique transforming properties are harnessed by Stanley Tucci, who plays a robotics company industrialist who intends on using the shapeshifting metal to make Earth’s own set of Transformers for all kinds of purposes.

While most of the Autobots have been killed, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) is still at large. He is unintentionally discovered by Cade Yeager (Mark Walberg), a struggling inventor living on a Texan farm hoping to make enough money to send his teenager daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) off to college. Cade has specifically banned Tessa from dating until she graduates, but she is secretly dating a rally car drive named Shane (Jack Reynor). Optimus is in bad shape, and despite initial hostilities towards the Cade family, he is grateful for their help. When the black ops come looking for Optimus, our heroes hit the road and reunite with surviving Autobots to stop the actions of Grammar and Tucci. However, it seems the robots Tucci has made may not be so obedient, as evidenced with the figurehead of the robots, who is named Galvatron… and voiced by Frank Welker… you know where that leads.

There is also a subplot involving an intergalactic bounty hunter named Lockdown (Mark Ryan) who is in allegiance with Attinger, planning to give him a device called the Seed which can cyberform organic matter into metal (based on the Key to Vector Sigma) in exchange for the capture of Optimus. It turns out the Transformers were unknowingly built by a mysterious alien race called the Creators, who wiped out the dinosaurs for some reason and spread the Transformers metal across the planet. It is likely the Creators are based on the Quintessons, who made the Transformers in the 80s cartoon. As if the story wasn’t overflowing as it was, Sophia Myles has a rather pointless role as a geologist who discovers a dinosaur corpse sporting the Transformium alloy – oh, yeah, the humans call the metal “Transformium”. Well it isn’t as stupid as the Unobtainium from Avatar.

Surprisingly, after three films of Shia LaBeouf whining, mumbling and screaming, Mark Walberg was a breath of fresh air. While his character was basically the same as the hero in Armageddon, he did well to carry the film. It was nice to see that Nicola Peltz being able to act after her dismal performance in The Last Airbender, though she did fall into the damsel in distress, and I didn’t really think much of her boyfriend who was only there to be the required boyfriend, was a bit of a wuss and I wasn’t really sure what his accent was meant to be. Kelsey Grammar seems to be having a great time as the badguy, and I enjoyed Stanley Tucci’s performance.

As for the Transformers, the number has been made quite small again. For the Autobots, Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, and Brains all return, and poor Ratchet gets killed off quite early in the film. We meet some new Autobots, specifically Hound (John Goodman) who is a trigger happy jolly soldier, haiku-spewing samurai Drift (Ken Watanbe) who seems to have a face made of china, and snarky, foul-mouthed paratrooper Crosshairs (John DiMaggio). Oh, and we get the Dinobots too – but as awesome as they are, they only show up for the last twenty minutes, aren’t individually named, lack personalities, and aren’t actually referred to as Dinobots by anyone. The Autobots have enough personality and unique designs to stand out from each other, but Bumblebee still lacks a voice.

Optimus has become a better character after the second and third film turned him into a psycho, though I had to stop myself from yelling in the cinema when Optimus asked how many more of his kind would pay for humanity’s mistakes; which is extremely hypocritical considering he spent three movies seemingly trying to wipe out his own race.

On the Decepticon side, well there isn’t really one until the final act – yeah, Galvatron is Megatron in a new body. Big surprise there. Unfortunately, he doesn’t really get to do much and when the Dinobots show up he runs off like a wuss. The only other notable Decepticon is Stinger, a human made robot who is described as a better Bumblebee, and from my view, is meant to be an evil Cliffjumper and a take that to the recoloured toys of the franchise. Then there is Lockdown. He probably has the best presence in the film, and the scene where he emerges from his ship is pretty intimidating. He takes a neutral position in the film, and is disgusted with the mayhem the Autobots and Decepticons have caused.

Something that pleased me was that most characters had motivations, were driven by their emotions, and had moralities in the grey area – Mark Walberg was willing to do underhanded things to protect his daughter but drew the line at selling out Optimus, Attinger wants to protect the United States by any means necessary with recognition, the black ops leader uses his sister’s death in Chicago as an excuse to execute the Autobots without regret, Lockdown looks down on Autobots and Decepticons and forms alliances to get a job done, and the Autobots have a particularly thematic arc as to whether or not to trust humans again or abandon them after their recent crimes.

A number of Bay’s signature features are still present like sunsets every fifteen minutes, cars and vehicles are filmed like they are the most beautiful things on the planet, and the film being too long. However, racial jokes, eye candy, crazy shaky camera shots, and military fetishism are completely absent or downplayed. The film’s visuals are good, with little shaky cam, though I still was irked that the shots focusing on the Transformers were always panning or moving, make an eye line tricky. I didn’t really pay much attention to the music, but I liked the theme song by Imagine Dragons. The third act seemed to include non-too-subtle marketing for the Chinese government, making them look cool and professional in comparison to the sneaky Americans.

Transformers: Age of Extinction will likely be a box office success and by no means is it a masterpiece. It is a fun, harmless movie that somehow does spectacularly well and is the best of the four Michael Bay movies. I still disapprove of some of the more adult jokes since this film is based on a children’s toyline, and when the Transformers take a backseat in their own movie, but it is all in good fun. Until the next time, ’til all are one.

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About the author

Mark Russell