Transformers: Age of Extinction

Cast:
Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeager
Stanley Tucci as Joshua Joyce
Kelsey Grammer as Harold Attinger
Nicola Peltz as Tessa Yeager
Jack Reynor as Shane Dyson
Titus Welliver as James Savoy
Sophia Myles as Darcy Tirrel
Bingbing Li as Su Yueming
T.J. Miller as Lucas Flannery
James Bachman as Gill Wembley
Thomas Lennon as Chief of Staff
Charles Parnell as CIA Director
Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime (voice)
Frank Welker as Galvatron (voice)
John Goodman as Hound (voice)
Ken Watanabe as Drift (voice)
Robert Foxworth as Ratchet (voice)
John DiMaggio as Crosshairs (voice)
Mark Ryan as Lockdown (voice)
Reno Wilson as Brains (voice)

Directed by Michael Bay

Summary:
“Transformers: Age of Extinction” is more of the same from the previous films, both good and bad.

Story:
Since 2011′s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” things have gone bad for the Autobots. After Chicago was utterly destroyed, humans now don’t see any difference between Autobots and Decepticons. They are all perceived to be an alien menace. Now the government has tasked the CIA’s Harold Attinger to round them up. Little do they realize that he has allied himself with a Transformer bounty hunter named Lockdown in order to accomplish the task.

As they are being hunted down one by one, the Autobots go into hiding. And after a particularly vicious battle, Optimus Prime finds himself inoperable. Hidden in truck form, he’s sold as scrap in Texas to a down-on-his-luck inventor by the name of Cade Yeager. Cade is a single parent who is short on cash and desperate to hit it big with one of his inventions. He hopes selling his newfound truck will help raise money. Little does he realize that it will pull him into an intergalactic war and the very fight for the survival of the human race.

“Transformers: Age of Extinction” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo.

What Worked:
I’ve been a fan of Transformers since the beginning. The Marvel comics got me into collecting comics in general. I collected the toys and kept all of stats on the characters from the boxes. I loved the cartoons. I think when Optimus Prime died on the screen, it was the last time I cried at the movies. I have “The Touch,” I have the power. And while I fully realize it’s all based on silly toys, there was always potential for great characters, great action, and great stories. Despite all of this, or more likely because of it, I’ve never been happy with the Michael Bay movies. So I went into this movie with my nine-year-old son and exceptionally low expectations. And as an added bonus, the people sitting behind me in the press section smuggled in booze and were becoming more and more inebriated as the movie progressed. I got an intoxicated live commentary from this fellow which I’ll share as we go along.

Despite my expectations that this movie was going to suck, the first 45 minutes or so were quite strong. The film opens and we learn that an alien race related to the Transformers were actually responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs. So you start thinking that this will eventually tie in nicely with the appearance of the Dinobots later in the film. While it’s not really at all clear how they are tied, I at least give Bay points for trying.

Flash forward a few million years and we meet Cade Yeager in Texas. Since we actually screened this movie in Texas, the guy drinking behind me seemed to cheer and sip some alcohol for each Texas reference. So he was drunk pretty early. Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeager is actually pretty entertaining. He’s your stereotypical inventor who is borderline genius and simultaneously an utter failure (I think Bay may have seen “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”). Wahlberg has some fun lines that set the tone early. He also has some fun interaction with Nicola Peltz as his daughter Tessa Yeager. Drunk guy seems to have liked her as well since he kept whistling cat calls at the screen. Anyway, Wahlberg gets to play the stereotypical overprotective father which alternately works and becomes tiresome, but when Tessa’s Irish boyfriend shows up, it gives Wahlberg someone to play off of. Jack Reynor as Shane Dyson starts out as a good character as he gets pulled into the conflict and tries to win the approval of Cade. But as the film goes, you start wondering what Tessa sees in the guy. Matters aren’t helped by the fact that he’s 20 and she’s 17. Michael Bay dismisses this age difference by going into commentary on “Romeo and Juliet” laws, a subject he seems to have examined thoroughly. The drunk guy sitting behind us yelled to the screen that he was very familiar with this law, so I’m glad he has some legal knowledge on dating minors. The most entertaining of the cast members ends up being T.J. Miller as Lucas Flannery, Cade’s surfer high school friend. He provides a lot of great comic relief and has some of the best lines of the film. He also plays off of Wahlberg perfectly. Unfortunately, we don’t see him after the first hour despite the fact he would have elevated the film significantly.

