Film Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction

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Plot: When a failed inventor (Mark Wahlberg) and his daughter (Nicola Peltz) learn they have a transformer in their barn, the family and Autobots become fugitives from the government, while a transformer bounty hunter named Lockdown (Mark Ryan) tries to capture the leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen).

I liked it. Not only that, I liked it a lot. Yeah. I don’t know what to say. Maybe it’s walking in with expectations of this potentially being the worst movie ever made, or maybe it’s comparing it to the other three, which I truly loathe. Whatever the reason, I thoroughly enjoyed Transformers: Age of Extinction. This might be a review I regret six months from now, but let’s get into it, as I positively review a Transformers movie.

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Right off the bat, I felt and cared for the Autobots, especially Optimus Prime. What this sequel does, that the other three don’t, is they actually make clear who each of the Autobots were. They had personalities. In the previous films, I only knew who Optimus Prime and Bumblebee were, but all the other robots were interchangeable to the point where I didn’t even know who was who when they were fighting. They focus on five Autobots, and that’s it. The new characters they introduce were great additions. Hound, voiced by John Goodman, is this grizzled army bot who looks cheesy, but is also very endearing. Goodman voicing the character was a great call. There’s a scene towards the end where he’s in peril, and I actually cared. We also get Drift, voiced by Ken Watanabe, who’s this bad ass samurai robot. Some people will say it’s classic Michael Bay stereotyping, but I thought this character was pretty compelling.

Even with my disdain and hatred for this franchise, I’ve always loved Optimus Prime, and this is the movie where he FINALLY gets his due. Prime is an absolute force to be reckoned with. They also made him this cold, jaded, bitter character, and there’s actually a real struggle within himself to whether or not he wants to fight for humans anymore, which also makes for a couple great lines of dialogue. I’m not going to sit here and tell you this is a brilliant script, because there’s silly sci-fi shenanigans all over the place, but this is the first Transformers movie where it’s not “The Decepticons want to destroy Earth with a device. The humans reluctantly let the Autobots save them. The end.” There’s some of that towards the end, but the Decepticons aren’t even really in this movie. The conflict between the Autobots and the government, as well as this company wanting to use Transformer technology to build their own soldiers is the real meat here, and it made for a conflict ridden story with actual stakes. Yes, the story elements are all over the place, but the character motivations all made sense. Critics came into this film pre-determined to shit on the plot and inconsistencies, but they are missing legitimate character drama with the some of the choices Optimus Prime is forced to make.

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Speaking of character motivations, this was one hell of a villain. Lockdown is basically the robot version of Boba Fett, a bad ass bounty hunter who hunts down Transformers for the government, but his prime objective is Optimus Prime. His overall goal was interesting, but unfortunately the movie succumbs to “You’ll have to wait for the sequel” syndrome, so it wasn’t paid off at all. That was frustrating.

Aside from caring about the Autobots, another major improvement this film made is with the human characters. That little twerp Sam Witwicky is gone, as is his parents. No more John Turturro. Tyrese and his cringe worthy dialogue are gone. Mark Wahlberg is now the lead, and boy did this franchise need him. When there aren’t robots on screen bashing the shit out of each other, he’s got to carry the film on his back. Yes, he’s playing Mark Wahlberg, but in a Transformers movie, I’ll take it. He’s a very likable character, and you root for him, unlike every other human in this franchise that came before him, where you want a Decepticon to blow them off the face of the Earth.

The other characters we spend time with aren’t the greatest ever written, but I liked them fine. Nicola Peltz plays Whalberg’s daughter, Tessa. The very first scene we see her in is driving around with her friends, and I thought to myself, “Here we go, I’m going to hate this character.” But after that, I actually liked her. Another actress could have done a better job, but you definitely buy the relationship between her and Walhberg. Michael Bay is notorious for shooting women in questionable ways, and we do get one shot of Peltz’s shorts that was classic Michael Bay, but after that, Bay surprisingly restrains himself. We also got Tessa’s boyfriend, Shane, played by Jack Reynor, who’s first scene I liked a lot, but then he becomes completely pointless. In fact, him and Tessa serve absolutely no purpose in the second half, and are literally just props and plot devices for Mark Wahlberg. They don’t hurt the film drastically, they just don’t add anything.

As much as I liked Wahlberg, the human villains may have been even better. It’s impossible to dislike Kelsey Grammer in anything, and he plays a cold hearted evil government agent, and is great at it. His last scene in the film is also glorious. Titus Welliver is threatening as Grammer’s right hand man, and Stanley Tucci is very charismatic as President of KSI, the company that wants to build their own Transformers. Tucci’s character is where Michael Bay uses most of the humor in the film, and this is another element that was a huge deciding factor on why I enjoyed this film.

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Aside from a few Stanley Tucci moments, which are only mildly annoying, and a couple unfortunate scenes with the little mohawk robot, the Bay humor is completely gone from this film. No farts. No balls. No dildos. Nobody pulls their pants down. No one gets high on brownies. No dog humping. The humor is completely gone. Even T.J. Miller, who I thought was going to be the bane of my existence in this film, was perfectly likable, and not over the top at all. They also do something with his character at the end of the first act that I really applaud the filmmakers for. There’s even a moment after a big action scene where some random character makes a terrible car insurance joke that was classic Bay, but Wahlberg actually turns it around and makes it funny, almost as if he’s making fun of the joke.

Now, we have to talk about the length – 165 minutes. That is absolutely and utterly ridiculous. In watching the film, you could have cut scenes left and right. Having said that though, I give Michael Bay a lot of credit for the fact that I was never bored. That’s really saying something. It was certainly a much better experience for me than when I watched The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, which was one of the most torturous movie experiences of my life. Even the over the top action was better than anything that was done in previous entries. I could actually tell what was going on. It felt more controlled, and there was no shaky cam. But the biggest reason the action never dragged for me was because I cared about what was happening. Although, the sound was unbearable at times. There were literally moments where I thought I was getting hearing loss. Holy crap, this film is loud. The special effects though are obviously top notch, and the score by Steve Jablonsky is actually phenomenal, just pure sci-fi gold.

After reading this review, you might think I’m making excuses for the film, as I’ve compared it mostly to the other ones, and that’s a fair criticism. But I have to give you my honest feeling, and because this movie improves so much on what the other ones did wrong, I can’t help but get caught up in it. Are there a thousand things to nitpick? No question. But if I like the characters, and care about what happens to them, I can forgive a lot of flaws. This is the Transformers movie I always thought was possible if they corrected the 500 annoying little problems, and that’s what they did here. The actors took it seriously, and Optimus Prime rightfully takes center stage. The Dinobots also do not disappoint. I was never that into Transformers, as it was a bit before my time, but if you’re a Transformers fan, I can’t imagine you not losing your shit over this. I like a Transformers movie. It’s on record.

Rating: 8 out of 10 (Great)

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Daniel Cohen is the Film Editor for Pop-Break. Aside from reviews, Daniel does a weekly box office predictions column, and also contributes monthly Top Tens and Op-Ed’s on all things film. Daniel is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English, and also studied Screenwriting at UCLA. He can also be read on www.movieshenanigans.com. His movie crush is Jessica Rabbit. Follow him on Twitter @dcohenwriter.

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.