Michael Bay has managed to somewhat redeem himself with Transformers: Age of Extinction with a too long but well worth it rollercoaster ride. Just remember, it’s Hollywood, it’s Bay, it’s not really supposed to make sense and you’re really going to watch the giant robots and cars and see things blow up.
Firstly, lower your expectations. Then once you’ve done that, probably lower them a bit more. If you hadn’t done so from Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, it’s worth going into this film with next to zero expectations, other than things being blown up (and somewhat spoiled by seeing Dinobots in the trailer) and knowing full well that this movie is probably going to be ridiculous in both story and visual effects.
Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg and his enormous biceps) is an inventor, but really he’s a junk mechanic, but you’re not allowed to say the ‘j’ word around him. His all too attractive teenage daughter plot point Tessa (Nicola Peltz) is constantly struggling to keep her and her dad out of bankruptcy since he can’t seem to invent anything worth money. She also has a secret super hot Irish rally car driving boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) that her dad doesn’t know about because Cade’s extremely overprotective. When they happen to just stumble upon Transformer Autobot Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) suddenly evil shady Government types (Kelsey Grammer) and shady evil other Transformers who are oddly not Decepticons show up wanting a piece of Optimus and to basically be a nuisance. The Yeager’s help Prime regroup with his other Autobot pals who are all too scarce due to shady Government deals being done with an evil robotics corporation called KSI (run by Stanley Tucci) who are melting down Transformers for their super special metal so they can make their own programmable Transformers. Lots of things are evil and lots of things are shady, if you hadn’t already noticed, and finally things start going boom. Also Optimus Prime gets peeved and he rides a Dinobot around Hong Kong and makes a mess of the city.
Reading over that summary makes the film sound stupider than it probably deserves. In all honesty it had a little bit of a story going, but unfortunately it collapses in on itself when it all starts getting too convoluted. The initial notion of the evil government types now paranoid about destruction at the hands of Transformers and more alien invasions are hunting down the Transformers to kill them, probably would’ve been a much simpler thing to roll with and could’ve carried the movie. Instead they had to complicate things further by including evil Transformers who were sort of not Decepticons but some other race that are basically bounty hunters doing a trade for Optimus Prime to give the Government who are in league with the Corporation a thing called a ‘seed’ so they can make more special programmable metal stuff and in doing so save American soldier lives or some such. That sentence in itself is just painful to read coz of how long-winded it is. And the film feels the same, at a running time of 165 minutes that’s an arduous amount of time to be spent attempting to explain everything. Writer Ehren Kruger who was involved in the previous two Transformers films should have known better and learnt from past mistakes. These sorts of films work better when the story is kept simple and the action and visual effects lead the way.
The characters are their usual one-dimensional stereotypical selves, but again, in films like this we don’t expect them to be profoundly interesting. Since we are meeting a whole new group of characters (aside from Optimus and perennial favourite Bumblebee) we’re given the extra screen time to establish the relationships – particularly that of Cade and Tessa’s. Tessa is the perfect depiction of what we imagine teenagers to be, and suffering the same issues as all teens do, such as wanting to go to college, spend time with her friends and have a relationship with a boy. Cade is overbearing and overprotective, infuriatingly so, considering that his daughter seems to have a better grip on adult notions like budgeting money than he does. There is a whole heap of their to-ing and fro-ing going on in the film and it makes for amusing moments but it also grows a little bland after a while. Frustratingly the character of Optimus Prime is the one who initially starts out interesting but once again fails to deliver. Considering that he begins the film as barely functional and requiring Cade’s assistance to survive, our normally supercharged superhero is on the back foot.
Further to this, his attitude changes once he realises that the human race he trusted and protected are now turning on him and his kind. Boldly stating “We swore to play by the rules …but now the rules have changed”. He even goes so far in saying that if he meets the human who killed his friends he will kill them, which is a big deal since Optimus always played by the “no killing” rule. But once again by the end of the film it’s all Optimus monologuing about the need to protect humans and their planet. I actually enjoyed the idea of Optimus becoming a real hard ass and deciding that humans needed an Autobot beat-down, or at the very least him being a little less trust-worthy so quickly and only helping those who helped him. I just don’t get it? For an advanced race they sure do seem a little backward. I do have to give an honourable nod to Kelsey Grammer’s portrayal of obsessive patriotic win-at-all-costs shady Government guy Harold Attinger, that was right on the money and I enjoy seeing a good actor not entirely wasted. Also John Goodman who does the voice for Hound, they even made his Autobot version on the portly side to resemble him a little, and he gets some of the best comedic lines.
But not everything is so bad, once again we can always rely on Michael Bay to deliver so many Baysplosions and fireballs and car chases and timed slow-mo scenes and aerial shots that we’re not left wanting for visual stimulus. Also we’re given a bevy of new vehicles to ogle over in their transformed states. A Chevrolet Corvette C7 Stingray, a Lamborghini Aventador, a Pagany Huayra and even a Bugatti Veyron. With so many fast cars on the bill we’re given some brilliant car chase sequences and speed scenes, that it’s basically a Top Gear fan’s wet dream. Lastly, Dinobots, it’s been a while coming but we finally get to see them, and they’re pretty damn badass. Their arrival in this film is a vast stretch from how they came to be in the original Transformers series, so that might enrage some of the true nerds who prefer a little more purity be kept. But to be honest, seeing Optimus Prime riding Grimlock the tyrannosaurus rex in the trailer alone got me excited for this film, and we get Slag the triceratops and Strafe the pteranodon thrown into the mix too and they basically bring some heavy firepower with them as they tear Hong Kong apart.
This film served its main purpose of having a whole bunch of robots beating up other robots and things exploding and cities being destroyed. Admittedly it could have been vastly improved with some heavy editing (at least half an hour’s worth) and a simpler plot. I enjoyed it more than its predecessor, but not as much as the original Transformers film, so it sits somewhere in the good but not great but at least it wasn’t god-awful zone.
Review Score: THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 165 minutes
Transformers: Age Of Extinction is out today through Paramount Pictures. This film was reviewed at IMAX Sydney.