Movie Review - Transformers: Age of Extinction
Transformers: Age of Extinction has some problems; some of it with the humans, as usual, but some of it with the bots too. That’s unfortunate, because the core story and overall darker theme were rife with possibilities…but even those has some problems…as, to be honest, I’m not sure how good or bad I can say this film is without knowing what’s coming up in its follow-up, Transformers: The Last Knight…and there’s still a bit of a wait on that. So let’s take a look at what did and didn’t work.
There’s a lot going on with the story…maybe too much. We start off with, much like in the second film, tying Earth of the distant past with Cybertron. This time, it’s the Cretaceous extinction event responsible for killing off the dinosaurs. Now, since the Dinobots are going to be introduced in this film (not much of a spoiler there as they factored heavily into the marketing of the movie), it makes sense to start here. However, we don’t see any Cybertronians scanning the local life forms…so there’s no explicit explanation for said Dinobots. So, how do the Transformers factor into the extinction of the dinosaurs? Well…it may not necessarily be them. Throughout the movie, we get a lot of references to the Creators of the Cybertronian race…and the hand that sets off the device responsible for said extinction seemed more techno-organic that it did straight-up Cybertronian. And, as we learn later on in the film, the results of this detonation, a deposit of ‘Transformium’, were mined and then later used for the construction of Cybertron itself. Or maybe just the Transformers…I dunno. I’m still hung up on them calling it ‘Transformium’. What…were all the ‘good’ names taken? Couldn’t get the rights to Upsidaisium or Unobtainium? Hell, even within the G1 mythos, we know that the Transformers are made of Cybertonium…why not use that? I mean, Ehren Kruger, the writer of both the third and fourth films, has shown his G1 knowledge in the story for Dark of the Moon…why not here? [Maybe he only got through season 1? – Ed.] Ugh, the fact that I’ve gone on this long about the first couple of minutes of the film isn’t a good sign here…let’s try to pick up the pace.
As we fast forward to modern times, we find that Cybertronian bounty hunter Lockdown is working with a supposed CIA squad to take down Transformers, as we’re introduced to them while they’re hunting down Ratchet. I say “supposed” because, if I recall correctly, the CIA cannot run operations on American soil. [Wikipedia states that it has limited capacities within the US that seem more in the vein of information gathering as opposed to the covert ops shown in the movie. – Ed.] Mind you, the agent in charge of this squad, played by Kelsey Grammer, has deceived the White House into thinking that they’re just hunting down Decepticons. Turns out these guys are taking the Transformer corpses they recover, Autobot and Decepticon, and shipping them off to a company called KSI…which is likely this universe’s version of Apple given the pretentious douchebag aura projected by both it and its founder, James Joyce (played by Stanley Tucci). KSI is working to duplicate Cybertronian tech…having unlocked the secrets of Transformium…and is working on building their own Transformers. How, you might ask? Well, turns out they’re using information stored in Megatron’s head…you know, ‘cause that sounds safe. Bad news though, Transformium from the Cretaceous extinction event is running low and a new source must be found. That’s where Lockdown comes in. See, he wants to collect the bounty ‘The Creators’ have put on Optimus Prime…so, in return for the humans’ help in capturing Prime, he’ll give them a ‘Seed’…the device we saw detonated in the opening minutes of the film. While all of this is going on, Megatron has gone all virus like and now inhabits the body of KSI’s prototype, Galvatron…which he’s somehow using to manipulate Joyce into getting this Seed so that he can detonate it an use the raw materials to create a new Decepticon army. Whew! That’s a lot of story right there…kinda makes my head hurt.
But wait, there’s more! There’s the human story. While all of this is going on, we’ve got Marky Mark Wahlberg, a widowed, over protective father and rural inventor who’s down on his luck, out of money and having trouble accepting that his little girl is all grown up. Ugh…look, I don’t want to get too into this subplot. Did you see Armageddon? You know, the Michael Bay asteroid movie? Remember the Bruce Willis/Liv Tyler/Ben Affleck relationship? Yeah, that…only with Transformers. How do they fit into the story? Well, guess who finds Optimus Prime while he’s hiding as a broken down semi…in a goddamn movie theater. How…wha…oh, screw it. Michael Bay film…brain off. Then there’s Frasier that just wants recognition…and money…and probably power, but mostly money, and Joyce who learns that there are repercussions of technology unfettered by morality/ethics and thus becomes more responsible and less douchey. All in all, sure, I’d take Marky Mark over The Beef any day…but that kinda falls more into damning with faint praise. Granted, that’s not so much a rip on Wahlberg as it is more a rip on the material he was given.
