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Transformers: Age of Extinction Visually Impressive But Strangely Lacking

By Andrew Burgon / phoenix@projectfellowship.com
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June 27, 2014

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Release: June 27, 2014
Running Time: 2 hours 37 minutes
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: Michael Bay
Screenwriter: Ehren Kruger
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Jack Reynor, Nicola Peltz, Stanley Tucci, Peter Cullen, Kelsey Grammer, Mark Ryan, Frank Welker, Ken Watanabe, Titus Welliver, Reno Wilson, John Goodman, John DiMaggio, T.J. Miller, Bingbing Li
Genre: Action & Adventure, Science Fiction & Fantasy
MPAA Rating: [PG-13]

Dark Days Indeed for Optimus Prime and Those Who Side with Him

It’s a new age for the Transformers. Much has transpired during the five years since the great Autobot Decepticon war in Chicago. Autobots have been branded fugitives. Hunted down and exterminated without mercy. A badly wounded Optimus Prime fled and took refuge in an old abandoned theater. A company has already begun to manufacture upgraded versions of Transformers.

The story starts out in Texas. A down-on-his-luck inventor named Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) and his partner Lucas Flannery (T.J.Miller) buy a decrepid looking truck and find out it’s actually Optimus Prime. Despite protests from his beautiful teen daughter (Nicola Peltz) and his partner the thought of helping to repair a Transformer proves irresistible despite the financial troubles he has been experiencing and the tempting reward that could be had if he turns Optimus Prime over to the authorities.

It’s not long though before a black ops team descend on their property and their lives threatened in an attempt to get out of them the location of Optimus Prime. Optimus as expected comes out all guns blazing and they escape with the help of the daughter’s secret boyfriend (Jack Reynor.)

Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) is the government CIA agent in charge of the black ops team called Cemetery Wind who has a license to please himself behind the president’s back. He has struck a deal with a powerful mercenary transformer called Lockdown. In exchange for Optimus Prime he will be given a ” seed”, a genesis type device that cyber-forms a wide area. This he will give to Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) of KSI Industries, a billionaire who has made him a generous offer for it as it will ensure that his company has an abundance of raw material for their transformer creation projects.

I don’t wish to reveal too much more of the story though it’s amusing that not everything goes according to plan for some of the main characters. Optimus Prime escapes from his prison aboard the space ship resulting in the mercenaries return to Earth and even more onscreen devastation. The business tycoon Joshua Joyce realizes that using the seed has consequences that he can’t accept nor can he play a part in giving us some much needed humor as he tries to get it out of the city. Harold Attinger not only finds the billionaire renegging on the deal but has one of the quickest exits in a movie in motion picture history!

Disappointingly Bubble Bee is given a much smaller role in this movie than in previous ones. Long gone are the days of Sam Witwicky and the special connection he had with him. They had an opportunity here to at least have Optimus Prime and Bubble Bee become a dynamic underdog duo. Instead, they gave him a forgettable part.

Out of all the autobots it is Optimus Prime that unsurprisingly stands out. We see a vulnerable side to him early on. Having been relentlessly pursued and seriously wounded he reaches a low point and his faith in humans understandably battered and worn. There’s a brief moment when he has all but given up on humanity but manages to hang in there for us. I like where they went with that. Optimus Prime has never been so human-like before.

The new autobots are an interesting bunch. Of these Hound and Drift are perhaps the most notable. John Goodman does justice to the cigar chewing Hound although it seems ludicrous that laden with more weapons than any other autobot in the series he announces he has run out of ammo! Ken Watanabe who must have the most recognized Asian voice on the planet perhaps thanks to Inception plays the samurai-esque Autobot, Drift. The character though never truly delivers on screen and the cool fighting scenes conjured up in the imagination upon seeing the character for the first time are unforgivably absent.

There is a surprise resurrection of a transformer during the first half of the movie. Mums the word though so you’ll just have to see the movie to find out who it is.

The movie did deliver on something fans have been hoping for since the first Transformer movie came out. The Neanderthal-like transformers called Dinobots make an appearance one of which can turn into a fire-breathing metal T-Rex.  They certainly made for some cool scenes and help freshen up the franchise a bit.

Overall, I liked the casting. Kelsey Grammer nailed his bland and callous character well. Stanley Tucci played his part perfectly too and must have been ecstatic landing a role of the billionaire who provides a dollop of humor to the mayhem. The drink scene is priceless and judging by the laughter in the cinema I was in I wasn’t alone in that sentiment.  Wahlberg does an appreciable job in the movie and comes across as the overbearing parent and the inventor he’s meant to be. As for Nicola Peltz who plays his daugher and Jack Reynor the rally car driver boyfriend they did never gain traction with me as characters.

How was the movie critically received? Not well, I’m afraid. Many critics thought the movie to be a tiresome and soulless repetition of chaotic screen mayhem that just becomes deadening during the overly long screen time of 165 minutes. Unnecessary plot developments and overstuffed narrative have also been pointed out. With a dismally low score at rottentomatoes by it’s official critics one wonders in this day and age how much we are taking for granted. Does the movie deserve it’s low rating or have we become too hard to please?

After all, we are witnessing $US165 million dollars splashed onto the screen. The wizards of CGI and special effects went all out on this one. Case in point the Yeagers and the boyfriend running away from the mercenary transformer and the explosions seen behind them were visually and aurally stunning. The spectacle of a realistic looking alien spacecraft magnetically lifting up cars, trucks and boats then letting gravity hurl them back to the ground is yet another one. I realize no one is questioning the visuals. However, it’s not as though it’s devoid of an interesting story or interesting characters and it is taking us into fresh new territory we haven’t seen before. Optimus Prime launching himself into space in search of the Creators alone is intriguing enough to pull a lot of people in to see the sequal. Then there is the army of people we see when the credits role all lending their expertise to the movie.

Despite it’s reception I found a lot to like. I enjoyed the story and the spectacle. I wonder though if what it lacked most was a heart. None of the autobots made any close connections with humans or among themselves. Humans are not fighting alongside them. They’re firing at them. There is contention even in the relationship of the father, the daughter and boyfriend. It really does make me want to pop in the first Transformers movie and watch it again. Hopefully, they can do something about this in the next installment.

Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo. Running time: 165 minutes
 
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