Movie Review: Transformers Age of Extinction

So I felt in the mood for a bad action flick and noticed that the latest Transformers movie is on Amazon instant video. So, naturally, I fired it up and sat through a grueling two hour and forty five minute film. Here’s my thoughts.

The plot is strangely complicated for a Transformers movie. It starts off with a scene set in the Mesozoic period in which we see a bunch of dinosaurs being wiped out by the transformers. Yup, it was the transformers that killed the dinosaurs. The dinosaur scene moves on to a blond woman who is barely in the film going to the arctic where there is a robot dinosaur buried in the ice. Not sure what the point of this all is, seeing as how this has no impact on the plot whatsoever.

The main human characters are then introduced. Mark Wahlberg plays a guy named Yaeger who is a single parent and is overprotective of his daughter and wants to be an inventor but is not a very good inventor. He is earnest and eager but he is not particularly smart. He randomly comes across a truck that turns out to be a camouflaged Optimus Prime and then through no brain-power of his own, his life becomes meaningful and intense. Moral of the story: Give up rent to buy shit in the hopes of it changing your life. Oy…

Yaeger also tries to keep his daughter away from her boyfriend. The rivalry between the dad and the boyfriend fill up most of the human dynamic in this film. There is an older male trying to assert his authority and protect what is his despite his incompetence. And there is a younger male trying to get laid despite obtrusive cock-blocking… and his incompetence. Michael Bay has his protagonist bases covered to appeal to the insecure male demographic.

At least there’s no Shia LeBouf in this one.

Kelsey Grammer is the primary human antagonist in this flick. He plays a CIA boss who has it in for the transformers and wants them off of the Earth. There is also a transformer bounty hunter named Lockdown who works for the transformer’s creators and wants to find Optimus and take him away for unexplained reasons. Lockdown and Grammer decide to team up regardless of the latter’s established alien hate. The agreement is that if Grammer’s CIA goons deliver Optimus to Lockdown, then Lockdown will give them a seed, a sort of bomb that transmutes matter into a metal called transformium that is what the transformers are made out of.

So, Yaeger and his daughter and her boyfriend are on the run throughout the film with the Autobots.

That does not sound too bad, but things get a little convoluted when another faction comes into play. Stanley Tucci plays a quirky businessman who gets the remains of the hunted transformers and reverse-engineers their bio-technology so he can make drone transformers for the US Military. If he had an army of transformers, then that would be fine, but the film tries to place emphasis on them. One of them is Galvatron. (Naturally made from the remains of Megatron.) An odd amount of time is placed on the design of another drone named Stinger, although she (I think it’s a she) has no personality. Galvatron also has Megatron’s memories and controls the other knockoff drones in the climax and they become the new Decepticons.

So, you have Kelsey Grammar trying to kill the Autobots, Lockdown trying to capture Optimus, Stanely Tucci trying to manufacture drone transformers, Galvatron gaining sentience and taking over the other drones, and Wahlberg trying to ensure that his daughter’s maidenhead remains intact. Oh, and the Dinobots come in for the climax and wreak shit.

If you cut out Lockdown or Galvatron from the story then the whole plot would be a lot more streamlined. It is not as if I had difficulty following all of it. It is a watchable film. But the whole experience just feels gratuitous and unnecessary.

Oh, and this fucker is two hours and forty five minutes long! The whole film is one gratuity heaped on another gratuity. Some Marvel films clock in at an hour and a half but at least those are constantly entertaining. This this damn thing is just grueling! Too much time is spent on the dull human characters. Well, Stanley Tucci is fun to watch. And the action scenes just drag on and on.

I do grant the film that there is more emphasis on the Autobots this time. Not that any of the characters have three dimensional personalities, mind you. Optimus and Bumblebee return, as you’d expect. The former is still voiced by Peter Cullen and the later still speak in snippets from other films. Why can they not fix his damn voice box already?

One of the Autobots is voiced by John Goodman. I forget their names (if they were ever said on screen). He plays the resident heavy hitter and is colored army green and transforms into some military vehicle of ambiguous function. He constantly smokes a stogie for some reason. Maybe he’s like Bender and thinks that cigars make him look cool.

