Me Grimlock say there should be FIVE Dinobots!
Ah, the Transformers. I’ll always have a soft spot for the robots in disguise. That being said, the last two Michael Bay films have soured me on the live-action series after a largely enjoyable first effort. A little too much slapstick, a few too many liberties taken with the characters to “humanize” them (Jetfire as the robotic version of an old man?) and plenty of existing Autobots and Decepticons left on the shelf in lieu of new creations had me skeptical of the fourth installment, Age of Extinction.
Nonetheless, these are the Transformers after all, and that means I’m pretty much obligated to at least see it once. How did it turn out? Let’s go to the tape.
Set approximately five years after the events in Dark of the Moon, Age of Extinction feels almost like a reboot with sweeping changes in the cast. Gone are mainstays Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson and John Turturro — Megan Fox, of course, departed after Revenge of the Fallen.
Taking over the lead is Mark Wahlberg, who plays down-on-his-luck inventor Cade Yeager. He’s joined by Nicola Peltz, perhaps best known for her appearance in the woeful The Last Airbender, and Jack Reynor, who play his daughter and her love interest, respectively.
In the wake of the Battle of Chicago, the government has adopted a decidedly anti-robot agenda, and it turns out CIA spook Harold Attinger (played by Kelsey Grammer) is taking this a step (or 20) further by enlisting the help of a robotic bounty hunter. Dubbed Lockdown, he’s helping Attinger hunt down all remaining Transformers (Decepticons and Autobots alike) as a means to an end. That end: capturing Optimus Prime and returning him to the “creators.”
Through sheer luck, Prime, who was damaged in a sneak attack, is purchased as junk by Yeager, which unwittingly draws him and his family into an interplanetary incident. What follows is plenty of robot battles, clandestine dealings between human factions and shots of Peltz in short shorts — all of which are staples of the series. Ultimately, it’s up to Prime and his remaining Autobots to defeat Lockdown and his human accomplices.
Shaking up the cast was a smart move. Wahlberg is much more likeable the manic LaBeouf, and both Grammer and Stanley Tucci play their roles well. The comic relief isn’t as prevalent, either, especially once comedian T.J. Miller is out of the picture. It allows for the darker tone that they try to create with Optimus Prime to work, with Prime even reneging on his vow not to harm humans. Prime has been betrayed, and it makes sense for him to no longer blindly defend humanity.
As usual, the special effects are very good, and the melding of the old cartoon with real-world mechanics is well done. One of my long-standing issues with the Tranformers films is that the fight scenes are often difficult to follow, filling too much of the screen and taking away the sense of awe that should ensue when two giants clash (see Pacific Rim). It doesn’t happen as often here, and the fights are probably the best in the series as a result. Also, Dinobots.
As noted, I’ve never been a fan of “humanizing” the robots, and it’s done with nothing even resembling subtlety with both Hound (who smokes some sort of robotic cigar) and Drift. It’s not that they shouldn’t have personalities, but let’s not make them into lame stereotypes. Bay continues to pointlessly tweak names as well. It doesn’t affect anything, but as a longtime fan it just makes no season to change Swoop’s name to Strafe, which was the name of a completely different Transformer.
At its core, the Transformers is about the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons, but the latter faction is basically MIA. Humans attempting to create their own sentient robots give life to Galvatron, the evolutionary form of Megatron, but he’s criminally underused — it appears as though he’s being saved for a larger role in the fifth film. The aforementioned Miller is pretty brutal as comic relief even in an abbreviated role, and the movie’s run time (roughly two and a half hours) is excessive and causes things to drag at various points.
Although not a great movie by any means, Age of Extinction is the best Transformers film since the original. As long as you can overlook some cringe-worthy attempts at humor and accept Wahlberg as the world’s most jacked inventor it’s worth watching.