Wednesday, July 02, 2014
My Transformers: Age of Extinction Review
The movie opens with a past sequence that shows what exposition later covers again. Back to a post-Dark of the Moon Texas, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) discovers a rusted truck that turns out to be Optimus Prime. Prime is more or less near death from an ambush by a CIA black-ops group called Cemetery Wind that were created as a response to the Battle of Chicago. Led by desk jockey Harold Attinger (Harold Attinger) and his field agent James Savoy (Titus Welliver), neither of who have met a Transformer that they don’t want to kill so to break them down into “Transformium” so that Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) can use the material to create their own army of human controlled Transformers. Since dead Autobots are not providing enough of the stuff, they are working with bounty hunter Lockdown who offers to provide them with “The Seed” that can create more of the stuff. Through a series of action sequences we learn that Cade is an awful father to his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) whose race car boyfriend Shane Dyson (Jack Reynor) comes to the rescue and joins their adventure as Optimus Prime seeks out to kill Harold (yep that is his motivation for the entire movie) for hunting down his friends. After various actions dots get connected, two hours later we wind up in China and eventually get to see Grimlock and the Dinobots (for all of about five minutes total and movie origin comes down to Hasbro has some toys to sell) as everyone tries to stop Lockdown’s Seed from going off as it would destroy Hong Kong.
Let us be honest, none of us expect a good story from a Michael Bay film. Even more we all expect stereotypical characters, weak motivations, no character arcs delivered with lots of great visual eye candy that entertains you from beginning to end. The problem with Transformers: Age of Extinction is we have seen variations of nearly everything in this movie in the previous three. If not for the different look of the characters involved, I would not be surprised if the non-movie fan gets confused over which movie they are watching.
The road chase, quick transformation and random cars being destroyed? Check. Optimus Prime somehow being left alone to battle the odds gets severely damaged and something bad happens to him before his Autobot friends can arrive to help? Check. A McGuffin that everyone covets and whoever controls it can destroy stuff? Check. Over the top action scenes, with lots of stuff exploding for no other reason than looks cool? Check. Random Decepticons getting easily defeated in some ninja like fight sequences. Check. And finally bad guys that are simply bad guys because you need bad guys. Check. And of course the now obligatory final Prime speech that is only different cause he is still on a path of revenge, only the target changed. Check.
It might seem like the movie has twists and turns but it really doesn’t. It’s a straight line with illusions of curves. It is very clear that the Bay approach was once again used here. That is where the action scenes are designed first and then the story is molded to connect the dots of those action scenes. Only in this case Paramount decided to see if between China and various marketing departments (in some cases you start to expect the actors to look at the camera and say the product slogan to the audience) that maybe they could pay for the films production so a few more irrelevant dots were added. It is no surprise when the sum total is a meaningless series of action bits of what might as well be random robots (being a Transformer really isn't relevant either) attacking each other as humans pretend they are part of the fight (again).
If you only want eye candy, this film will more than meet your needs. It is wall to wall eye candy. If it isn’t coming from the big explosions, then you get it from the pretty cars. The required human eye candy is easily filled by Nicola Peltz with the camera enjoying her short shorts often. While she still has a lot to learn, she easily surpasses her predecessors in acting skills and her character does a bit more than look gorgeous. Still a bit baffled on why Bay put her age at a slightly creepy 17 years old especially when it seemed to require a scene to explain why her boyfriend isn’t committing statutory rape (complete with laminated card). ILM does their usual fantastic jobs with the visual effects and is really the only reason the film is watchable.
As for the human characters, frankly who would have cared if they all died with a building landing on them. Cade is a crappy father, Tessa is a horny teenager with her horny boyfriend and everyone else just wants money and power. That is really the summation of the characters and their arcs. Having said that, through their usual effortless skill Tucci and Grammer elevated every scene they were in but frankly they could have been just randomly reading spam from their phones and accomplished the same thing for all that mattered for the scenes they were in.
A Transformer film, cartoon episode, comic book etc. that does not treat key Transformer characters as uniquely as would any human character completely misses the point. As always it comes down to the characters and the story around them. Eye candy and gimmicks might get people curious but that alone does little to keep them around. Especially not for 30 years. Bay and Kruger remain all gimmick, devoid of story and character so the result is a forgone conclusion – yet another empty VFX movie of robots fighting robots.