All of that out of the way, it’s time to get into my two major beefs with the film. First up is Optimus using the word ‘kill’…especially toward humans. When he first says “We’ll kill them all” back in Dark of the Moon, first, he’s referring to the Decepticons and second, given the events of that film, I can imagine Optimus having all of zero fucks to give anymore…especially with the sheer number human lives at stake or already lost. And, sure, I can see Prime being in a similar position in this film as well. He and his Autobots are being hunted down and killed by the humans they’ve allied with and swore to protect. I get it. That’s one hell of a betrayal. But for Prime to target creatures that are SIGNIFICANTLY weaker and more fragile than him and his Cybertronian bretheren? That goes against EVERYTHING the character stands for. I’ve got no problem with Prime taking out a ‘Con like it ain’t no thing, I mean, hell, this is war, but a human? No. Not even once. Not even Frasier, who, sure, totally deserves it. That’s simply beneath his weight-class as well as beneath his lofty standards. Prime can be moody and down and hurt and betrayed and all that, sure, it’s a range we haven’t seen from him very often…if at all. And I’m a big fan of expanding a character…but not this. Never this. I dunno…maybe this is how most people felt about the ending of Man of Steel.
Second, we have the “transformations” of KSI’s Transformers such as Galvatron and Stinger. I say “transformations” in quotes because…yeah, that totally IS NOT a transformation. We’ve seen what transformations are in the past three movies…taking what is there, rearranging and reconfiguring and turning it into a new form. These abominations though, they basically explode into countless floating particles and then reform into another mode. Yet another thing that completely goes against the core of not just one character, but the entire concept of the toyline this movie is based on…and, just…no. That’s not a transformation, that’s a…I don’t know what the fuck it is. And I did not put down money to see I-don’t-know-what-the-fuck-that-is-ers…I put down money to see TRANSFORMERS. I gather you can tell the difference. While I’ve always been one to shy away from those that scream and screech “Michael Bay raped my childhood” or some other such nonsense, taking the differences of the movies compared to the cartoons or comics as just the pains of adapting the franchise to a new medium…this one…well, sure, he hasn’t raped my childhood, but he damn sure did his best to piss in my corn flakes this time around.
Look, a lot of what I’ve written here sounds negative…and I have to say that in spite of all that, I did like the film, more so now than I did when I first saw it in the theater. Sure, it’s got major problems (it’s much more convoluted than I remember on my first viewing), but the elements that have always worked for this series are still there: great cinematography, pulse-pounding action sequences and some really beautiful shots. (Though I will admit to getting more than a little tired of the objectification of women in his films…though he’s getting better, as Li Bingbing is not only hot as hell, but kicks some serious ass in the movie.) Wahlberg is definitely a step up in the leading role and the voice acting remains pretty good, with stand outs being Peter Cullen as Optimus (as always…and who also had a problem with the whole Optimus killing humans thing…way to go Peter!), bringing in Frank Welker as Galvatron and Walter Sobchak himself, John Goodman, as Hound. God that was perfect casting! Ultimately, though, this film is a set-up for Transformers 5…and with hints at something Quintesson like…or maybe even Primus…or whatever the “creators” might be…while it sounds like it should be good, well…quite honestly the fate of Transformers: Age of Extinction will depend greatly on how well the follow-up, Transformers: The Last Knight, is executed. Given that, so far at least, it seems like the franchise is falling into an “the odd numbered entries are the good ones” sort of pattern…this might indeed be the case. As to whether or not I can recommend the film? Well, if you’ve liked all the films so far, yeah, you’ll dig this one too. If you’re iffy about it, wait until 5 comes out and see these two back to back. It might help…or it might make you give up on the franchise.
Well, that’s it. Up next, we’ll have our State of the Franchise Address. Before that, if you want to check out the rest of the series, we’ve got you covered: