Thirty years ago, the Transformers franchise first hit the small screen and toy aisle shelves with astounding success, going on to create one of pop culture’s most recognizable brands and bringing it to the forefront of both the toy and entertainment industries. Now, three decades later, we’re seeing not the first, but the fourth live action film adaptation of this franchise hitting the silver screen and bringing this series back in style to dominate this summer’s box office! But how does this fourth film hold up to the last few? Does it stay true to the franchise? What about the all new cast? And the new Transformers themselves? ScienceFiction.com is here to break it down for you with our review of ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’.
Just to get it out of the way now, full disclosure, I’m a huge Transformers fan, so I walked into this theater having generally enjoyed the last few films and expecting something more from this movie. Let’s face it, ‘Revenge of the Fallen’ and ‘Dark of the Moon’ both struggled a bit, had pretty weak plots and suffered from the continued reliance on the same human cast members that most of us were pretty done with after the first film’s credits were rolling. This movie was the franchise’s chance at redeeming itself, starting fresh with an all new cast, with only four (well, five or six if you include dismembered heads) of the robot cast members even making the jump from the previous entries in the series. Plus the Dinobots were all over the commercials! The Dinobots sure look awesome right? But really, does ‘Age of Extinction’ live up to the franchise’s history and crank out an awesome new action film that proved this series still has some life in it? Or did we get another ‘Spider-Man 3’?
In this outing, the plot revolves around the CIA (led by none other than Kelsey Grammer) hunting down the remaining Transformers that are still on earth after the ‘Battle of Chicago’ (also known as “Act Three of ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’”) , in order to wipe out the aliens for good and use their technology to build their own man-made versions (which the fan community have taken to calling ‘Gov-Bots’). Neither Autobots nor Decepticons are safe as they are hunted down one by one until there are only a handful of them left. The CIA is using the parts of the destroyed Transformers to build their own new ones, like ‘Stinger’- a bright red sports car that bears a striking resemblance to series fan-favorite Bumblebee; and Galvatron, who the government programs to replicate Optimus Prime, but always comes out bearing a striking resemblance to the long since dead Megatron. But how is the CIA able to hunt down all of these ‘robots in disguise’? It’s actually very simple… they aren’t working alone! The CIA is working with the un-aligned Transformer bounty hunter Lockdown, who is willing to help them wipe out the remaining Autobots and Decepticons in exchange for his bounty- Optimus Prime. Of course, things don’t really go well in any aspect between hunting for the remaining Transformers, the trade off with Lockdown, or utilizing the Gov-Bots to do just about anything they are supposed to.
‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ is a movie that starts off with a lot of potential, but never truly lives up to its own hype. It shows throughout the film that there is a lot of story there to tell, but unfortunately the writers opt not to tell most of it before the film ends. To some extent, that makes sense, as it leaves a lot there to work with for potential future sequels. But it almost feels like too many doors are left open and unexplained from around the midway point of this film until the very end. It’s obvious that the writers are willing to try new things with this franchise rather than just write it off and be done with it, but it does feel like they were struggling to figure out how to carry on with these character’s story after the bulk of the robotic cast were killed off towards the end of the third film. Realistically, we’re left with only Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Ratchet and one other Autobot from the last few flicks for this film. No direct word is given as to where the other remaining Autobots are (like the Prowl, Sideswipe, or the Wreckers, who appeared to have survived the final battle in the last film, but are no where to be found in this entry; assumably killed off camera), and the Decepticons look to have been all but finished off before the credits of the last film rolled, so where do the writers really go from here? Sure, there are a handful of new Autobots (more on them later) and the Dinobots make their live action film debut, but is it enough?
Gone are franchise stars Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro and just about any other human character you might remember from the first three films. They’re all gone and replaced with a completely new cast of characters; And what a breathe of fresh air the new cast is! Mark Wahlberg takes the lead this time around as the small time robotic technician Cade Yeager, carrying alongside his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz, ) and her boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) as our human heroes. Wahlberg does well enough with the role he’s given, making a decent lead for the story being told. It’s obvious how much fun he was having playing the ’girlfriends father’ role, and his character feels a lot more relatable for it. While Wahlberg’s character is considered the ’lead’, in the story it almost feels like he’s playing second fiddle to Peltz and Reynor’s Tessa and Shane for the bulk of the film. I wouldn’t really mind seeing these characters back in another outing after this one, although I can’t imagine how they would fit in to future storylines. Its worth nothing that it was generally just nice to get a ‘Transformers’ film without Shia Labeouf shouting “NO NO NO NO NO!” every ten minutes.
