Every piece of promotional material seems to emphasize one thing about Transformers: Age of Extinction; The rules have changed. Except, they really haven’t.
Sure, some changes are apparent, in all fairness. Shia LaBeouf’s increasingly irritating Sam Witwicky and his former associates are nowhere to be found, the grating juvenile humour that only seemed to get worse between the first three movies is now mostly gone, and the tone of this new movie has gone noticeably darker. In fact, Transformers: Age of Extinction is closer to an actual disaster movie than ever before, complete with widespread civilian casualties, and a generally harsher, but no less flashy edge.
The rules however, are very much intact from the former movies; Cramming in as many explosions as a nearly three-hour runtime will allow (yes, this latest movie is almost three hours long!!), cramming in as many larger-than-life robot slugfests as said runtime will allow, and continuing to fumble the human character arcs spectacularly, beyond making them onlookers or eye candy.
Yes, while last year’s entertaining Pain & Gain was a welcome departure from director, Michael Bay’s usual playbook for the most part, Transformers: Age of Extinction goes right back to being a familiar, overblown Michael Bay-approved blockbuster, hitting all the same beats that we’ve come to expect from the director. Despite the best efforts of Bay enlisting his Pain & Gain star, Mark Wahlberg in the new (and admittedly superior) lead role of struggling inventor, Cade Yeager, Transformers: Age of Extinction is bound to draw as much fan and critic bile as has come to be expected from this franchise now.
But is it a bad movie? No. Honestly, this is the closest that Bay’s franchise has come to delivering an exceptionally tight, satisfying action blockbuster without the schlock-y mess, at least since the original Transformers in 2007. It’s still mostly an overblown mess, but at least it did a bit more right this time.
With that said though, Transformers: Age of Extinction is still all about the same set of juvenile priorities, and the same overblown spectacle over anything else by the fourth offering, even with the attempts at re-invigorating the franchise with some new blood. Needless to say, at its absurdly overlong runtime, it also continually creaks with every passing minute, and eventually completely collapses under its own bloated weight.
Put simply, this is a terrible reboot, but a mostly competent sequel. Make sure you’re seeking the latter and not the former if you’re interested in rejoining with Bay’s Autobots for a fourth romp.
The only characters properly returning from the prior three movies are Autobot leader, Optimus Prime, once again voiced by his regular voiceover actor, Peter Cullen, and fellow Autobot, Bumblebee, who now speaks with a digital voice modulator, given that Transformers: Age of Extinction is aiming to eliminate the series’ goofier elements. Yet another Autobot, Ratchet also returns, though it’s only in a bit part to be unceremoniously killed off, so this follow-up can set the more grim tone early on.
Said grim tone hangs especially heavily over the Autobots, with the Decepticons actually being apparently wiped out at this point, following the demise of Megatron and Starscream during the climax of the previous Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Despite this, a CIA black ops unit, Cemetery Wind, headed up by lead human villain, Harold Attinger, played by Kelsey Grammer, is ruthlessly hunting down the Autobots, claiming that they are eradicating runaway Decepticons.
Now, only a small handful of Autobots remain alive. Along with Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, the movie also features cigar-chomping brusier, Hound, voiced by John Goodman, resourceful paratrooper, Crosshairs, voiced by John DiMaggio, and samurai-like Drift, voiced by Ken Watanabe. Surprisingly, they’re an enjoyable bunch of new faces that maintain a lot of noteworthy personality, even if the movie does a poor job of identifying them, leaving audiences to no doubt remember them by their personalities, not their names, which are barely mentioned once apiece in passing.
Even so, any grounded conflict in the movie nonetheless rests with the Autobots, who have effectively been betrayed by the humans that they have sworn to protect from the now-eliminated Decepticons. Even Optimus Prime has effectively turned his back on mankind, simply wanting to rally his brothers and leave the planet, even amidst the impending menace of Transformer bounty hunter, Lockdown, the movie’s chief Transformer antagonist, who is in the employ of Harold Attinger and Cemetery Wind.
Of course, while this promising idea is set up, it’s fumbled spectacularly by the predictably laughable script. Transformers: Age of Extinction shoots itself in the foot repeatedly by acting like it’s smarter and deeper than it really is. It honestly tries to have a good premise and a good payoff, but characters switch personalities so often, and character motivations are so poor and muddy, that audiences will have no idea who anyone actually is in the end, especially if they haven’t seen the prior three movies.
It’s bad enough with the Transformers, but the humans are even worse in terms of their writing. Again, new protagonist, Cade Yeagar is at least an improvement over Sam Witwicky, being a far less annoying and far more heartfelt leading man, largely thanks to the talents of Mark Wahlberg doing what he can with the shoddy script. Another decent highlight is Stanley Tucci’s Joshua Joyce, a greedy corporate slimeball in league with Cemetery Wind, who is undeniably hammy and over-the-top, but is at least given a fun and funny appeal thanks to the highlight performance of Tucci.
