The Transformers films and I have a sordid past. While I’m not a big fan of the property (my only knowledge of the series comes from a slim memory of the Beast Wars/Beast Machines cartoons on Fox Kids), the first Transformers was my initial break into nerd films and their hype machines. It was the first film I bought a poster for, the first film where I had watched every trailer, and the first film where I anticipated a sequel. While others walked away confused, I loved the heck out of it. But two dubious sequels later, the Transformers name doesn’t garner as much good will as it used to.
But when the first trailer for Transformers: Age of Extinction released, I let myself get wrapped up in the hype machine again. Regardless of their overall quality, the Transformers series is always a visual feast. I knew going in that even if I didn’t like what anyone was saying or doing, it was going to look super rad.
Thankfully, if all you’re looking for is slick looking action and shiny things without caring whether or not Transformers has things like “plot,” “pacing,” or “characters” than you’re going to have a great time. Just be willing to sit for three hours.
Transformers: Age of Extinction
Director: Michael Bay
Release Date: June 27, 2014
Transformers: Age of Extinction takes place several years after the events of the third film, Dark of the Moon. Gone are the plucky Sam Witwicky and his family, and in their place we have a small town inventor from “Texas, USA (Yes, that’s really the location)” Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), his daughter whose name I forget (Nicola Peltz), and her boyfriend whose Irish but lives in Texas who also races cars for some reason (Jack Reynor). Because of the destruction in Chicago during the Autobots and Decepticons’ last battle, the US government, headed by Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) has begun hunting down all the robots for their materials. When Cade stumbles upon Optimus, a larger and more befuddling plot is revealed. To go into further detail than that, I’d have to use the entire length of this review.
If it seems like I’m being overtly harsh on Trans4mers from the get go, that’s because it hardly even cares about itself. I’ll be blunt here. While not as bad as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Age of Extinction is a shoddy mess of a final product. It’s like Bay took criticisms of the first few films to heart and fixed some problems, but then decided to add a whole host of brand new issues. It’s just haphazardly thrown together into a Frankenstein’s monster of focus group decisions, corporate branding, cartoon fandom, and toy sales. To be fair, that’s technically what the rest of the series is, but for some reason it’s far more noticeable here. The tone is more cynical than before.
The “plot” is just several thousand locations thrown around aimlessly. It’s chaotic and almost entirely random how we’ll go from an Alien spaceship to Optimus Prime and Cade having a little chat about the struggles of parenting. The more interesting aspect of all of these locations, however, is how “Anti-American” the entire film feels. I’m not sure if it’s intentional or not, but underneath the overt need to please its overseas Chinese audience, we have a wonderful film where America is the bad guy. Taking the same eschewed American Dream mentality from Bay’s Pain & Gain, Kelsey Grammer’s Attinger (and his “I will protect America” rants) makes America the bad guy. When you contrast the final shot of Dark of the Moon with the American flag billowing proudly in the background to Attinger’s speech about creating American products to save American lives in the middle of a Chinese factory, it’s almost as if Bay is giving a little wink to let you know he’s in on the joke.
But that’d be giving Age of Extinction too much credit. One of the biggest issues audiences have had with the last few films are the humans. That’s exactly the same issue here. In fact, Extinction seems to think throwing more humans in there will fix the problem. Mark Wahlberg does have the charisma of a leading man, but he’s totally out of place as a genius, yet super ripped inventor. Nicola Peltz is there to be window dressing as her scantily clad self slow motion runs from one dangerous situation to another (which gets all the creepier when the film makes a point to emphasize she’s a minor), Jack Reynor comes off as a total jerk when he’s supposed to be the “cocky guy” type, Stanley Tucci tries to make it work but comes across as goofy, and Kelsey Grammer has played better villains. With Grammer, we got more Sideshow Mel than Sideshow Bob. Okay so the humans are bad, but what about the Transformers? They have to be cool, right? Robot dinosaurs are cool, huh?
The designs of the Transformers themselves are much slicker than in series past, and go very well with the film’s darker tone. And although he’s spitting mostly nonsense, Peter Cullen brings a heft to Optimus Prime that no one else can. In fact, Cullen’s voice work is so great, I kind of want another Transformers film just to hear him scream “I’ll kill you!” again. The weird standout, however, is John Goodman as the newest Autobot, Hound. Replacing the human comic relief character, Hound is a one-liner spewing machine. This would’ve been fine had any of those one liners actually worked. Every scene he’s in he says about three thousand words, and by hour three of this whole debacle I was hoping he’d bite the bullet. Oh, that’s right. Transformers: Age of Extinction is a bloated two hours and 45 minutes.
Remember how I mentioned Age of Extinction seemed like a cynical sequel? That also goes with the technical stuff. Bay is a maestro of explosions and I was expecting some good looking ones here, but there’s an odd hiccup with a lot of them. It might’ve been the switch to IMAX cameras, but there are a few golden spots that undergo a dip in quality when action is blurred (as Bay didn’t shoot full scenes with IMAX and instead focused on a few key shots). And as good as the action might look, it’s very hard to stay invested when the last 45 minutes are a nonstop action sequence featuring characters you don’t care about. When you think the film’s over (and it even gives you a suitable ending), it just keeps on going. Dinobots and proper film editing be damned, Age of Extinction did not need to be this long.
At the end of the day, Transformers: Age of Extinction is yet another Transformers film we’ll all see. And it should be the last. For fans, they’ll enjoy the darker tone, will accept that an alien bounty hunter who hates Earth is also a Lamborghini, and will get a kick out of the dinosaur robots when the rest of us want to go home already.
Transformers: Age of Extinction will truly test your mettle. Ask yourself a few questions. How valuable is your time? How important is that ten or fifteen dollars you’d spend on a ticket? Are cool cars enough for you?
It truly is the “age of extinction” for the Transformers series. Let’s bury it once and for all.