It’s really the supporting cast that shines the brightest here. Kelsey Grammer is delightful as the villainous leader of the CIA, Harold Attinger. Grammer brings just the right level of class to the role, so that while you want to hate the character (because, lets face it, he’s kind of a jerk), you can also see where he’s coming from and commiserate with his ideals (to an extent). Stanley Tucci is another bit of brilliant casting, bringing just the right level of intelligence and seriousness to a role that also allows him to have fun and go a little over the top. TJ Miller was a welcome addition to the cast, even with his limited screen time, and Bingbing Li steals the show whenever she pops up!
At the end of the day, it’s the Transformers themselves that are the real stars of this film. Optimus Prime and Bumblebee have been given completely overhauled new looks that are reminiscent of their previous renditions, but also very obviously different. Everyone is much smoother and shiny, looking immediately less complicated. On the side of the Autobots, we’ve got three new lead cast members in Hound (John Goodman), Drift (Ken Watanabe), and Crosshairs (John DiMaggio)! They never really explain where these guys came from (or why they never popped up in the last few movies?) but wow are they fantastic! It’s great to see some actual personality shining through these characters, with each one being voiced by a ‘name’ actor that brought something bigger to the parts they played. Hound was a lot of fun, bearing a much closer resemblance the ‘Transformers Prime’s Bulkhead than to his own namesake. It’s also worth noting that Drift was a triple-changer! He could transform into both a sports car and a helicopter, marking the first time we’ve seen a triple-changer in the live action films!
On the more evil side of things, the two heavys are Lockdown and Galvatron. Lockdown is easily the most enjoyable new character in this film, standing out from the rest as a truly dominant role that demands your attention every time he is on screen. He might not be much to look at (because seriously, he looks like a grown up version of that thing from ‘Star Kid’), but he’s pretty much the biggest badass this movie series has seen yet. His musical score is also pretty eerie, so you almost get the heebie-jeebies every time he pops up! Galvatron on the other hand… what a waste. It feels like he’s in the film strictly because “hey, we killed Megatron so we can make Galvatron now!”. Which is a shame, because in the Transformers mythos he‘s a really interesting character. I almost wish they had done some set up for him here and done a big reveal of him towards the finale instead of having him and the other Gov-Bots running amok here. His design was also generally not interesting looking overall.
Then there are the Dinobots. Ahh the Dinobots. They’ve been plastered all over the posters, commercials, teasers, and toylines for this film, and suffice to say, when they’re on the screen, WOW do they deliver. The Dinobots give you exactly what you’d expect from them; ridiculous violence that looks like a beautifully choreographed dance of death and destruction. Unfortunately, their screen time is limited to about twenty-minutes out of the one-hundred-and-sixty minute run time of the film, so we don’t get much of them at all. True to form, they also don’t speak at all aside from the occasional roaring, so don’t go in expecting any proclamations of “Grimlock King!”. Still, their appearance is probably the single most enjoyable aspect of this film.
Much like with most longer movies, with a nearly three hour running time, ’Age of Extinction’ suffers from ‘too much going on’ syndrome. The plot is a bit bloated, the story drags at points because they waste time trying to get in a few extra jokes or what could be misconceived as ‘character development’ for some of the human characters. There was one scene in particular involving Mark Wahlberg’s character fighting a CIA operative on rooftops and then vertically down the side of a building. The scene lasts nearly 10 minutes, and the entire time I’m watching it, I’m thinking “I thought this movie was called ‘Transformers’?” It just feels like director Michael Bay decided to just go a little overboard at times.
Speaking of overboard, one thing that overall bothered me in ‘Age of Extinction’ was the darker tone and the level of violence that Michael Bay and the writers determined were okay. I’m not normally one to knock a film for being too violent, but there are certain points in ‘Age of Extinction’ where it feels oddly out of character to see how violent certain people (or robots) get. There was a surprising amount of violent on-screen human death for a movie that parents are taking their nine-year-olds to packed theaters to go see.
Overall, ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ is a generally fun special effects heavy popcorn flick that you can enjoy while shutting off your brain for three hours and just soaking in the mass quantities of on screen explosions (in 3-D!). Is it perfect? No, far from it. Is it better than the last two sequels? Eh, it’s about on par with them. If you’ve enjoyed the ‘Transformers’ films so far, you’ll probably not have too many complaints with ‘Age of Extinction’. But if you’re going into this one expecting something better than what the last few were, you might want to hold off on seeing this one until it’s on cable, because at the end of the day, it’s still just another Michael Bay styled ‘Transformers’ film that mostly sticks to the tried and true formula of ‘lots of humans talking, some robots right, throw in some explosions and then roll credits’.