By Dustin Brewer
Ignoring almost all aspects from the previous three films in the “Transformers” franchise, “Age of Extinction” once again finds Michael Bay behind the camera in a movie that exhilarates as often as it frustrates.
Early on in “Trans4mers” (I think it’s what the title should’ve been,) one of my favorite cliche lines is uttered; “the rules have changed.”
And that’s true to a point, because while “Age of Extinction” features an entirely new cast, introduces a new direction for likely a new trilogy and throws in a ton of new Autobots and Decepticons, ultimately it’s more of the same in moments that Michael Bay ups the Bayhem levels but still is unable to reach the hour-long crazy-action-climax of “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.”
Picking up about four years after “Dark of the Moon,” the Transformers have all become marked for death. A super secret black-ops group called Cemetery Wind have been hunting down Autobots and Decepticons alike, with Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammar) calling the shots from some headquarters.
At Attinger’s and Cemetery Wind’s disposal to help with this task is Lockdown, a badass looking robot that doesn’t seem to identify with the Autobots or the Decepticons and is working with Cemetery Wind with the hopes of adding a certain Autobot leader to his collection of Transformer trophies. There’s a particularly brutal scene early on where the task force and Lockdown hunt down and assassinate Autobot Ratchet that shows mercy is something they’re not interested in.
Meanwhile in Paris, Texas, inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Whalberg) is a lowly, broke inventor trying to help his daughter get into and afford college but because his inventions are almost all junk, she’s more a parent than he is. On a whim while looting through an old decrepit movie theater with his partner Lucas (TJ Miller), they find an old, beat-up truck (you’ve seen the previews, it’s Optimus Goddamn Prime) that Yeager still sees potential in and takes home. Quickly, Cade realizes what he’s got isn’t just a truck and soon he’s helping rebuild and repair Optimus Prime. Lucas and Tessa (the daughter) both object and Lucas soon places a call to the government help line advertised to (unknowingly) help aid Cemetery Wind with the promise of a reward.
Needless to say, the government doesn’t show up with a giant novelty check and soon, explosions are happening and Optimus is teaming up with Cade, Tessa and her secret boyfriend Shane; apparently an Irish kid even though his accent is practically sound mixed to nonexistent beneath the score and sounds of explosions and Bayhem.
One thing the movie does that is interesting though is it greatly reduces the groups in play. Optimus and the humans soon recruit the last few Autobots still surviving by hiding out; Bumblebee, Crosshairs, Hound and Drift. Acting as a rogue group with their backs against the wall gives them an edge that the previous movies lacked. It was hinted at in “Dark of the Moon” when Optimus proclaims that they will kill all Decepticons once and for all but here, he’s completely lost his faith after losing countless friends protecting humans that ultimately betrayed them.
Unfortunately, for every large action scene/set piece, there’s also weird establishing shots and largely unnecessary moments that drag down an already overstuffed 165 minutes of run time. The script is just as flimsy as ever and introduces tons of new ideas and attempts to add to the lore while largely ignoring everything from the previous films that isn’t the battle of Chicago. Shane, the boyfriend character, is awful and underdeveloped and at times, him and Tessa both just seem like whiny brats.
Which leads to the elephant in the room; Sam Witwicky, Shia LaBeouf’s hero from the first three films is not mentioned once. Nowhere, nothing. It’s hard to believe because not only did he go to robot heaven and find out it’s his destiny to help the Autobots, but given how hard Bumblee and Optimus fought to protect him, watch him and honestly just liked him, they don’t once ask for him to come help or that he’s safe and ok and that’s a move that becomes more and more glaring as the Tessa/Shane relationship feels more and more shoe-horned in, with Shane even dressing almost exactly like Sam from “Dark of the Moon” in the climax.
Even Mark Whalberg, who seems like such a good fit for the franchise, is given little to do early as he tries to convince you he’s just a lowly inventor who happens to be swoll as fuck and when he dons his “inventor” glasses, he looks like a man desperately trying to be undercover. But soon, that facade is gone and Cade instantly knows what to do when faced with an alien attack, going full Whalberg and further rendering the first 50 minutes almost entirely obsolete.
That’s not to say that Whalberg is bad, he’s solid per usual, but he’s not asked to do much more than blow shit up and spout one-liners and play a protective father spouting one-liners to the boyfriend about how he’s gonna kill him when it’s all done and resolved. Really though, Whalberg is best among the human actors with Kelsey Grammar a solid second and Stanley Tucci as a Steve Jobs-esque tech-wizard with ties to Grammar’s task force manages to play the only character with a definable arc, likely because of Tucci’s abilities as an actor more than screenplay.
That said, no one is going to these movies for plot, character development and acting. The audience just wants to see Michael Bay do what Michael Bay does best and as usual, Bay delivers.
Yes, that’s Optimus Prime riding Dinobot Grimlock and yes, it’s just as awesome that picture makes it seem. He rides on into battle and together, they make the dreams of fanboys and children alike come to life as Decepticons get wrecked in the most spectacular ways possible.
With the Dinobots though, don’t get your hopes up expecting giant parts for them, they get maybe 20-25 minutes tops of screen time so it may have been smarter to leave them out of the trailer and as a surprise, but hey, there’s toys to sell and this picture above probably added at least $9 million to the box office gross on its’ own.
From a technical standpoint it’s an absolute masterpiece; the effects have never looked better, the editing and mixing are both spot on and the transforming shots are more fluid than ever.
Die-hard “Transformers” fans will be bummed with the liberties taken with their iteration of Galvatron but that’s probably why the Dinobots pop up. Nothing says damage control like Grimlock biting Decepticons in half in IMAX 3D.
There are no mistakes to be made, a new trilogy is happening and this provides a good, but uneven starting point. Hopefully Shia LaBeouf can get things back on track and will be able to make amends with Bay ala Megan Fox and we can get him and Whalberg joining forces. With Whalberg shouldering the badass duties and LaBeouf being better at playing in over his head in situations, the two of them together would likely make a much more interesting and cohesive storyline for the scenes in between the giant robot ass beatings.