Sunday, June 29, 2014
Transformers: Age of Extinction - Another Michael Bay Action Extravaganza
3 out of 5 Stars
Michael Bay is known for directing action packed movies that focus on action and CGI to the detriment of the plot. Despite that, I have managed to enjoy his movies over the years. They can be entertaining mindless action movies. I have seen the first three Transformers movies and enjoyed them to varying degrees even while finding various flaws. I honestly wasn’t sure I wanted to see the fourth movie, Transformers: Age of Extinction. I ultimately decided to go see the movie and I got more of the same - a mindless action movie that is mostly entertaining.
Five years after the battle between the Autobots and Decepticons in Chicago, the US army is no longer working with the Autobots. Harold Attinger is in charge of a top secret CIA black op that involves tracking down the remaining Decepticons. Unknown to just about everyone, Autobots are also being hunted as part of the op. Attinger sees all Transformers as a threat that he intends to eliminate to protect the country.
Cade Yeager is a struggling inventor who salvages stuff in an attempt to make a living. His daughter Tessa is furious when he comes home with a battered semi that he hopes to sell for parts. It turns out the truck is Optimus Prime. Cade decides to try to fix him, but soon mysterious agents are swarming his farm. He and Tessa end up on the run with Shane, Tessa’s secret boyfriend rally car driver, and the few remaining Autobots.
There are no extra scenes during or after the credits. I saw the normal version of the movie. It is also showing in 3D - including IMAX 3D - in some theaters. Depending on how the 3D was done, there are some scenes and images that have the potential to look cool in 3D. I did notice 3D conversion listed in the credits, so I think it was shot normally and then converted to 3D.
I was first introduced to the Transformers through the cartoon that aired in the 80s. I knew there were toys, but I never had any of them. Over the years, there has been an animated movie connected to that cartoon series, other cartoons, and comic books. I don’t think the story from this movie has been used in any of the comics or cartoons.
Transformers: Age of Extinction is the longest of the Transformers movies at almost three hours long. I don’t mind longer movies if there is enough going on to support the longer run time. That isn’t the case with this movie, just like it wasn’t with the first three. The movie is mostly a series of jerky action scenes, loosely connected by a thin plot. I wasn’t expecting the plot to be stronger or make me think. The fact that the movie is so long makes the plot weakness a bigger problem because there just isn’t enough to the plot to justify a movie this long. Yes some of the action scenes were cool - like when Optimus Prime rides another Transformer that is a fire breathing dinosaur - but there is such a thing as too much action. After a certain point, it all blends together and the audience is left watching as one giant robot beats the crap out of another giant robot while destroying a city. The movie would have been more entertaining if it weren’t so bloated with action scenes.
The pacing is a bit uneven, dragging in some places, and moving lightening quick in others. Bay uses slow motion in the middle of many action scenes. It is overused in this movie and for the most part, I find the change to slow motion like that a bit jarring. There are even a few sequences that seem to be pulled from the first movies - like people flying through the air because Bumblebee just has to transform out of his car form. There is violence in several scenes, though it is mostly robots being hurt. Younger children may not have the attention span to watch a movie this long, something that parents should consider. The movie is rated PG-13 because of the action scenes and violence. One character does use the word that rhymes with luck once in a somewhat funny way. A few characters make suggestive remarks every so often that are more stupid than anything. Those references would probably pass unnoticed by children.
There are attempts to add a bit of humor here and there to what is going on in Transformers: Age of Extinction through things that different characters say. Some of them are mildly, and I do mean mildly, funny. More often than not, the quips fall flat or are just stupid. I noticed several product placements, some of which seem out of place. At one point, a male scientist is holding a version of Rainbow Dash, one of the My Little Ponies. At another point, things practically come to a stand still for Cade to spout something stupid and drink a Bud Light that just happens to be conveniently there. Several of the action scenes are fine and I don’t mind the CGI for the most part. There are entirely too many quick cuts during them though, something that Bay has in pretty much every movie he’s directed. The point of view jumps around so much at times, it is impossible to keep track of where certain characters are, or even which one is which when it comes to the robots. I hate when that happens and find it highly aggravating. There is jerky camera work at times too, though it isn’t as bad as it has been in some movies. In scenes when the Transformers, mostly the Autobots, are shown driving in vehicle form, there are all these sweeping shots that sort of zoom around, barely showing the vehicles. That is a huge waste given what types of cars some of them transform into.
There are new Transformers in this movie, and some of them turn into some pretty awesome cars if you can manage to spot them. One of them, Drift, turns into a Bugatti Veyron, one of the fastest cars in the world, that is extremely expensive and very cool. Too bad Drift is barely in the form of the Veyron. I actually had to look it up to find out that Crosshairs turns into a Corvette Stingray. He wasn’t in that form long enough for me to recognize what type of sports car he was. Stinger, another new character, is a Pagani Huayra, another very expensive and very fast car from Italy. The Pagani is seen a little more, but mostly in scenes when it is sitting still. I recognized the Veyron and Pagani from seeing them on Top Gear, a British show about cars. Lockdown turns into a Lamborghini Aventador. It almost seems like Bay or the screenwriter - or both - has seen Top Gear and decided that they just had to use some of the fastest cars featured on the show, never mind that they cost millions of dollars and that the cars themselves would end up having less than five minutes of screen time.