The addition of the Transformer bounty hunter Lockdown is also pretty cool. Not affiliated with either Decepticon or Autobot, he simply kills each robot for profit. If you’re familiar with the comics, then you are familiar with Death’s Head, who plays a similar role. This character captures the essence of that character, just without the humor. Lockdown was also in the more recent cartoon, which seems to be more of the inspiration for Bay. The character flies in a massive ship that is a robotic house of horrors as well. A major action sequence takes place inside of it that is one of the more unique things in the Transformers series. In fact, the robots that look the least like Transformers are the more interesting ones.

As for the rest of the film, the CGI and 3D are all quite impressive, but it’s more of the same from the previous films. That being said, the drunk guy seemed to love the flying scenes as he put his hands in the air and pretended to be shooting Decepticons. So there’s that going for it.

What Didn’t Work:
Unfortunately, despite a relatively strong start to the film, things unravel pretty quickly. And ironically, it’s about at the point that the rest of the Autobots show up.

First of all, Bay shows yet again that he has no idea who the characters of the Autobots are. Optimus Prime is supposed to be a noble character who respects life. In this movie, he utters the line (paraphrasing), “I normally respect life, but if I find the human responsible for this, I will kill them.” And he actually does. It’s like Bay heard the criticism of fans that Prime was a killer in the last movie, then he purposely thumbed his nose at them by doing this. Hound also says how he’s been itching to kill something… and he does. The Autobots also fight with each other repeatedly like spoiled toddlers. You quickly come to the conclusion that they are every bit the menace that the government portrays them to be. You start thinking they have a legitimate point in taking them out.

Along the lines of not understanding the characters, the Dinobots are utterly wasted in this film. They only appear in the final minutes of the movie and when they do, you question why they are even there. In fact, the drunk guy behind me actually gave up cheering for them and kind of laid there in a silent stupor as Optimus Prime rode Grimlock through the streets wreaking havoc. That should have been the point when everyone was cheering. If Michael Bay needed an example of how to use Grimlock in this movie, you could point to the Hulk in The Avengers. He’s a stupid yet lovable brute who you point in the right direction you need him and unleash him. Instead, Grimlock and the other Dinobots are practically mute and serve little to no purpose other than to sell toys. It was a major disappointment.

Despite a lack of understanding of the characters, so much is still wrong with this movie. The humans, the Autobots, and every other character make some decision that defies logic… even in a toy movie. The Autobots claim to be our friends, but they utterly wreck Chicago… a second time… with no regard for human life. No mention of the characters from the previous films is made despite the fact that they are probably the only human characters who could help the Autobots. Robots and ships disappear and reappear without explanation. They actually name the material that the Transformers are made from “transformium.” And the villains in the film are so obviously negative stereotypes of Republicans that I think even Democrats would be embarrassed. Kelsey Grammer calls the Transformers “illegal aliens” and “terrorists” all while spouting patriotic buzz words. Stanley Tucci is also an evil Steve Jobs. (Bay must have also seen “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2″). It’s all just a big storytelling mess.

After the movie was over, I also came to the realization that it was almost beat for beat the same plot as the first film. A down on his luck human accidentally finds a Transformer (this time Optimus Prime rather than Bumblebee), then gets pulled into their conflict. Evil humans try to hunt down the poor Autobot, but our human hero saves them. They meet up with the other Autobots and realize that the humans have Megatron on ice in a facility. Megatron eventually breaks free and you have the humans running in slow motion with the MacGuffin as the robots wreak CGI havoc in the city. It’s shocking how similar the plots are. Only the faces and cities and product placements have changed.

After the movie was over, the drunk guy left the theater totally silent. I asked my son what he thought of the film and he said, “It was awesome! But it was too long.” I at least agreed with him on the fact that it was too long. There are whole chunks of this film that could be deleted and they could have tightened it up much better.

The Bottom Line:
Overall, the Transformers series is quite stale and is in desperate need of a reboot. Hasbro needs to graciously show Michael Bay the door and start completely over on these films. Maybe they’ll get someone who cares about character and story more and less about shots of the sun and slow motion mayhem. Despite all of this, the movie is going to make a ton of money and the creators are just going to repeat the same sins all over again. This is a film series that could be great, yet everyone involved (except ILM) seems content to phone it in.

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