Action Adventure

A Film Review in Disguise: Transformers: Age of Extinction

June 27, 2014Ben MK

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Nothing more, nothing less than meets the eye

By Ben Mk

You have to admit, the current Kaiju renaissance owes a debt to Michael Bay. If not for the success of his first three Transformers films, who knows if we would ever have been privileged to witness the spectacle that was Guillermo Del Toro's Pacific Rim or Gareth Evans' Godzilla. No doubt, there's definite entertainment value in gawking at oversized creatures going head-to-head with one another, which is why Bay has returned to the franchise for a fourth installment. But with a brand new cast of humans, does this latest Transformers adventure have the spark it needs to keep the series going?

Instead of rebooting the story (which is what typically happens by the time the fourth film in a franchise rolls around), Age of Extinction picks up the dangling narrative threads of Dark of the Moon. Although Optimus Prime and the Autobots succeeded in defeating Megatron and his horde of Decepticons, that film's climactic "Battle of Chicago" virtually laid waste to the Windy City, and, consequently, the government has staunchly vowed: never again. Now, both Autobots and Decepticons alike find themselves on the run, indiscriminately hunted down and massacred by an elite team of Black Ops mercenaries codenamed "Cemetery Wind".

The brainchild of CIA suit Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), Cemetery Wind aims to wipe all Cybertronians from the face of the Earth, but they aren't alone in their mission. Attinger has also formed alliances with a mysterious and ruthless bounty hunter named Lockdown, a Transformer with no allegiance to either the Autobots or the Decepticons, and a billionaire tech CEO (and Steve Jobs wannabe) named Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), whose company is about to roll out its own line of new and improved Transformers with both military and civilian applications.

But not every human is out to extinguish the Transformers' collective spark. After inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) stumbles upon a heavily damaged Optimus (Peter Cullen, reprising his vocal duties) while scavenging for parts, he helps to repair the Autobot leader and, in the process, becomes an unwitting target for Cemetery Wind and Lockdown. In order to survive, he, his teenage daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz), and her boyfriend, rally car driver Shane (Jack Reynor), must join forces with Optimus and the remaining rag-tag squad of Autobots (which include the voices of John Goodman and Ken Watanabe). Taking the fight to the enemy, they discover the sinister truth: that it's not just the Autobots who are facing extinction — it's humanity itself.

The (appropriately insane) storyline is definitely cut from the same cloth (or sheet metal, as it were) as the earlier films. No surprise there, as screenwriter Ehren Kruger also had a hand in penning the last two installments. But there's one notable difference this time around: the film's humor. Age of Extinction is the franchise's funniest and (by extension) its most fun entry, thanks to Wahlberg (whose character is always quick to shoot off quips) and a silly sense of self-awareness that rears its head every now and again. Sure, the plot takes a couple of dark turns along the road to its inevitably explosive finale, but Wahlberg's presence is the key differentiator in ensuring that the movie isn't completely dragged down by the endless onslaught of action (something that Revenge of the Fallen, with its misplaced humor, also tried, but failed, to do).

Wahlberg's back-and-forth banter with T.J. Miller (who plays Cade's friend, Lucas) early on in the film doesn't just help to establish the tone for the picture as a fun thrill ride, it's one of the highlights. So is Tucci, who does a better job filling the comic relief role than John Turturro in the installments that came before. The other humans, however, don't fare nearly as well: Grammer is relegated to a villainous role that doesn't afford him much dramatic mobility; Peltz plays a character who's equally as shallow as Megan Fox's Mikaela Banes; and Reynor (whose main asset is clearly that he looks like a cross between Chris Hemsworth and Chris Pratt) seems to be there only because certain scenes require someone adept at a fast and furious vehicular getaway.

Ultimately, this makes Age of Extinction feel like the poster child for the old adage: the more things change, the more they stay the same. In fact, it may even be the most Michael Bay-ish movie that Michael Bay has ever made, chocked full of the director's signature flourishes, left, right and center. At just 15 minutes shy of 3 hours, the movie is an orgy of slow-motion lolyygagging, pyrotechnic pirouettes and more action clichés than you can shake a giant Cybertronian sword at. Bay is moderately successful at masking the homogeneity of the action set pieces by churning out a globe-trotting adventure — taking the characters from Texas, to Chicago, to Beijing and then Hong Kong — and throwing the fan-favorite Dinobots into the mix, but it makes little difference by the film's conclusion, when the specifics of any one action sequence have become nigh impossible to recollect. However, isn't that precisely the kind of popcorn entertainment that Bay's name has become synonymous with? For him to deliver anything else would be akin to a betrayal of his own brand. And lest we forget, this is a film franchise forged on the popularity of a toy line, so brand loyalty is to be expected.

The Bottom Line

Transformers: Age of Extinction is a lumbering behemoth of a film, with its gears wedged permanently in action overdrive. There's no point bemoaning whether this is or isn't the right fit for the franchise. It is what it is, as they say, so you might as well embrace it. And if you can stomach the film's grueling running time, you'll be rewarded with endless, over-the-top action and more chuckle-worthy moments than the previous three films combined. It's exactly as advertised — nothing more, nothing less. [★★★]

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