Speaking of Bender, there is a gunslinger Autobot voice by John DiMaggio. I initially thought that he was voiced by Steve Blum due to the cockney accent that he sports. He wields submachine guns and wears a long green trenchcoat. He has a callous attitude towards human lives. Well, it is not as if John DiMaggio does not have experience playing a homicidal robot.

There is also a blue samurai Autobot voice by Ken Watanabe. (Wow, how did they get him?) He does stereotypical samurai things and spouts haikus and wields large swords. He transforms into a helicopter.

One thing that irked me early in the film was when we see the Autobots assemble and they bicker and bitch at each other. The samurai bot is pissed at Bumblebee and nearly cuts his head off and the gunslinger one wishes that the two would kill each other so he can take command. This is Decepticon behavior, people! That’s not how the heroes are supposed to act. Who the hell writes this crap?

And it’s not just the grunt Autobots, either. Optimus seems disturbingly homicidal at times. I understand that the CIA is after him but Optimus would not let the action of a single spy agency speak for the feelings of an entire species. Why not seek refuge in another country? Hell, the climax of the film takes place in China! Why not go there?

At least the transformers are much more easily distinguishable than they were in previous films. They look a lot less like amorphous heaps of jagged metals. The samurai can be told apart from the gunslinger and the heavy hitter. The overall art direction is a lot smarter than it was before. There is less shaky camera work this time and there are shots where the transformers are emphasized for maximum effect.

There are some odd color choices, though. One of the autobots is a bright vibrant green color that clashes with the otherwise gritty movie. The samurai is likewise colored in bright blue that seems cartoonish and out of place. Bumblebee is still yellow, naturally. Never thought that I’d be giving fashion advice for movie robots, but there you go.

One of the major selling points that his film advertised was the Dinobots and they are seriously underused. They only show up for the climax in Hong Kong. They look like they belong to the previous films and look like a hastily assembled heap of jagged metal bits while in robot mode. They are discernable from each other while in beast mode, though. There is a horned T .rex that I think is supposed to be Grimlock. None of the dinobots are named on screen. There is also a spinosaurus, a triceratops with stegosaurus spikes, and a pterosaur with two heads and two tails… because I guess a normal pterosaur was too boring.

Lockdown and his bounty hunter transformers are some of the dullest looking robot designs that I have seen. They just look like black humanoids and they transform into black cars. There is one scene where Lockdown morphs his face into a howitzer. It is one of the few moments where the camera is still enough for the viewer to admire the amount of detail that went into the shifting mechanical parts.

The Decepticons that showed up are worth mentioning, but barely. I can only imagine that whatever computer artist was working on them said, “Fuck it,” because they transform by dissolving into a bunch of small metal cubes that then reassemble. Part of the fun of the transformers is seeing how all of their pieces fit together with each other as they transform.

There is also a part where Stanley Tucci’s scientists are messing around with the transformium and they get a Rainbow Dash plush toy to transform into a machine gun. Yes, a My Little Pony transforms into a firearm. There is something about that scene that just grosses me out. I get that Hasbro owns both franchises and cross promotion is a thing but is a machine gun something that the corporate big wigs want to associate with My Little Pony? It’s like if Disney made an Iron Man movie where Tony Stark turns a Winnie the Pooh toy into an AK-47. Maybe it would be cute if the stuffed toy were secretly a transformer or if it turned into a boom box or something like that. But no, it’s a realistic looking machine gun. Okay, I’ve ranted enough about that part…

There is a surprising lack of military fetishism on screen this time. In fact, the US government appears completely incompetent for letting the CIA get out of hand. I guess Bay sees soldiers as heroes and spies as evil. At least the authorities in China and Hong Kong seem competent for the limited time that they are on screen.

There is a lot less racism than in the previous films. (Thank goodness.) The white characters are a lot less white-trashy. None of the transformers sound like blackface caricatures. The only thing that may be offensive is that the samurai transformer who speaks with a Japanese accent has a brassy yellow face instead of the silvery color of the other transformers but I can chalk that up to being an overlooked detail.

The film ends with Optimus rocket boosting into space with his sword and shield and proclaiming his intent to find the transformers’ creators. With that, plus Galvatron and the new Decepticons running about, there is plenty of material for Transformers 5.

Sigh…

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