Transformers Age of Extinction Review
By Lewis Hurst.
After an exhausting 165 minutes, Transformers: Age of Extinction finally ended to the tune of Imagine Dragons new song Battle Cry and as I left the IMAX theatre, I felt satisfied yet disappointed. I felt the future of the franchise was secure and that there was a definite way forwards for the story. As a Transformers fan I felt satisfied at seeing my heroes on the big screen once again as well as appreciating the little nods to the G1 continuity (that’s the 80’s cartoon and comics for those not in the know). As a film fan, I was entertained if not exactly blown away. But I also couldn’t help feeling deflated. Why? And I’m struggling to determine what left me so deflated about the film as a whole.
Picking up five years after Transformers: Dark of the Moon, we see that humans have turned on the Transformers and a black ops team are hunting them down, Autobot and Decepticon alike with the aid of the bounty hunter Lockdown who has his own purpose. Inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) finds the damaged and disheartened Optimus Prime who has lost faith in humans and mourns the Autobots who have fallen due to humanity’s betrayal. The black ops team, led by Howard Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), quickly find Prime and when Cade refuses to surrender the Autobot leader; Optimus, Cade, Cade’s daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) and her boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) go on the run from Lockdown and the government. They meet up with the few remaining Autobots; Bumblebee, Ratchet, Hound, Crossfire and Drift, and attempt to put a stop to Attinger’s plans upon learning that he has teamed with scientist Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) to create an army of man-made Transformers under their control. Lockdown meanwhile wishes to capture Optimus alive to collect on a bounty placed on Optimus’s head by a mysterious new threat.
One thing Age of Extinction has going for it is that the story is very straightforward. Fairly early on we get the idea of who’s who and who wants what and why everything is happening. Lockdown wants to capture Optimus, so he’s working with Attinger who wants a mysterious device named the Seed in return, as well as making his own army of Transformers. It’s very simple. Too simple in fact. There were times that I wished for a bit more complexity from the plot. Late on in the film, things do become a bit more complex when a new villain is introduced (whose identity I will not spoil, even if the marketing and toys have) and all this comes to a head in the climax. And it doesn’t work in the film’s favour. There were times when I forgot about one of the villains and only remembered he was still in the film when he showed up again later on. It’s almost as if the film couldn’t decide which of the film’s three villains the main villain was. Was it Lockdown? Was it Attinger? Was it the other villain? It was a repeat of the Spider-Man 3 situation. Too many villains spoil the broth. Each of the three villains just phase in and out of the film with none of them making a big enough impact to stick out as the main villain. Saying that, Lockdown was a pretty great character and emerged as one of the franchise’s best villains to date, even if he didn’t make much of an impact within the film itself.
A welcome change for this film was delving into the Transformers mythology. There were plenty of nods and references to please even the most die-hard Transformers fan. Indeed, my little brother even picked up on references I’d missed, pointing out a reference to a certain group of characters from the cartoon. If anything, it seems as if Michael Bay was trying to please the die-hard fans with this one. Quite a lot of stuff seemed made just to please them, like Bay had gone around fan forums and noted complaints. Apart from the explosions complaints. Goodness knows why we apparently needed more of them.
But what about the big addition to the franchise that had everyone talking? What about them Dinobots? Well… I was actually pretty underwhelmed. Now, I’m a huge Dinobot fan, Grimlock is one of my favourite Transformers in the entire franchise. In various iterations he’s often been one of the best characters and comes out with iconic Hulk-like speak that goes like “Me Grimlock *insert whatever verb that works*!”. Here, he just seems to be a glorified horse for Optimus Prime. A very cool, fire breathing glorified horse, but a horse nonetheless. Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t speak? I think it’s because he and the other Dinobots don’t show any personality or character and instead are just introduced to provide reinforcements to the Autobots when things look dire. The Dinobots swoop in and help save the day. And even then they don’t help that much and only seem to be there to pad out the Autobot’s numbers. It’s a shame that such an iconic part of Transformers lore has been so underused. Here’s hoping this is rectified in the inevitable Transformers 5.
The new human characters are actually pretty good. Those looking for an explanation for Sam’s absence won’t find it here, although considering Attinger’s determination to kill Cade for allying with the Autobots, his fate seems grim. Cade is likeable and an easy to root for protagonist. This is helped mostly by a great performance from Mark Wahlberg who seems to be making a living now playing likeable, easy to root for “everyman” characters in Hollywood films after Ted. Nicola Peltz is decent as Tessa, if not great. It’s obvious she’s only here to fill the “female eye candy” role vacated by both Megan Fox and Rosie Huntington-Whitely. She shows some promise though so hopefully if she returns for the next instalment she’ll improve. Jack Reynor… what can I say about Jack Reynor apart from the fact that he was brilliant? Handsome, charming and immensely likeable. Reynor fills the shoes vacated by Shia LaBeouf with ease and then some, quickly becoming one of the most likeable human characters in the franchise. Stanley Tucci also impresses, providing strong humour throughout the film as well as being an interesting and strong character.
It seems that the Autobot massacre in-between films has done the franchise a favour. By limiting the number of Autobots in the film to six, it’s allowed a greater degree of focus on each one and some development which the previous three entries were lacking. Optimus Prime is presented as colder and darker for example. It comes as a surprise to see the once hopeful Autobot leader so cold and full of hate for the humans he once loved. His first lines on screen are even a hateful cry of “I’ll kill you!” to a frightened Cade. It leads to an interesting development for Optimus as he rediscovers his faith in humanity via Cade and his family giving Optimus, at long last for the first time in the series, a character arc and development. That alone is worthy of praise.
The humour that was the bane of the previous three entries is downplayed here. Not to say there isn’t humour in Age of Extinction, there’s lots. But the humour is less low brow than it was before. The humour is actually quite clever at times relying more on the interactions between the characters than introducing a character to solely be the comic relief. It’s probably the funniest Transformers film yet, and that’s because the humour is genuinely hilarious at times with one of the funniest scenes being Bumblebee’s temper tantrum of sorts upon seeing an advertisement proclaiming a man-made Transformer to be “like Bumblebee, but better in every way”.
The length works against the film. There was no reason for the film to be 165 minutes. No reason at all. With the final action scenes beginning to drag on, I couldn’t help but wish for it to be shorter. The film was populated with unnecessary scenes which severely damaged the films pacing. Considering Michael Bay was originally making comments of how the film would be 120 minutes long and the shortest in the series, I can’t help but wonder if he got carried away in the editing room. It might be worth bringing in a new editor for the next film if it keeps the running time down.
So Age of Extinction isn’t perfect. It has problems. It’s too long, has pacing issues and struggles with its story and villains. But it goes a long way to fix address fan complaints and provide a nice soft reboot to keep things fresh. It also ends in a way that sets up a very interesting direction for the inevitable fifth film. In summary, Age of Extinction is not the worst film in the series, but neither is it the best. It’s entertaining but it won’t blow you away.