Everyone else however is a mess of terrible personality and detached psychological madness. Kelsey Grammer just looks confused and uncomfortable in the role of the main human antagonist, throwing up his hands at the script and phoning in his performance completely. Li Bingbing and Titus Welliver are also given barely anything to do as supporting characters on the villains’ side, beyond being thrown into action scenes every now and again to simply do as the script demands. At least Li Bingbing is fun during some of the action scenes though, particularly given how well she plays off of Stanley Tucci.
Things aren’t any better on Cade’s side of the fence either. T.J. Miller has a turn as the movie’s ‘comedy sidekick’, that being Cade’s buddy and co-worker, Lucas Flannery, but as you can imagine, he’s not given any serious billing in this supposedly darker movie.
Likewise, Cade’s daughter, Tessa, played by Nicola Peltz, looks hysterically out-of-place as a Michael Bay-branded leggy blonde, who can’t seem to decide whether she’s tough and independent or shrieky and helpless, and nor can her boyfriend, Shane Dyson, played by Jack Reynor, who is forced into Cade’s company for the duration of the movie. His entire character arc is simply taking abuse from Mark Wahlberg for dating his daughter, and needless to say, it gets old fast.
On the note of Tessa actually, the Michael Bay-mandated fetishization and sexualization of her character is very uncomfortable here, in a way that it never quite was with Megan Fox or Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. The problem is, despite the movie obviously touting her as eye candy for horny teenage boys and men, the script continually sees fit to remind us that Tessa is underage, with Cade constantly pointing out that she’s a minor, and constantly getting upset at her heavy assocation with boys, namely Shane. Nicola Peltz herself may be of legal age at 19, but the character is indeed a minor at 17, and Bay sexualizing Tessa as much as he does despite this is very creepy if you’re in your 20’s or older. Jesus, Bay, would it have been that much trouble to authorize a small script re-write to put Tessa in her college years instead of high school?!
Ultimately though, it’s all inconsequential. You don’t go to a Transformers movie expecting smart, or even competent character development. Transformers: Age of Extinction is, sadly, no exception. Its villains are one-note, its human heroes feel meaningless, and while the Autobots are put into an interesting spot to start, the script just doesn’t do anything with the one good idea it does have.
Oh, and as for the Dinobots, whose introduction is one of the key marketing hooks of Transformers: Age of Extinction, they are very cool, but they don’t show up until the movie is almost over. They look great and they’re fun to watch, but it’s almost too little, too late by that point, and many audiences will no doubt be disappointed that they contribute very little to what’s already an overcrowded slew of fumbled character arcs.
Transformers: Age of Extinction has sound building blocks for a rebooted direction, one that feels darker and more interesting. Unfortunately, its storytelling, as one has no doubt come to expect from Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, is very haphazard and messy, leaving the payoff and execution severely lacking in the series’ latest.
Again, it’s at least a better plot than Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and definitely a better plot than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. It’s still not a very good plot in the end though. Transformers: Age of Extinction isn’t difficult to follow at least, but it does feel unfocused and full of extraneous plot arcs. The script often has to strain to keep everything held together amidst the runtime, and this results in a handful of baffling and tedious leaps in logic that pepper the sections between each destruction-heavy action scene.
Even in the action scenes, the story feels disappointingly redundant. Villains are dispatched far too easily in many cases, and the spectacle doesn’t feel wholly deserved as a result. There will come a point where your brain will just start to tune out the overload of stimulation, since there’s no worthwhile plot progression happening that makes anything feel like it has real stakes, or is worth paying attention to.
If you have a short attention span, and can handle being bombarded by nothing but mindless special effects, then Transformers: Age of Extinction at least succeeds as a dopey thrill ride to enjoy with your friends. For all of its intentions and hopes of being taken more seriously however, the series is unfortunately as boneheaded and tedious as ever in terms of its actual storytelling here unfortunately.
While Megatron doesn’t return as an antagonist for the first time in Transformers: Age of Extinction, and nor does Hugo Weaving in his voiceover role naturally, this latest offering does eventually bring in Megatron’s upgraded form, Galvatron in as a new antagonist.
This ties into the excuse to bring Decepticons into the story, even with no Decepticons left. Joshua Joyce’s KSI organization is revealed to be reverse-engineering Decepticons from Megatron’s dead remains, and his lingering consciousness possesses a new body, which becomes Galvatron. One of the movie’s key Decepticons, Stinger, is even taken from the design of Bumblebee, and more or less serves as Galvatron’s key underling, with Galvatron himself meant to be a dark doppelganger to Optimus Prime.
