“Transformers: Age of Extinction” 2D Theatrical Review
Transformers: Age of Extinction
– for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo.
Director: Michael Bay
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Stanley Tucci, T.J. Miller, Bingbing Li; voices of John Goodman, Ken Watanabe, John DiMaggio, Peter Cullen, Mark Ryan, Frank Welker
Running Time: 2 hours, 45 minutes
Theatrical Release Date: June 27, 2014
As humanity picks up the pieces, following the conclusion of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Autobots and Decepticons have all but vanished from the face of the planet. However, a group of powerful, ingenious businessman and scientists attempt to learn from past Transformer incursions and push the boundaries of technology beyond what they can control – all while an ancient, powerful Transformer menace sets Earth in his crosshairs. The epic adventure and battle between good and evil, freedom and enslavement ensues. (from MovieWeb.com)
If you’ve ever read any of my Transformers related reviews (and I assure you this isn’t the last one), you’ll already know that, as a child of the 80s, I grew up on the original cartoon show, The Transformers, and the toys that the cartoon was pretty much created to sell (knowledge that I didn’t have at the time, nor would I have cared). In 2007, Michael Bay surprised audiences abroad with the realization that a live action take on the cartoons/toy line could work. It wasn’t perfect–far from it in fact–but he jaw-droppingly brought robots to life in a way that was believable and tangible. The special effects were nothing short of amazing. Bay proceeded to direct and release two more sequels, upping the action and visual ante each time. Unfortunately, we’re talking about Michael Bay here – the director of Bad Boys and Bad Boys II, The Rock, The Island and Pearl Harbor (although I kinda dug The Island). Sadly, a series based on cartoon robots coming to life seems to only encourage the stylistic director to tap into every shameless, immature bone in his body (which apparently is a lot). Along with news that 2011’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon would be his last entry into the franchise came the hope that Bay would leave our Transformers alone for good. But that promise was dashed to bits with the announcement that he’d take on Transformers 4, AKA Transformers: Age of Extinction.
This film takes place four years after the climactic battle in Chicago in Dark of the Moon. Megatron and Starscream are dead, Ironhide is gone, and the Autobots have had to go into hiding. However, a government group is hunting all Transformers in an attempt to wipe them all out (part of the “extinction” aspect of the film’s title). After a really disjointed and cheesy prehistoric flashback intro (about as bad as The Fallen one from the second movie), Age of Extinction is already off to a pretty bumpy start. We then meet Mark Wahlberg’s Cade Yeager, who’s an aspiring “inventor,” his business partner Lucas Flannery, played by T.J. Miller (Cloverfield, How To Train Your Dragon), and soon his way-too-short-shorts-wearing 17-year-old daughter Tessa, played by Nicola Peltz (The Last Airbender). The Yeagers have fallen on hard times financially, and after they come into possession of a cheap, broken down truck for a mere $150, Cade hopes to strip it for parts. However, what he soon realizes is this isn’t any ordinary truck; it’s Optimus Prime.
The plot’s thin at best, but judging by the sequels before it, you can’t buy a ticket for one of Bay’s Transformers films and expect anything remotely intelligible. And that’s not me trying to defend Bay in any way; we just have to accept what we’re buying into. However, it’s either the fact that audiences actually like Bay’s approach, or we just decide to take the bad along with any good they can find. Compared to the first trilogy, some of the most annoying content issues are surprisingly lessened, but still present nonetheless. While Tessa looks and acts a little less slutty than Megan Fox’s character from the first two films, the fact that Bay keeps her dressing and looking like an Abercrombie model even when the scene hardly calls for it (like bumming around the family farm dressed like she’s going out for a night on the town), is still completely needless for a movie like this. You’ve already got the boys filling the seats for cars and robots (and they’re both simultaneously!); we really don’t need every woman in the movie looking like a model–or apparently what Michael Bay thinks every woman should looke like. Wahlberg is a huge improvement as a lead over Shia LaBeouf, and it does give the film a little more of a grown up feel to it. Instead of John Turturro’s irritatingly over-the-top performances, Stanley Tucci knocks it out of the park with easily the most enjoyable performance and character in the film as the head of a robotics company called KSI. Kelsey Grammer is a bit miscast as an ex-CIA agent trying to rid the world of Transformers, but he still does a decent job — and still somehow fits into this cartoony live action world. Jack Reynor is passable as a “professional driver” (huh?) who has been secretly dating Cade’s daughter behind his back. Of course, this opens the door for implications that the 20-year-old is sleeping with a 17-year-old, but both Shane and Tessa are more secondary characters to Wahlberg’s Cade, and that’s a good thing.
