Michael Bay pretty much screwed himself when he made such great Transformers movies and finishing the trilogy with such a bang in 2011. Now that he has returned to the franchise to set off a fresh saga a la George Lucas in Star Wars, people are using the bar he set for himself to compare his latest offering starring action superstar Mark Wahlberg , Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammer. My take — Transformers: Age of Extinction was a great movie given Michael Bay’s expertise in delivering blockbuster style popcorn movies but while it had its strengths, it was nowhere as good as the first three movies in the franchise.
Years after the war in Chicago where the Autobots helped the humans preempt the invasion led by Sentinel Prime and Megatron, all aliens are being hunted down by the government, with the alliance with the Autobots severed as they are now seen as a threat to humanity. In order to effect this extermination , CIA lead agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) has allied himself with a Transformer bounty hunter named Lockdown, who wants Optimus Prime as part of his collection. To hedge his bets, Attinger has also entered into a secret deal with billionaire visionary Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), head of research facility KSI, where Joyce is initiating a program to develop his own Transformers using an element called Transformium, the same metal the Transformers are made of. Meanwhile, an injured Optimus Prime disguised as a rustbucket of a truck is bought and found by amateur inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) in Texas, who eventually helps him reunite with the other Autobots to stop Attinger from his plans to extinguish their race.
From the beginning, Michael Bay was pretty consistent with his style of directing in all of the movies of the franchise. Even his formula remained the same. There was a requisite hot chick Tessa (Nicola Peltz), Cade’s 17 year old daughter, her Irish boyfriend Shane (Jack Raynor), a main villain (Grammer) and a main hero (Wahlberg). It was admittedly a stretch for Mark Wahlberg to be playing a geek of any sort but somehow, he sorta, kinda make it work in his own way. Besides, his backstory as a high school jock sort of justified why he was able to pull off a lot of physical stuff. Mark is a great actor and can play pretty much anything – action, drama and even comedy so the way he played Cade was pretty fun, especially when he was being a protective dad butting heads with his daughter’s suitor. I was pretty annoyed with the daughter across the board because she was basically just in the way of everything but I can’t really say I blame her because the only reason she was written in the movie was just to look pretty and wear skimpy outfits.
What’s different about this edition of Transformers was that there was no clear direction in the narrative. It seemed like the filmmakers wanted to open up different storylines all at the same time to establish the beginning of a new trilogy and this made it hard to focus on what the more immediate problem was. And because of this, the relationship between the humans and the Autobots were not as effective, unlike in the first Transformers movie where Bee clicked wit Sam straight off the bat and the movie proceeded from there. In my opinion, what drove the first three movies was the combined struggle of humans and Autobots against the Decepticons. There was a common enemy and there was an emotional connection that made the robots seem human. This was also the key why audiences loved the Transformers — because they shared the same connection to the characters and felt like the Autobots were their friends.
There is a fresh batch of Autobots introduced in Age of Extinction. Only Bee and Optimus remain from the original batch, giving the conclusion that all of the Autobots have been killed by the humans and scrapped for parts. It was a heartbreaking thought already but Bay milked that idea and included one heartbreaking scene where a beloved Autobot was executed. It was quite brilliant because it elicited the same emotions as that scene in Dark of the Moon where Doc was killed mercilessly.
This scene kind of justified how embittered Prime has become in this installment. While the leader of the Autobots was once selfless, patient and calm, this time around, he was obviously on a quest for blood against those who hunted down and killed his friends. He seemed unrecognizable for a bit but not entirely alien to the audiences who loved him from the start.
The new Autobots were really cool, especially Hound, voiced by John Goodman. I liked his toughness and scrappiness even backed against a corner. For the part of the humans, Stanley Tucci and Mark Wahlberg did great in their characters. Since this was indeed a popcorn flick, they had fun with their roles and delivered really solid performances. They were really entertaining to watch, and for a couple of guys lugging around an alien bomb that has the potential to level an entire major city, they were pretty cool about the whole thing. On the other hand, the father-daughter thing was a hard sell throughout the movie, seeming to create an Armageddon type scene between Cade and Tessa but it didn’t work quite as well because Nicola Peltz pretty much has one expression in all of her scenes. Li Bingbing, on the other hand, started out so subtly and came out in the movie as someone to really watch out for.
Despite the film’s flaws, one thing that totally made up for it was the appearance of the Dinobots. These dudes were totally badass. They were huge, they were awesome. They didn’t look much like the cartoons, but none of the Transformers actually looked like their animated counterparts. The design for Grimlock (T-Rex) and Strafe (Triceroptops) were very cool. It was a shame that they were in the film for only a short portion but having been introduced to the franchise, there is always that new possibility of reappearance in the next installments. I am confident that there would be new films because of the open storylines. And the Transformers’ connection to the extinction of the dinosaurs, priceless.
Its hard not to geek out watching a Transformers movie, and if there’s one thing this film is not short of, its action, great CGI, and really marketable characters. This film just kept on pushing its boundaries. After it perfected its CGI on the robot design and transformation, it kept things fresh this time around with a more fluid transformation sequences with the Transformium on Galvatron and Stinger. There was no shortage of intense car chases, gunfights, battle sequences and heart pounding action scenes to keep audiences on the edge of their seats.
All in all, audiences won’t notice that Age of Extinction ran for two hours and 45 minutes. There was a lot going on, as is expected from a franchise trying to establishing a new chapter and at the same time trying to keep it as far away from the original trilogy as much as possible. I think that this sequel should be considered a transition movie, and as such, it should be cut some slack because it did a pretty decent job. With a film of this length and magnitude, there’s a lot of room to go wrong, and Transformers was far from perfect, but what it managed to get right, it did so brilliantly that these are what the audiences will remember after leaving the theater. If it managed to accomplish one thing, it was to blow the door wide open for new movies in the Transformers universe. And with the success of this installment in the box office, I think that was what the studios were gunning for.