Fans will also be delighted to hear that Galvatron is voiced by Frank Welker, Megatron and Galvatron’s regular voiceover actor from the original animated series, whom Bay previously passed on casting in favour of Hugo Weaving because he deemed Welker’s voice to be too aged. With Peter Cullen and Frank Welker voicing their respective Transformer leaders together again, Transformers: Age of Extinction does set itself up for another promising tribute to the series’ legacy and fanbase.
Unfortunately, like so many other things, it fumbles this. Galvatron has a handful of good scenes around the midway point of the movie, but the character arbitrarily decides to skip out on the climax, which is incredibly frustrating! Lockdown is the sole threat by that point, with Galvatron simply shrugging and walking into the sunset when the good guys inevitably save the world. It’s blatant and frustrating sequel bait, and it feels like an incredible waste of a big new villain from the cartoon that the series is finally introducing.
Paramount has already confirmed intent to release a fifth Transformers movie in 2016, so it’s likely that we’ll see Galvatron again, but it’s clear that the studio is simply using him as an excuse to keep prolonging Michael Bay’s cash cow franchise.
Love him or hate him, Michael Bay has a very distinct style to just about all of his movies. That style is stretched to new heights in Transformers: Age of Extinction as well, which seems hell-bent on being the biggest Michael Bay blockbuster ever released to date.
Of course, this means that the annoying and obnoxious elements of Bay’s directing style are worse than ever as well. Despite the movie trying to be darker by cutting down on the juvenile jokes, there’s still a lot of absurdly misogynistic female extra portrayals, no regard for pacing throughout the often overlong action scenes, and yes, more of Bay’s trademark over-the-top explosion effects, regardless of how little sense they make. If there was goodwill that Bay gathered with his more restrained and memorable direction from Pain & Gain last year, it really feels like it’s gone now.
If there’s one upside that’s carried over from Bay’s work on the previous Transformers: Dark of the Moon, it’s the fact that Bay is forced to slow down his action shots on account of Transformers: Age of Extinction once again being shot in 3D, making the action scenes much easier to follow than they would have been in the first two movies in particular.
Transformers: Age of Extinction even has the distinction of being the first movie in history to shoot certain showcase scenes natively with IMAX 3D cameras, among other variations of native 3D formats. As easy as it is to criticize Bay as a director, you have to give the man credit for boldly attempting to take his franchise into new cinematic territory.
Said credit is lost again when you see the unintentionally hilarious amount of gratuitous slow-motion shots peppered throughout this beast though. Yes, it’s no doubt to accentuate the 3D, but it just makes an already overlong movie even longer!
It’s a shame that Bay’s direction has the same old problems here, and Transformers: Age of Extinction constantly stinks of the man’s rampant ego, even more so than its predecessors. It’s frustrating, because there are quite a few action shots throughout the movie that look great, and the amount of work that’s gone into realizing the effects and destruction remains outstanding.
It’s just too much though. Transformers: Age of Extinction undoes its good intentions by repeatedly going overboard and just generally feeling bloated and messy when it’s supposed to be flashy and cool. There are many moments where, as good as everything looks, many audiences’ brains will just try and tune things out after a while, and the movie just generally needed more production polish and less production conceit. If Bay goes any bigger in the next Transformers movie, he’s bound to tear the very theatre apart, and that’s not necessarily a good thing!
Obviously, the less said about Bay attempting to frame dialogue scenes and character moments in Transformers: Age of Extinction, the better as well. Again, he proved he could do it reasonably well with Pain & Gain, but Bay knows as well as the audience that the humans really don’t matter here. People paid to see the robots.
Well, Bay is making sure you’re seeing plenty of the robots, to the point where you’ll no doubt be sick of the robots by the time almost three hours have passed!
MUSIC & SOUNDTRACK
While Steve Jablonsky returns as the primary composer for Transformers: Age of Extinction’s soundtrack, after also doing the soundtrack of the previous three Transformers movies as well, the sound design of this latest movie isn’t his alone. Dubstep singer-songwriter, Skrillex assisted with the movie’s sound design in several places, and even helped to realize the sounds of the Dinobots. That should give you a pretty good idea of the typical, Hollywood-friendly sci-fi blockbuster score here.
Alternative rock band, Imagine Dragons also composed a single for the movie’s soundtrack, “Battle Cry”, which has its composition worked into several other tracks in the movie. It’s basically a way to help give Transformers: Age of Extinction an edgier feel in contrast to its more fantastical predecessors, though the weight is often disturbed by the still-dopey nature of much of the movie’s direction.