It was a big surprise, however, to find that the Transformers robots seemed to have a lot more screen time in this entry. That’s always been a major complaint of fans and it seems like someone finally listened. The original bots from the first film barely had any development or screen time, and sadly, except for Prime and Bumblebee, that doesn’t change here (meaning, all of the robots from the very first film have little or no screen time except for those two). But for the first time, the new Autobots are given celebrity voice talents and so we do hear them speak more often. John Goodman steps in as a new character (a G1 character, though) named Hound, while Ken Watanabe voices a Samurai character named Drift. Hound barely resembles his original conception, but Goodman makes this new version a fun addition. And I love Watanabe in pretty much any role he’s in, so it’s fun to hear him here as Drift. He isn’t given a ton to do, but when he gets down to wielding his sword in battle, it’s pretty sweet. The main villain this time is Lockdown, a mercenary with deadly force, and he ends up being responsible for the destruction of many of the Autobots. And then there’s the manmade Galvatron, who was meant to be a copy of Optimus but, with using tech from Megatron’s severed head, ends up looking more like the fallen Decepticon than the leader of the Autobots (and ultimately ends up being a hearty nod to the original Galvatron…even though I missed the large orange arm cannon). Through more screen time for the Transformers, there are some really great moments with the new characters, as well as more for Optimus and Bumblee to do (one of the best of these moments is Bee’s reactions to seeing the manmade robots).
But there is still oh so much wrong with Age of Extinction. For one, Bay still tends to drop characters from a scene altogether. You’ll see all of the Autobots riding along into battle and then something happens which sort of separates one of them, and then the rest of the bots are totally MIA for an unreasonable amount of time, allowing something bad to happen to that one isolated character. They only seem to show up again “conveniently” after the damage has been done. Bay has done that through all of the films and still continues to do this. Then there’s any sense of logic being scattered to the wind. When we meet Optimus again, for example, he’s badly wounded from battle, so Cade insists he can fix him. Cade has Lucas run to the store for parts and then return with a couple items that are somehow going to be able to fix wartorn Prime. We don’t see the actual “fixing” and it seems that just as soon as Lucas returns with the items, an action scene unfolds and Prime is battle-ready again? Furthermore, it isn’t long before he scans a passing truck and adapts to a newer truck model and looks 100% fixed. He then gets wounded time and time again, and while we don’t see him getting fixed, he seems fine shortly afterwards. Oh, and by the end of the film, he can fly. Yup, fly. He suddenly has boosters in his legs that allow him to fly. When he got that, how he got that, where he got that from? We never find out. It just happens. At least when he flew that one time in Revenge of the Fallen, it made some sense. Finally, there’s the gross product placement. Before seeing the film, I read a passing gripe about the film that mentioned that. However, it really is despicable. It makes sense for Hasbro to drop in a nonsensical visual reference to My Little Pony since it’s their film, but when part of and alien craft crashes onto a car next to a truck of Bud Light, spilling bottles all over the street, the camera deliberately pans and LINGERS on the bottles on the street. As if that weren’t obvious enough, Cade gets harassed (comically) by a driver peeved about the fallen craft on his car, so he grabs one of the Bud Lights, opens it with the man’s car door frame, drinks from it and throws it down. Yup. We just watched the most indiscreet product placement since the Reeses Pieces in E.T. (It probably would only have been worse if the sip of Bud Light turned Mark into a Transformer or something incredible like that.) We won’t even mention the Victoria’s Secret bus ad dead center in the middle of the screen at one point. Lastly, Bay seems to break Optimus Prime from character yet again. He’s angrier and more violent this time around, which is very different from the cartoon version. However, one could justify that his friends are being executed despite all the Autobots have done to protect them. Still, we hear Prime say that he’d never hurt a human, but when he finds out who’s been killing Autobots, he will kill them. On top of that, we hear Prime say several times (usually being sort of disoriented), “I’ll kill you!!” which is just odd to hear coming out of the mouth (and voice) of that character.
