I’ve said with my recent Primer, I’m a huge Transformers fan and not against Michael Bay making these films. I turned my brain off, went into the screening, and prepared for a nearly 3-hour film that would most likely have horrible human characters, forced action, and in between those two things be a series of product placements.
Two of those things were correct, which made the movie a refreshing surprise:
- Product placements? Pretty much in every frame of the film. Car logos. Tech logos. Clothing. Popular Chinese businesses. They’re everywhere.
- Forced action? There’s literally a scene where Optimus Prime is riding Grimlock, the Tyrannosaurus Rex, down a hill with an open field just to their left, and they turn into a stone archway for no other reason than to make it explode into pieces. Brilliant.
- Horrible human characters? I figured with the franchise’s track record it would be a definite yes, but this is where I was wrong.
Mark Wahlberg was great, really. I liked his story, as a single father raising a daughter, trying to do what’s best for her. The introduction of her boyfriend was great too, and the three of them helped me get invested in their story.
Optimus Prime goes on an amazing journey in this film as well. He and Wahlberg’s character, Cade Yeager, have a lot in common. Only, Yeager hasn’t given up, especially when life keeps crapping on him. I found that to be the soul of the movie, which coincidentally, souls were a major theme in the film.
There are dumb, eye rolling moments, a few too many explosions, and a total lack of arcs for the robots, which was expected, but they were more minimal compared to the previous movies. Besides Optimus and the film’s main villain, Lockdown, the few character moments that existed gave you a good sense of the other characters, but nothing really paid off for any of them. Even Bumblebee takes a bit more of a back seat in this film, sadly. Still, when he gets his shining moment, it’s very well done.
I’m not sure what Michael Bay and screenwriter Ehren Kruger have against giving these characters a bit more development and heart, but they certainly exercise that inability beautifully at times in this movie.
They bring back a villain from the previous films, now named Galvatron. Then they say he’s more powerful than ever, yet in every scene where the filmmakers could have shown us his awesome power, they reign him back. Then you realize that Galvatron and his army are just there for fodder, which makes no sense because Lockdown had enough minions to provide the same thing.
Compared to Galvatron and his army, humans killed more Autobots in this film. So clearly, they weren’t that powerful.
Continuing on that, there are five new characters that got very subtle references near the beginning of the film, then just show up, get a three sentence explanation, then join the Autobots for the third act. It’s so arbitrary. I caught why and how they were there, but most of the audience didn’t, and I know why.
Bay and Kruger love to hammer so many points into your skull over and over that they seem to forget the things they barely explain at all. As much as I love Stanley Tucci and Bingbing Li (seriously, she’s great), trimming five minutes off their elevator scene or one less phone call between characters is something I’d be happy to sacrifice for a bit more information on these five Dinobots. 2 hours and 45 minutes isn’t enough time to give these characters a bit more history?
In fact, no one calls Grimlock by name. How do you write a script and shoot a movie where the hero’s saving grace, and humanity’s saviors, don’t even get named? Stinger, a made-up villain, got named for crying out loud!
(If you see the movie and want to know more about these characters, I highly recommends two graphic novels by IDW called Transformers: Autocracy and Transformers: Monstrosity, or if you’re a gamer, pick up War of Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron as well.)
All that aside, when the movie’s good, it’s really good. Visually, everything is stunning. The robots are easy enough to tell apart. They each have enough of a personality to help distinguish that at least. It’s surprisingly brutal at times, especially when the humans are hunting the Transformers. And the emotional stuff that carries you through the film, keeping you caring, is strong enough for the nearly 3 hours to feel closer to 2.
The heart of the movie revolved around two father figures, Optimus Prime and Yaeger, as they try to rise from their failures. One does it with more hope, which inspires the other to do the same. I really, genuinely, loved that. Also, they get into some deep stuff, although only briefly, on where the Transformers race actually comes from. That was a theme in this movie that I wasn’t expecting.
As a fan of the lore, I can only hope that the creators (The Quintessons) will be shown in future films, as I think that would open up the franchise in many new ways. This film does that too, with Lockdown’s ship having a number of various alien races on it, most of them not Transformers. So they certainly took enough time to show that there is a universe out there, and I look forward to see them exploring that should more movies get made.
Overall, I give Transformers: Age of Extinction 3.75 OUT OF 5 POCKET PROTECTORS. Though I would have liked to have seen or learned more about a few of the characters, it didn’t take away from me having fun and even wanting to see it again, this time in IMAX 3D. In my opinion, it’s worth the ticket price and I think the heart of the movie will surprise you. This is easily my favorite in the franchise next to the first film.
Transformers: Age of Extinction is currently playing in theatres across North America.