On the Silver Screen – Transformers: Age of Extinction
Transformers: Age of Extinction is the fourth in Michael Bay’s giant robot franchise and is getting mixed reviews across the board. Unsurprising as Michael Bay -and particularly Transformers- films are always divisive among critics and moviegoers alike so here I am adding my thoughts to the melting point.
This installment picks up four years after the decimation of Chicago in the last film. Due to those events all Transformers are being hunted by the CIA to prevent a repeat of such a situation. Helping the CIA is a transforming bounty hunter named Lockdown (Mark Ryan) who has a specific interest in finding Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen).
One major difference between this installment and the previous trilogy is that none of the cast -outside voice actors for the Transformers- return for this film. Instead of the idiotic Shia LaBeouf yelling our protagonist is Mark Wahlberg’s Cade Yeager, a down on his luck inventor who is a single parent to his 17 year old daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz). It’s almost immediately noticeable that Wahlberg is a massive improvement as a likeable character who serves a huge function in the story as well as having something resembling a character arc.
Cade is clearly a devoted father who doesn’t always know the best way to approach things which frustrates Tessa. He blends into an action hero archetype very well and is able to participate in the many action scenes. Tessa is a little more indistinct, serving as the standard Michael Bay eye-candy for the film. There are shades of a subplot of her applying to colleges and being rejected but it doesn’t actually go anywhere beyond the first reference. The exploitative shots of the pretty young actress in revealing clothing are still prevalent but for the first time that I can remember the story at least attempts to address this with Cade being horrified at the way his daughter dresses. Even still, encouraging the objectification of a girl who is supposed to be 17 is very dodgy, baby steps I guess. Beyond the eye-candy there’s not an awful lot to Tessa, nothing that sticks in my mind anyway.
Jack Reynor plays Tessa’s boyfriend Shane who…drives and that’s about it. He’s a professional race driver giving an explanation for why he can participate in high speed chases with such precision. He cares about Tessa and spends much of the film trying to convince Cade of this. There is some genuine comedy in their interactions when Shane’s accent is actually decipherable. Wahlberg’s disapprovingly threatening father figure is a good foil for this relationship but the relationship between Shane and Tessa fades into the background much of the time, I was actually thankful for this since I didn’t find it all that interesting.
The best actor in the movie was Kelsey Grammar playing slimy CIA agent Harold Attinger, the man who is in charge of hunting down the transformers. Every minute he’s on screen he comes across as a force to be reckoned with. He’s intelligent and fiercely determined and is absolutely a credible threat to the Autobots.
Stanley Tucci plays Joshua Joyce, an inventor like Wahlberg but the difference is, he has money and he is the man in charge of using the knowledge gained from the corpses of various Transformers to crack what makes them tick and therefore make his own. The character is supposed to fill in for the role that John Turturro did in the previous trilogy but doesn’t do quite as well. He’s very good in the film but Stanley Tucci always is, beyond that his comedy doesn’t really work and he feels like an extraneous part of an overloaded story.
In terms of the Transformer characters, I was particularly impressed by the execution here. Optimus Prime’s introduction as a broken down wreck is great as it’s something that we haven’t really seen in these films before. Cullen voices him with a proud vulnerability as he laments the loss of his friends. Fan favourite Bumblebee also returns still voiced by using sound clips generated by his radio which really ought to be fixed by now.
The rest of the Autobot team were made up of Hound (John Goodman), a massive violent robot who smokes tank shells like a cigar. As characters go that’s about as deep as he got but he was just cool. Ken Watanabe voices Drift, a samurai inspired robot who continually calls Optimus Sensei which is pretty stereotypical but again, he looked cool and had some cool moments. John Dimaggio voices Crosshairs who is probably the least distinct of the Autobots, I really can’t remember too much about him other than he was green and good with his weapons.
In terms of Autobots, that’s pretty much it. This is something I really enjoyed about the first movie, a small team of Autobots with distinct designs making it easier to follow them in combat. There are cameos from some of the other Autobots but these mostly serve to have them destroyed. Even the villain designs were distinct in this film, solving the problem from the previous trilogy. Lockdown in particular looked fantastic and the interior of his ship was incredible to look at.
The Dinobots -robot dinosaurs- are also in this film, and despite the fact that they were a huge focus of the marketing for this, they are hardly featured and only serve to prop up the final battle. To say they were poorly introduced would be an understatement, they are also woefully underexplained but the scenes featuring them did look great.
Looking great is something that can be said for this film if nothing else, the special effects are excellent as always and the set pieces are visually very impressive. Michael Bay’s use of the new IMAX cameras really steps up the visual beauty of this film so if you can see it in IMAX then please do, it is absolutely worth it. I can’t really say that the action was too much as I really enjoy bombastic set pieces of which this had plenty. Some of them felt smaller scale than the previous films and it was much easier to make out what was going on. Truly a visual feast.
The runtime of this film is just ridiculous at a whopping 2 hours 45 minutes, this is absolutely too long for this sort of film, not that I found it especially boring at any point but the story of humans being able to create their own Transformers in the form of Galvatron and his army could easily have been left until the next film, the CIA coupled with Lockdown plot was more than enough to carry this film. I’m sure the Dinobots could have been left until the next one as well.
I really enjoyed the film despite the punishing running time. Mark Wahlberg makes for a much better leading man and his character is far more of an active protagonist.
The other characters are hit and miss and the sexual objectification of his 17 year old daughter simply comes across as awkward. There’s also too much time devoted to cheesy lines about how important they are to each other.
As above, the running time is insanely long and could easily have lost 30 minutes to an hour. There’s an entire plot in the film that feels superfluous and could be cut completely.
The action is stunning as always and Michael Bay puts on an impressive explosion show. Visually the film is generally fantastic and should be seen in IMAX, particularly for some outstanding 3D effects.