So what’s at all redeemable about Age of Extinction? Why not just rate this half a star and call it a day? It’s Transformers, after all. The script was weak and oftentimes forced, the acting nothing to write home about, but while I would LOVE to see a great script and characters in this franchise some day, let’s address something very obvious: Transformers: Age of Extinction is a live action cartoon. Quite literally. Only a couple hours after watching the film, I revisited a couple episodes from the original 80s cartoon. While they’re fun to watch still, the dialog they speak is some of the absolute worst you’ll hear. Example? Take this insult uttered by an Autobot to a Decepticon from one of the season 2 episodes, “Come get me, you metal-headed dumb dumb!” Yup, that’s word for word from the cartoon. And that’s just one example. So, really, to get dialog on par with that for a live action movie, we shouldn’t be too surprised (still, one day, I want to see something much better in one of these films). The action scenes and destruction are easily as exhausting–if not more so–than the finale for Man of Steel (which is funny since I think I commented in that review that that film gave Bay a run for his money), but Bay still delivers some impressive visuals. The added screen time for the bots and some really fun character moments make this movie a shoo-in for guilty pleasure viewing. However, I must disclose that each time I revisit the previous three films, aspects of each of them annoy me more and more (the last time I rewatched the first film, I just skipped over most of the scenes with the teenage characters). Overall, Age is an entertaining film for Transformers fans, and even though we don’t get to see the dinobots until the end of the movie (the other part of the “extinction” title), it’s still exciting to get to see them on the big screen–with hopes we’ll see them again in future films. (But we never hear them talk, and I was itching to hear “Me Grimlock…” well… say anything.) Finally, with the death of Megatron in the first trilogy, and the murmurs that Galvatron would make an appearance this time, it’s fun to see Galvatron enter Bay’s Transformers world. In the original, animated 80s film, Optimus and Megatron fight to the death, leaving both mortally wounded. In that film, Optimus dies, passing his spark on to Hot Rod (making him Rodimus Prime) and Megatron confronts a planet-sized Transformer called Unicron who remakes Megatron as Galvatron. Even more fun here is that, for the first time in Bay’s series, the original voice of Megatron and Galvatron from the cartoon TV series, Frank Welker, appears here to voice Galvatron. So it’ll be exciting to see more of his character in the coming sequels (with the fifth one already announced for 2016).
But the content. Oh, Michael Bay… the content is definitely as flawed as the first three movies. While the sexual humor is a little lessened (including the slutty visuals, but they’re still there a bit), the profanity is still frequent, with Tucci uttering the film’s sole obvious “F” word near the end of the film for a laugh (and I would not be surprised if another “F” word or two is hidden in the loudness of the action. Lucas says, literally, “No effing way!” at one point and Bumblebee uses a sound clip with a bleep in it once). For a movie with toys aimed at kids and the whole robot thing aimed at boys, the movie still sends the wrong messages for the children of discerning parents. When we first see Shane’s character in the film, it’s via webcam on a laptop with Tessa and they exchange banter about seeing each other shirtless, which is interrupted by her dad coming back home. We don’t know if the 17-year-old girl and her boyfriend were going to do anything questionable over their respective webcams, but that interaction would make the skin of any worrisome parent crawl. Bay of course throws in an exchange between Cade and Shane where he asks him if the “noises” he heard in the house recently were him, and he gets Shane to admit they were (which, especially in a Bay film, implies the 20-year-old slept with the minor). When Cade and Shane first talk, Cade flips out over Tessa being a minor, to which Shane says is covered by the “Romeo & Juliet” law (which is still a little creepy). Add in that Hound is always smoking a cigar or that the main characters make light of having to steal to get by as the story progresses, or the blatant beer commercial hidden within the movie, and one really has to wonder who signs off on this stuff. It’s an adult film made for the child within the 80s babies (who are in their late 20s and early 30s now) but marketed towards families and teens. If you’ve seen any of the other three movies, let your hopes be dashed that Age of Extinction really is more of the same, content-wise. The action is intense, and some of the main human characters are threatened at gunpoint by other characters (even being seconds away from being executed with a gun to their heads while their heads are held to the ground). Cade has a rough one-on-one fight with a human character that ends with the bad guy being thrown out of a window, and an Autobot blasts another human villain to death. While the movie goes no gorier than a little blood on some characters’ hands and faces throughout the movie, one scene early on shows a human getting immersed in a ball of fire and being left as a metallic, charred skeleton. It’s a little gross, but Bay keeps showing us new and different camera angles of it before finally moving on. Just when you think a second view was enough, he passes over it again for no apparent reason other than to drive home the fact that the character was fried alive.
Transformers: Age of Extinction is kind of a mess, but it’s still a fun one. While I still hate Michael Bay’s content choices for the series, I still get a little giddy seeing Optimus Prime come to life, as well as some of the other Transformers characters and lore become realized in live action form. The effects are still impressive, but I can’t help but watch these movies and just wonder how much better the story and content and characters would be with a different director and writer behind them. If you liked the first three movies, you’ll like this one, but anyone disgusted with Bay’s treatment shouldn’t be fooled this fourth time. So please, Hasbro, give another director the chance to save this franchise with the next film. Keep it awesome but more family-friendly. We’re ready… and have been for three films now.
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 6/27/14)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: Tessa wears cleavage-revealing shirts and extremely short shorts in a good portion of the film; Lucas makes a comment about Tessa being hot and then comments on it being “for being a teenager” or something like that; Tessa and Shane view each other on a webcam on her laptop and exchange banter about wanting to see each other with their shirts off; Shane and Tessa kiss a little bit; Cade freaks out about Tessa being 17 and Shane being 20 and Shane said they’re protected against her being a minor by the “Romeo & Juliet” law; Cade tells Shane he heard some “noises” in the house recently and asks if it was Shane (with Tessa). Cade then threatens Shane who eventually admits it was him; We see some other miscellaneous women in semi-revealing clothing; Joshua Joyce acts very attracted by pretty much everything Su does; and there’s a little more innuendo.