With all that said, the movie’s soundtrack is quite limited, and consists of the same familiar grinding techno flavouring of the previous movies for the most part, with the added brooding edge of the Imagine Dragons single. Many of the action scenes are even devoid of an accompanying soundtrack whenever they want to accentuate the visuals and carnage, meaning that the movie’s tie-in soundtrack album has a paltry nine tracks on it.
It’s not a particularly ambitious soundtrack, but it’s a passable one. You might want to save your money and pass up the soundtrack CD as well.
As much as one can complain to great length about the sloppy storytelling, flimsy script and complete lack of pacing and structure throughout Transformers: Age of Extinction, it’s still difficult to claim that people would not get their money’s worth on the effects. Sure, some of the destruction-driven scenes feel overdone, and the hysterically frequent slow-mo shots get to be a bit much at times, but Transformers: Age of Extinction still at least succeeds as a visually arresting thrill ride.
You’ll burn through plenty of adrenaline by the end of this movie, considering how insanely long it is, but at least you’ll always have something to look at, even if you may zone out at times simply because there’s just so much going on visually. There is still an art to destruction though, and it’s still an art that Bay knows intimately, for better or for worse.
Given how the movie was shot as well, it’s definitely built for specialty theatre viewings most of all. Even with the overblown visual elements, Transformers: Age of Extinction looks incredibly stunning in 3D, and at the very least, it absolutely must be seen in that format! The 3D adds an incredible amount of immersion and destructive punch to the movie, and it’s always used to great effect in making everything seem much more powerful, perfectly drawing viewers into the experience in a way that wouldn’t be possible for people watching the movie flat in 2D.
I will warn those susceptible to motion sickness that the 3D cut might offend the senses a bit, and maybe those are the only people who would be better served by the plain 2D cut. If you can handle the continued swaying and swerving and general wild camerawork however, the 3D visuals better give Transformers: Age of Extinction the feeling of being an action-packed roller coaster experience.
That’s more true than ever in the IMAX 3D cut as well, which makes everything feel even bigger and even more deafeningly destructive. It’s definitely the way to get the most out of the movie, but be absolutely sure that you can handle three hours of explosive and devastating special effects on the maximum settings before you apply for that particular experience. Seeing the movie in, say, UltraAVX 3D might be a better balance for those unsure, but still wanting to get as much out of the movie as they can. It’s still regular 3D on a regular theatre screen, but you still get the enhanced sound and resolution that heightens the immersion of the movie with the UltraAVX theatre system.
In any case, at the very least, pay for a 3D ticket if you don’t think it will cause you any health or comfort issues. That’s really the way that Transformers: Age of Extinction is meant to be viewed, and even if it could have benefited from toning down the incessant flashiness and having a better, more agreeable sense of pacing, at least you always have plenty of visual stimulation to enjoy regardless.
Transformers: Age of Extinction has plenty of the series’ expected problems still intact since Bay first brought the Robots in Disguise to the big screen in 2007. This latest movie still feels dopey and juvenile, despite wanting to tell a darker and more harrowing story, it’s still way too over-the-top with its direction, and its script is still really, really bad.
With that said however, Transformers: Age of Extinction feels like an undeniable improvement over its two predecessors, even if not by much. Mark Wahlberg really elevates proceedings in the new lead human role, and at least some of the supporting actors, namely Stanley Tucci and Li Bingbing, are fun while they’re on screen. Some of the better visual moments look truly amazing too, especially given the superb 3D job here, and seeing Peter Cullen and Frank Welker doing voiceover together again is still something worth celebrating for longtime Transformers fans.
Ultimately though, the series has failed miserably at moving forward here, despite its superior new leading man. Transformers: Age of Extinction is still too over-the-top with its effects and direction, and worse still is the fact that it is way too long. This movie does not have nearly enough story or substance to sustain an almost three-hour runtime, leaving most of proceedings to be crammed with an overwhelming amount of obnoxious special effects in the second half especially. The complete lack of competent pacing is inexcusable in Transformers: Age of Extinction, and it’s one way that this series is unfortunately worse than ever, even if everything else is at least a small step up.
What does all this mean in the end then? Well, it all comes down to more of the same, despite Transformers: Age of Extinction wanting so badly to be different. If you liked Bay’s former Transformers movies, you’ll like this one too. If you didn’t, you’ll have no reason to change your mind with Bay’s latest Transformers offering. It’s the same old song and dance with an inconsequential cast swap, only still desperately trying to go bigger for the sake of stretching the budget all the more.
This the kind of movie that you grab a bunch of friends for, and all marvel along at the excitement and over-the-top effects with, much like a theme park ride. If that’s not something that appeals to you or your peers at this point however, then this franchise still has nothing to ultimately offer you unfortunately.
At nearly three hours long and still mostly being an over-the-top destruction-fest, Transformers: Age of Extinction tries to be different with new actors and villains, but just ends up more of the same.