Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer
After the events of Chicago that were witnessed by the entire world, an operation within the American Government called Cemetery Wind are hunting down and destroying every Transformer. This is done with the help of a Transformer bounty hunter known as Lockdown, and he hunts both Decepticons and Autobots, forcing the Autobots into hiding. Lockdown is willing to help the humans so he can capture Optimus Prime in exchange for something known as ‘the seed’ (don’t ask), which will enable scientist Joshua Joyce (Tucci) to complete his creation of his own Transformers that he has managed to do using parts from dead Transformers and their unique material known as ‘transformium’ (again, don’t ask). This will enable him and corrupt Government agent Harold Attinger (Grammer) make billions from their creation of an indestructible army. Meanwhile broke Texan mechanic (Wahlberg) buys what he thinks is an old rusty truck that he can sell for parts, but then he discovers after repairing it that it is actually Optimus Prime. Once Prime is repaired, they are subsequently on the run from Government agents, they meet up with the surviving Autobots and face a race against time (naturally) to stop Joyce’s ‘creations’ as they may not quite be quite as much his creations as he thinks they are.
If you didn’t follow (or indeed read) that, do not worry, as Michael Bay and screenwriter Ehren Kruger don’t seem to care too much about plot anyway.
So here it is again; that tough old challenge of reviewing a film directed by Michael Bay. To criticise his films for not having any creative or storytelling integrity would be a true waste of time and energy, as they are simply never going to have any. Though no matter what an amateur critic like myself, the professionals or indeed websites (18% on rotten tomatoes as I write this) say, Transformers: Age of Extinction will make as much money as its predecessors and I am sure Transformers 5 is in the pipeline. The fault may not be Bay’s, but those that are willing to part with their money to watch it, as it is just economics, so maybe I should just give up with bothering to review this now. Well, I will try to carry on like regardless because that is just how stubborn I am!
As always, context is important, being a Bay film it is loud and a constant barrage of carnage, which can be quite fun. As someone who is about to turn 30, I have fond memories of the original Transformers series and the wonderful 1986 animated film, and so perhaps have a slight subconscious emotional involvement with some of the Autobots (which I am sure Bay intentionally manipulates), but I will try to not even compare them.
With ditching all the characters involved with Shia LaBeouf’s irritating character it seems that Bay is starting again with the franchise and taking it in a new direction. Well, things do start off pretty solid, admittedly never gripping, but certainly never less than watchable. The focus starts off being mainly on Wahlberg, his daughter and her boyfriend or Kelsey Grammar’s caricature corrupt Government official. Though their stories are a little clichéd and the dialogue even more so, they do evoke genuine interest in the story. Then once Optimus Prime is up and running Chicago gets it again with the usual Bayhem, but there is at least an element of emotional investment, and therefore a slight feeling of danger and threat.
So the first third at least has all the right components for solid summer blockbuster territory, however we then all realise that there is still two hours left…….
The Transformers films have got increasingly longer in running time, but at a truly bum numbing and headache inducing (especially in 3D) 165 minutes, Transformers: Age of Extinction truly takes the biscuit. I would genuinely love to be inside the mind of Michael Bay when he is making his films, as to why he thinks any film of this kind needs to be this long. The film’s second third is a constant succession of pointless action sequences that get increasingly repetitive and boring, with the mounting disregard for plot increasingly feeling alienating and removing our interest in the characters. Bay is just happy to rehash exactly what we have seen before in previous instalments, with a total lack of discipline or originality, and the usual combination of slow-mos, sunsets and soft rock. Though regular composer’s Steve Jablonsky’s score is sometimes quite rousing in a few places.
This is a shame as the performances are half decent (in context of course): this may not be Wahlberg’s most challenging role, but he is a breath of fresh air compared to LaBeouf’s increasingly irritating protagonist, his relationship with his daughter (Nicola Peltz – who has the obligatory skimpy clothed woman role) and her oirish boyfriend (Jack Reynor) is textbook, but tolerable. Meanwhile Tucci and Grammer are obviously enjoying themselves and ham it up appropriately. As for the Autobots: Peter Cullen once again lends his majestic and commanding tones as the voice of Optimus Prime, but John Goodman’s Transformer Hound is essentially his character from The Monuments Men and Ken Watanabe’s Drift is a creation that is moderately racist. There is no acting master class, but then a film of this kind never demands such a thing, but I cannot criticise the acting performances, just say that they are appropriate.
With the plot tying itself up in knots (including a subplot set during the time of the dinosaurs) and the constant succession of pointless and increasingly infuriating and boring action sequences, Bay then decides he has destroyed enough of America and decides to try and destroy Hong Kong in the film’s final third. Though this is essentially a rehash of the Chicago battle sequence of Dark of the Moon and it is at times almost impossible to keep up with who is taking metal chunks out of whom, the introduction of the Dinobots does make for a half decent third. It may not quite be the reward we deserve for tolerating the film’s middle third and will not win prizes for originality, but it does provide spectacle and thrills. I know I promised I wouldn’t mention the originals, but I did really want to hear Grimlock do his “me Grimlock” voice like in the cartoons, but I understand that would not fit with how the Dinobots are presented here!
It is certainly not as much of a horrific mess as Revenge of the Fallen, and if the entire middle third was removed leaving a film of just under two hours then Age of Extinction would be a solid piece of popcorn entertainment. As it stands it may be a slight test of endurance (especially when watched in headache inducing 3D), but it has just enough as a one-off watch to entertain. Even though it has less consideration for plot than its predecessors, with an atrocious script that has attempts at humour that often misfire badly to the point of cringe worthy and the less said about product placement, (a slow-mo of a transformer jumping over a bus with a huge ‘Victoria’s Secret’ logo on it is really not necessary Micheal) the better. Despite all this, Transformers: Age of Extinction is in my view not as horrific as some reviews have said, and there has been so many far worse films this year, I just wish Michael would direct a film under two hours someday!
A solid start is then undermined by an extremely exhausting running time that is a st constant succession of increasingly boring action set pieces that is only just saved by a loud and bonkers final third (with added dinosaurs). Transformers: Age of Extinction certainly offers plenty (if way too many) bangs for your buck, but does have just enough going for it to make for a passable blockbuster.