Vulgarity/Language: 1 “F” word (and another bleeped out), 1 “effing,” At least: 10 “S” words, 16 “a” words, 1 “*ssh*le” (and 1 said as “a-hole”), 2 “S.O.B,” 6 “b*tch,” 12 “h*ll,” 2 “p*ss,” 2 “J-sus,” 8 “G-d,” 2 “d*mn,” 3 “cr*p,” 1 “b*stard”
Alcohol/Drugs: When a part of an alien ship lands on a Bud Light truck, Cade is confronted by the driver of a car that was also smashed in the accident. He asks if Cade has insurance, to which Cade gets upset, asking if he’s really serious about it. He then grabs one of the Bud Lights, opens it with the frame of the car door and then drinks from it before tossing it aside and wiping his mouth; Hound is always shown smoking a cigar. At one point he turns it around and uses it as a gun for one shot.
Blood/Gore: Tessa has a slightly bloody scrape on her hand through a good portion of the movie; The main characters have varying amounts of bloody scrapes on their hands and faces during the movie (very minor); When a Transformer hits a man in the forehead with the barrel of his blaster, we see a red welt/mark there; Some Transformers spit out fluid or emit fluid when hit or damaged or cut up; A man is engulfed in a flame and we see him frozen-in-metal charred body afterwards. It’s a little gross/gory; A man who’s been blasted with a Transformer’s gun is briefly seen lying dead on the ground with some blood on his face and clothes.
Violence: Violence is very heavy. Most of it is robot action, but some of it involves people too. This includes but is not limited to: We see alien ships, via flashback, coming to earth and changing the planet’s surface some, killing prehistoric animals; In the arctic, a man threaten the life of a woman at gunpoint; We see news footage of some of the action scenes in Dark of the Moon; A black ops team hunts down an Autobot in a ferry boat and fires on him, blowing off his leg and wounding him. They then continue to fire on the robot until he’s dead. We later see them melting down the Autobot’s severed head; Some agents hold Tessa and Lucas down on the ground at gunpoint and rough up Cade as well. They threaten to kill them and are about to execute Tessa with a gun to her head when Optimus shows up, shooting at them and drawing their fire. Shane picks them up in their car and the agents, with Lockdown, pursue them. Shane’s car goes airborne and we see a slow motion shot of his tire clipping a human bad guy in the side of the face; Lockdown throws some kind of bomb that blows up and ignites the area around some people running. One of the people is engulfed in a flame and we see him frozen-in-metal charred body afterwards. It’s a little gross/gory. The camera focuses on this from several angles; Lockdown and Optimus fight with Optimus being blasted in the chest and damaged. He’s then taken captive; Galvatron and some robots fight the Autobots; We see footage of another Autobot (from Dark of the Moon) being wrangled to the ground and killed; Galvatron slices up some cars on the road (presumably with people inside), causing a lot of destruction on the road; At one point, Bumblebee, while carrying Cade, Shane and Tessa, needs to transform and we see them fly through the air and be caught by Optimus; We see dismembered robots in a lab; Bumblebee sees a video that talks about new robots being better than Bumblebee (naming him specifically), and he ends up trashing a prototype in a show room; The Autobots infiltrate the KSI labs and shoot it up, destroying some of the technology; The Autobots infiltrate an alien ship to rescue Optimus and we see some creepy creatures in cages — like wolf-like beasts and an alien creature in a cage that wraps its tongue around Tessa’s leg (she ends up stabbing it and pulling out its tongue); Cade and Shane take some Transformers tech weapons and use them to help save Tessa and Optimus; Cade and a black ops agent fight with the agent trying to kill Cade. They throw things at each other and eventually end up in a fistfight in an apartment building. Cade presses his thumb into the man’s eye as they struggle. Finally, the man pulls out a big knife, but Cade hits him with a football to distract him and then pushes him out a window. We see him slowly falling to his death and then crash into some stuff on the ground; A huge battle with LOTS of destruction takes place in China, where we see lots of debris and buildings and boats and cars get sucked up into a large ship and then dropped back to the ground. The Transformers then struggle with trying not to get sucked up with it; Optimus briefly fights the dinobots to win their allegiance and then leads them into battle. We see the Autobots and dinobots fighting the KSI robots and tearing them apart; Hound holds off an onslaught of robots under Galvatron’s control single-handedly; A large robot blows up part of a building to descend from a ship in the air and ride the building debris down to the ground. He then fights an Autobot and runs a sword through the chest of the Autobot, pinning it to the wall. Some humans and Transformers come to the rescue, defeating the Decepticon; A man holds a gun on another man, but an Autobot shoots the villain, killing him and saving the human; and lots, lots more action violence.