It is said fairly early in the movie that things are happening five years after the battle in Chicago. That battle, and the destruction, changed how some people viewed the Transformers, including the Autobots. Some people still saw the Autobots as allies because of what they have done to help humans previously, but others, like Attinger, see things differently. There are signs near where Cade and his daughter live in Texas about reporting alien activity. When Chicago is seen again - and some important scenes take place there - it doesn’t look like there is any lingering damage from the battle, despite what the story tired to establish. It just seems like the idea of backlash over what happened in Chicago is just used as an excuse for Attinger to be running his top secret op before being forgotten. It is just another bit of story sacrificed at the altar of action and CGI. Even with the barely there plot, the movie somehow manages to leave a few things unanswered in what is an obvious set up for yet another movie.
Things connected with Cade, Tessa, and Shane attempt to add other complications to Transformers: Age of Extinction. Cade is trying his best to provide for his daughter, while she comes off as unappreciative and judgmental. She thinks nothing of telling her father off for something, putting him down, and ignoring him. She has been involved with Shane in some way for years, yet Cade only meets him when they are in the middle of running for their lives. Cade is justifiably upset, especially when finding out that Shane is twenty - Tessa is only seventeen. Shane pulls out a laminated copy of the Romeo & Juliet law in Texas that says if they the couple were together when they were both underage, then there is nothing illegal about the relationship. That is a bit ridiculous, especially with how much Tessa seems to like the idea of her and Shane being Romeo and Juliet. She seems to have forgotten that those two end up dead. There really isn’t too much to the relationship between Shane and Tessa. It mostly just serves as a reason for Tessa to clash with her dad and for Shane to make some cracks as well.
None of the characters have much in the way of development, something else that I figured would happen. Cade is nice enough and it is clear that he loves his daughter more than anything. Mark Wahlberg is fine in the part. He seems to be doing the best he can with the material. He is also much better than Shia LaBeouf. Tessa comes across as a bratty teenager who has no respect for her father. She is constantly putting down his efforts to make money and she questions his judgment. She has kept a boyfriend from her father for years. While Cade is a bit overprotective that still doesn’t justify her actions. I don’t like her at all. She wears super short cut off shorts that I think may even be shorter than ones Megan Fox wore in the first movie, something I didn’t think was possible before. At least there were no shots lingering on her backside while she bent over or shot angled up, making it seem like some sort of personal medical exam was going on like was done in the previous movies. While I am no fan of Fox, her character was more likable and memorable. Nicola Peltz is nothing special in the part.
Shane is a rally car driver originally from Ireland. It isn’t said how long he has been in Texas, but it must have been at least three years for him and Tessa to be able to claim that the Romeo & Juliet law applies to them. Shane is a bit mouthy at times and a very good driver. Jack Reynor is fine in the part. Stanley Tucci is pretty good as Joshua Joyce, a rather arrogant business owner who is mixed up in what is going on. Attinger is a CIA agent who is in charge of the secret op to track down Transformers. He doesn’t see a difference between Autobots and Decepticons. He is willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve his goal. Kelsey Grammar does well with the part and makes a good villain.
Optimus Prime is back and still leading the Autobots, or at least who is left of them. His faith in humans has been strained, though Cade’s actions help to fix that. Peter Cullen returns to provide the voice of Optimus Prime. Cullen originated the voice of Optimus Prime in the 1980's cartoon. He has done other voice work over the years and has done the voice of Optimus again since the release of the first Transformers movie in 2007. Optimus changes into a semi truck. When he is first seen in this movie, he looks like a much older cab that is very damaged. It isn’t long before he upgrades to a newer model semi. Bumblebee is back too, first as an older Camero before also upgrading to a newer model. He continues to be a bit sensitive about his appearance at times and he is unable to talk. He uses sound clips to communicate.
Hound is somewhat large and transforms into some sort of military vehicle. He does crack a lot of jokes, most of which really aren’t that funny. John Goodman provides his voice. He wasn’t in any of the previous movies. Drift looks like a Samurai in robot form. He can also change into a helicopter in addition to the Veyron. Ken Watanabe’s voice works for the character. Crosshairs is pessimistic about most things, including the other Autobots. John DiMaggio provides his voice. I don’t think Hound, Drift, or Crosshairs has been in any of the previous movies.
Galvatron is a new robot who may have a connection with Megatron. Frank Welker does his voice. Stinger, as well as other robots who seem to be new Decepticons, don’t talk. Stinger is the only one I remember. Lockdown is neither Autobot or Decepticon. He is basically a bounty hunter on a job. Mary Ryan does his voice. Later in the movie, ancient Transformers are found who turn into robotic dinosaurs instead of cars. Optimus rides one of them, a tyrannosaurus rex that breaths fire, into battle. The others also take part in the battle. They aren’t identified by name, though I thought I heard Crosshairs call one of them Spike at one point.
Transformers: Age of Extinction has issues with plot and acting, much like the first three movies. It is also entirely too long. Despite those things I did enjoy the movie overall. For a mindless action movie, it is ok. This is not a movie that everyone will like. People who liked the first movies may also like this one. People who didn’t like them should probably skip this one. I didn’t love or hate this movie. It isn’t great, but it isn’t awful either - I have seen much worse.
This review is part of Elvisdo’s 7th Annual Funny Pages Write Off. Elvisdo is another former Epinions member, and he hosted this write off there for six years. It was something that several members - myself included - looked forward to each year. I am very happy that he has decided to do it again.