A Decent Transformers Movie? Maybe This is Why Shia Got Himself Arrested Last Thursday
A Film Review of Transformers: Age of Extinction
Michael Bay has a very acute style of filmmaking which has seen financial success and increased visibility with his helming of the Transformer movie adaptations. Like it or not, his style has delivered predictably reliable profit to the Hollywood machine and the Age of Extinction will more than likely, be no exception. Explosions, loud noises, oversaturated colors, annoying comic relief, women as mindless sex objects and what seems to be the same exact chord progression in every overture of every single Michael Bay film are rinsed and repeated. Personally, I haven’t been too keen on these films primarily because they have basically been the same movies with the same bad guys enacting the same plots and woefully misplacing far too much importance on the human characters of every cast. If nothing has really changed, then why on Earth would I find any improvement now? The answer begins with the absence of Shia Labeouf’s Sam Witwicky, his ridiculous parents and his cosmically improbable girlfriends. Bay may have been trading away a numbskull for a meathead in Marky Mark, but at least Wahlberg gives the audience something different to (possibly) roll their eyes at as we patiently await the Transformers to come back on the screen. In a sea of similarity, ANY difference is a good thing.
Screenwriter Ehren Kruger returns to deliver a story that once again pays mere lip service to a rich Transformer mythos from the comics and animated series in favor of yet another derivative tale of “Transformers are cool pets for humans, oh wait they’re headed right for us, we gotta blow them up, yada, yada yada.” If any of that sounds familiar, it should because it’s the same plot of the last two Transformer sequels for which Kruger is also responsible for. Talk about a well oiled machine, despite a retooled cast and Autobots we’ve never seen before, Kruger is able to carbon copy a tried-and-true Transformer tale as if he were simply swapping out defective gears, shafts and valves. I was perturbed by how Kruger introduces and utilizes the Dinobots. First, don’t hold your breath folks because they don’t appear until very late in the film. Second, some of them are dino-remixes of the classic forms fans may be familiar with and third, none of them are referred to by their proper names so if you’re waiting for someone to yell Grimlock, Snarl, Slag, Sludge or Swoop, expect disappointment. One other thing about the story worth mentioning is a conscious choice regarding the evolution of the most important character of this franchise: Optimus Prime. The years spent on Earth have yielded constant battle for the Autobot Leader and frustration is not only understandable, it is expected. However, I have never seen Optimus Prime depicted with such darkness that I started feeling uncomfortable with his new attitude. I’ve never heard Prime say the word “kill” as often and with such ferocity.
Action, effects and computer graphics are what Transformer films are all about. They are the reason these films still retain summer blockbuster entertainment value which yields the kinds of dollars these films are made for in the first place. For the life of me, I still cannot understand why none of the Transformers use energy-based weapons (as opposed to projectiles requiring bullets for instance), but rest easy knowing that there are plenty of ballistics, big guns and missiles riddling the screen at every turn. I like how the camera doesn’t push in too close during the marquee action sequences, thus allowing the audience to fully appreciate the scale of the destruction. I also enjoyed the aerial action which naturally features a multitude of dynamic angles, but also strikes a good balance with slow motion effects to maximize satisfaction without abusing it (typically another staple of Michael Bay productions). Of course, I can’t discuss the eye candy without talking about the giant f’ing robots themselves who, by the way, still look so great that the audience is left wondering why anyone would want to cut away from them for any reason. Autobot Hound is one of the standouts as his digital render obviously channels the real life human who voices him, John Goodman. The Dinobots are intimidating in both robot and animal forms as their sizes may not be precisely to scale in reference to Optimus Prime, but they are noticeably larger, which makes sense seeing how they’re robotic dinosaurs. It’s too bad Devastator was already disposed of in these films because I’d love to see the Dinobots take him on. Maybe we could see Bruticus in the sequel?
The only real performance that matters in this film and every other live action Transformer adaptation is that of Peter Cullen and his legendary, lifelong, vocal performance of Optimus Prime. Despite turning 74 this coming July 28th, Cullen’s unique voice retains the chivalrous charm fans of the animated Prime have always enjoyed to the point where we can feel the honor in the air whenever he speaks a word. Cullen is called upon to produce more anger and aggression for this Prime than any other performance in his career, but the sheer sincerity in his voice continues to produce a transcendent experience. Mark Wahlberg does another fine job performing as Mark Wahlberg, er … Cade Yeager, a Texas roughneck who struggles to make a living as an independent robotics engineer because in a reality where Transformers are walking the Earth, everyone and their mother is apparently better at building and programming robots than Marky Mark. (Sigh) Stanley Tucci does a fine job by filling the role of the charming comic relief, Joshua Joyce, which is most welcome seeing how the idiotic comic relief is thankfully eradicated earlier in the film. Kelsey Grammer is a fine villain with his performance as Harold Attinger, but this is thanks mostly to his dulcet tones and less for his “physicality.” Jack Reynor plays the character type Shia Labeouf used to, and Nicola Peltz plays the token sex appeal Megan Fox formerly represented in a movie franchise that’s really supposed to be about giant, transforming robots that happen to be alive.
2014 has not been a particularly effective year for a number of blockbusters to at least meet the hype that pumped them up in the first place. In terms of raw action, even the Age of Extinction doesn’t come close to the action intensity of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but even Transformers walking down the street on film is more interesting than a majority of what Hollywood produces, and this is why there appears to be no end in sight for this franchise with or without Michael Bay. Anyone with the team of digital artists and animators behind the CG magic of making the Transformers real with VO talent like Peter Cullen can make hundreds of millions of dollars leading a Transformer production. There is a clear lead-in to another sequel, but there’s nothing to suggest that such a film would be a departure from everything we’ve seen thus far, until those pesky humans get cut loose from the plot entirely. Despite it all, Age of Extinction, though far from a perfect production is entertaining enough for a standard admission. Don’t even think about shelling out extra for IMAX or Real 3D admission because the 3D conversion is just plain irrelevant – waste of time, waste of money. Trust me, Wahlberg’s deer-in-the-headlights face is far less annoying than Labeouf’s “no, no, no, no, no!”