Action Adventure

More Blu-ray Review than Meets the Eye: Transformers: Age of Extinction

October 6, 2014Ben Mk


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Bayhem's finest three hours...

Michael Bay isn't a director who's known for his subtlety. His style of moviemaking — dubbed "Bayhem" — relies on fast cars, gorgeous women, bombastic (and balletic) action and, as far as the Transformers are concerned, giant freakin' robots. The third Transformers film, Dark of the Moon was to have been his final bow of the series, but the pull of the brand was just too strong. Love him or hate him, Bay's name has become synonymous with the big screen 'bots, and film number four, Age of Extinction, solidifies that legacy. In fact, it may even be the crown jewel in Bay's oeuvre of Bayhem.

   

The Film Rather than rebooting the franchise, 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 off the face of the Earth. And they aren't alone: 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.

Not every human is out to extinguish the Transformers' collective spark, however. When 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. And 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 Autobots (which include the voices of John Goodman and Ken Watanabe) to take the fight to the enemy, where they'll discover the sinister truth: that it's not just the Autobots who are facing extinction — it's humanity itself.

The (unabashedly 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) most fun entry, thanks to a quip-shooting Wahlberg 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 way to its appropriately explosive finale; but Wahlberg's presence is key in ensuring that the movie isn't completely dragged down by the endless onslaught of action (something that Revenge of the Fallen 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 did 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 Chris Hemsworth/Chris Pratt-lookalike Reynor is largely there because select scenes require someone adept at a fast and furious vehicular getaway.

Ultimately, this makes Age of Extinction 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 the 3 hour mark, 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 fairly successful at masking the homogeneity of the action set pieces by having the adventure unfold on a global stage — taking the characters from Texas, to Chicago, to Beijing and finally to 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 are all but impossible to recollect. However, isn't that precisely the point of Bayhem? Anything less 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 simply par for the course.

Audio/Visual Fidelity Age of Extinction rolls out onto Blu-ray with an eye-popping, eardrum-pounding A/V presentation, leaving no stone unturned when it comes to Bay's customary assault on viewers' senses. From the incredibly detailed reptilian visages of the opening scenes' dinosaurs to the fiery fragments of debris arcing across the screen during the climactic, extended battle sequence, the exceptionally crisp hi-def transfer is brimming with fine detail. Likewise, colors appear robust and richly saturated (whether it's the lush green Hong Kong mountainside or Bumblebee's sunburnt yellow and orange paint scheme) and contrast and black levels are top notch (making the robots' shiny chrome exteriors and the midnight black theme of Cemetery Wind's garb, gear and vehicles all the more impressive). Shadow detail is also exceptional, ensuring that no visual information is lost in low-light scenes, such as those set in the bowels of Lockdown's massive prison ship.

Perhaps even more impressive that the Blu-ray's visuals, however, is its sonic prowess, as the disc is the first ever Blu-ray title to feature a Dolby Atmos soundtrack. As the audio options on the disc menu read: This audio presentation is mixed specifically for Dolby Atmos enabled receivers and speaker configurations to produce full, multidimensional sound without channel restrictions in the home — even overhead.. Note that if you lack a Dolby Atmos compatible receiver and sound system, this registers as a Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix. And for those watching with a less advanced setup, the disc even includes Discrete Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 mixes.

Of course, the Dolby Atmos track provides the optimal listening experience. But to reap its full benefits, viewers will also have to invest in (as per Dolby's website) a 7.1.4 system, which means either adding four ceiling speakers to an existing 7.1 speaker configuration or four Dolby Atmos enabled speakers or modules.

Admittedly though, it may be a while until such home theater setups become commonplace. So until then, most viewers will likely settle on the Dolby TrueHD 7.1 mix, which is no slouch in and of itself, capably handling the sonic impact of the film's often non-stop action without so much as missing a beat. Audiophiles will relish every burst of automatic gunfire and every massive explosion, not to mention all the other perfunctory sounds of battle found in the various metallic screeches, clangs and scrapes that litter the movie's sonic landscape. On the low end, the track also integrates ample LFE support, lending further weight to series stalwart Peter Cullen's booming vocal work, as well as to such sound effects as the rumble of vehicle engines (both earthbound and non-earthbound alike) and the intimidating roars of the Dinobots.

Special Features Paramount's 3-disc release includes a DVD copy of the film, as well as iTunes and UltraViolet digital copies, plus a second Blu-ray disc devoted entirely to special features (over 3 hours in total). By far the weightiest of the extras is the 123-minute making-of documentary, Evolution within Extinction, which is subdivided into eight segments featuring film clips, behind-the-scenes footage, concept art and interviews with the cast and crew.

Part one of this documentary, titled Generation 2, is a look at the new characters (both human and Transformer alike), such as the new heroes (Hound, Drift and Crosshairs) and the new villains (Lockdown, Stinger and Galvatron). Part two, Drive Like Hell, shifts the focus to the Transformers' vehicular forms, which include a Lamborghini, a Corvette and a Bugatti. Part three, Small Town, Big Movie, is all about filming on-location in Texas. Part four, Shadow Protocol Activated, speaks more to the global nature of the film's production, particularly the time spent shooting in Chicago and Detroit. Part five, The Last Stand, goes into further detail about the filmmakers' time in Detroit (specifically, the effort that went into having the city double for Hong Kong in select sequences). Part six, The People's Republic turns viewers attention to Hong Kong and Beijing, with a look at on-location filming in those two cities. Part seven, Rise of the Dinobots, is a brief look at the Dinobots' franchise debut. And part eight, The Finishing Touch, examines the effort that went into completing the film after principal photography, including a look at the editing and post-production process, visual effects, voice acting and scoring.

Other featurettes on disc two include the 11-minute Bay on Action, in which director/executive producer Michael Bay expounds on his filmmaking style, briefly touching on related topics, such as the staging of key sequences in the movie and his use of new camera technologies (the Phantom Flex and IMAX 3D digital cameras); Just Another Giant Effin' Movie, which is a humorous compilation of behind-the-scenes footage that runs for 10 minutes; the 15-minute A Spark of Design, which takes viewers inside Hasbro's headquarters in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, for a fairly in-depth look at what's involved with bringing a toy (specifically, "Stomp and Chomp Grimlock") from concept to production; and T.J. Miller: Farm Hippie, which is a farcical 20 minutes spent with actor T.J. Miller, as he attempts to pay a thank-you visit to Mark Wahlberg, Kelsey Grammer and Michael Bay, with flowers in-hand.

Last but not least, the exhaustive slate of special features is rounded off with a selection of four Trailers (two for the film, one for Kre-O Transformers: Take Us Through The Movies! and one for Angry Birds Transformers: Origin Story), totalling 10 minutes.


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. But if you can stomach this installment'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. Likewise, there's no better way to experience the movie than with Paramount's fully-loaded Blu-ray release, which features an awe-inspiring A/V presentation and a deluge of bonus content, making Transformers: Age of Extinction one Blu-ray that won't be going extinct any time soon.  Ben Mk

Disc Breakdown
The Film  —  
Audio/Visual Fidelity  —  
Special Features  —  





* Reviewer's note: Portions of this Blu-ray review were adapted from my original review of the theatrical release, published on June 27th, 2014.




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