Jun 30, 2014

[Movies] Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

My friends know that I'm a pretty big Transformers fan. I continue to collect the toys in significant quantities and my partner actually went as far as buying us additional shelves to provide more display options for my rather crazy collection.

But true friends know better than to ask me if I'm excited about the latest Michael Bay Transformers movie. Of course most will continue to assume that I blindly like anything that has to do with the franchise. And the movies have continued abuse the core Transformers character concepts with every new sequel.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is the latest movie to be released in this movie franchise and it sort of represents a bit of a reboot of the series. I say this given the human side of the equation seems to have changed with the introduction of Mark Wahlberg into this fictional universe.

Did that help things along? Has this movie changed my opinion of the Michael Bay Transformers movies? Of course not -don't talk crazy.

Synopsis: Transformers: Age of Extinction is the fourth movie in the Transformers movie franchise. Once again the movie was directed by Michael Bay with a screenplay by Ehren Kruger, who has been mangling Transformers movie stories since Revenge of the Fallen.

It has been five years since the "Battle of Chicago" in Dark of the Moon and humanity no longer fully trusts all Cybertronians, both Autobots and Decepticons alike. The US has fully severed ties with its former Autobot allies and now hunts them down using a special CIA black ops group known as Cemetery Wind, under the command of Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer). However he isn't quite alone in his hunt - he is secretly working with another Cybertronian, a bounty hunter known as Lockdown (Mark Ryan).

Somewhere in Texas, we meet independent robot inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), who has but single employee, his best friend Lucas (T.J. Miller). They check out an old theater that is selling off its assets for cash and come across an old semi-truck strangely hidden within the theater itself. They purchase it from the owner in the hopes of selling off the parts for scrap, but Cade is later surprised to discover that there's more to this truck than meets the eye. And thus Cade, Lucas and Cade's daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) eventually get sucked into the Transformers saga.

First, I don't quite understand why they cast Mark Wahlberg as a quirky inventor when we hardly believed him as a high school science teacher back in The Happening. He's a decent enough actor and I think he can handle both action and comedy movies pretty well. But a role that demands that he come across as smart enough to invent little robots an fix Transformers? Yeah, that's a bit of a stretch to me.

Then we get to Kelsey Grammer, who totally hams it up as the movie's human bad guy. As David Willis put it, he seems to spend most of the movie in dimly lit corners, I guess that's because he's all menacing and evil. But in terms of the plot, his character doesn't really make sense since his hatred for all things Cybertronian somehow doesn't stop him from making a deal with Lockdown. He constantly lectures Autbots like Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) how they are no longer needed to help defend Earth, and yet continues to rely on Lockdown to hunt the Autobots down since he clearly can't do things on their own.

Stanley Tucci's character, Joshua Joyce, is a breath of fresh air only because his acting here seemed right no the mark. He wasn't a caricature and you can understand how he's just greedy and not quite totally evil and in the end he's actually a lot of fun. The whole plot to try and build their own Transformers with the aid of information gleaned from Megatron's severed head - a plot that seems almost directly lifted from Transformers Animated. His central discovery is the fact that Transformers are made of a near magical programmable material he calls "Transformium" (I guess because "Unobtanium" was no longer available), and he needs to secure a new supply in order to continue his efforts to create his own Transformers as part of a weapons deal with Grammer's character.

Naturally the human side of things is where a lot of the plot lies but it's also what tends to drag the movie down. We come to watch these movies in the hopes of giant robots fighting one another and we do get that - but there's a lot of human fluff padding the movie as well, thus taking us very close to the 3-hour mark for this movie. As with the requirements of the placement deals with cars, we not only spend a lot of time watching these pretty vehicles racing to and fro across the US and China, but we also get to enjoy the fact that the car makers logos remain pretty prominent on the chests of the Cybertronians in robot form, even with the villain Lockdown. And it's hard to take a villain seriously when he's trying to sell you a car all throughout the movie.

By this point, I find that what helps me survive these movies is to stop thinking their the Transformers of my youth. Oh yes, these movies have nothing at all to do with the toys that I have loved since my childhood. Instead these are just some other breed of giant transforming robots who sprung out of the strange mind of Michael Bay alone and thus why the Autobots all seem to speak with different Earth accents for no logical reason. I don't need to understand why Hound (John Goodman) feels more like the Animated character Bulkhead and why the heck he even has a beard. There is no need to understand why Drift (Ken Watanabe) looks like a Japanese samurai when he's supposed to be an alien from another world. And I totally don't need to care about the fact that Bumblebee still can't freaking talk.

Oh, and John DiMaggio, who also voices Adventure Time's Jake the Dog, voices the Autobot Crosshairs. That's cool right? At least we got a great voice actor in the mix as well! Go Bender!

The trailers really tried to sell us on the fact that the Dinobots were somehow in this movie. After the first Transformers movie, I too wanted to see these massive robotic monsters on-screen. After Devastator's balls, I was no longer so eager. And in this movie, the Dinobots really didn't much else beyond what we've seen in the trailers - allow Optimus Prime and his fellow Autobots to utilize them as mounts. They got to pose a bit here and there and there was some scrambling around when Lockdown's super magnet was playing catch with almost everything made of metal (as appropriate to movie physics of course), but then otherwise there wasn't much to say about them. They don't even talk to any significant degree.

So I'm sure that Transformers: Age of Extinction is going to be another blockbuster movie for Michael Bay, and at the end of the day that's great for Hasbro and that means I'll still get new Transformers toys for my collecting efforts. They are what they are and I think us longer term fans are all feeling the pinch of conditioned helplessness as we still go to watch these movies just to see what new travesty Bay has committed on our childhood and then move forward.

But on its own merits, the movie remains a bit of a confused mess from a narrative perspective. As with past Transformers movies, just check your brain at the door, wallow in your more base instincts and see how things go from there. That may help you enjoy the movie more without losing IQ points in the process. As for rating, I'd only go as far as rating this as 2 sad mis-uses of the Dinobots out of a possible 5. And like Optimus Prime at the end of the movie, I just want to pull an R2-D2 and jet off this planet right after.

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