After the ruin of Chicago in a previous Transformers battle, the American government breaks all alliances and employs a CIA black ops group to bring them all in with the aims of freeing the world of their destrunction, but the Autobots are actually being handed off for research by an unscrupulous corporation. Meanwhile, a Texan handyman finds a battered truck that turns out to be Optimus Prime who mobilises the surviving Autobots for self-defence, and there’s this other Transformer on a big spaceship who’s in league with the CIA but really on a mission from the Transformers ‘creators’, and there are Transformers created by humans and they go wrong, and there’s this bomb called The Seed that turns everything into the metal that Transformers are made out of (even though they can turn any old object into a Transformer-like being in the first one), which is what really killed the dinosaurs, and… Y’know what? Your guess is as good as mine.
We’re now on to the third sequel of the blockbuster franchise that no one seems to care about since the first instalment, most especially actual Transformers fans, yet continues to make ludicrous amounts of cash. Gone now is Steven Spielberg as producer and with him the franchise star Shia LaBeouf, replaced in the lead by the star of Michael Bay’s last film, Pain and Gain, Mark Wahlberg.
As Age of Extinction opens, Wahlberg, in the role of handyman/crap inventor/protective father to a smokin’ hot teenage daughter, is likable and charming, the new dynamic with said daughter along with his assistant, played by the always funny T.J. Miller, having a genuinely warm quality and humour that actually makes you laugh (unlike the previous sequels, that had humour which made you cringe).
The story also starts out in a straightforward manner, the government want all the Transformers gone, their war is done with and their continued presence will only invite further destruction, and besides which, we’ve developed ways of fighting them ourselves.
If the film had have stayed this course we could have been delivered a chiselled down and charismatic Transformers film that in all likelihood would’ve been the best of the bunch. Unfortunately, and somewhat ironically, the film starts to destabilise with the introduction of the Transformers, falling into the same old pitfalls that had you caring so very little about the previous two movies.
Bay starts undoing his admirable set-up by first wasting the best character in the film, then making the antagonist (played by Kelsey Grammer) more maniacal than logical, treating him as the villain rather than a man with a plan that’s cause is actually pretty understandable; I mean, he isn’t wrong is he? Literally everywhere any Transformer goes, despite their intentions, is totalled. Which is proven within the narrative when a spaceship anchors (?), necessarily ripping down a skyscraper to do so, not to mention in every single action set piece, even as it tries to tell you ‘look how corrupt and ruthless and wrong this guy is, booooo!’
Then, in short order, more and more pointless subplots and characters are thrown into the mix, many contrary to elements introduced previously in the franchise, each one striping away more of your interest further and bloating the film to a whopping two hours forty-five minutes, which in itself would be neither here nor there for a giant robot film, but then characters start making the most illogical decisions that couldn’t be further from their primary motivations if they tired.
Wahlberg’s ongoing plight essentially boils down to this “I’m protecting my daughter, I’m doing all this to keep her safe, I’m getting her out of harm’s way… All the Transformers are fleeing America on a mission to China and every single thing of danger to us is on their trail? Come on daughter, we better go with them.” While Kelsey Grammer’s is more like “I’m doing all this to protect the citizens of America, they must be safe and it is our job to make sure that happens… There are American civilians getting in the way of our Op? Kill them… I don’t care how many you have to kill, kill them all for all I care”.
And best not get into all the other little bizarre and senseless decisions made by both the characters and the filmmakers, as it would stretch this review to a piece that could rival the length of the film, but suffice to say, most of these decisions are made to engineer ever more extended action set pieces of rampage and destruction, which is the real reason we came to the film anyway, so what of those?
Well, I’m sad to say that they’re all too familiar by this point, loads of detailed, shifting machinery that’s kind of hard to see and slow-mo, tumbling robots ripping through architecture. It’s telling that the best action scene of the film is an exciting car chase in the first act that features the least amount of Transformer action. Don’t get me wrong, it’s all fantastically realised, as per usual, but not even the nonsensical introduction of the Dinobots really ratchets the action past anything we’ve seen in the previous instalments.
It’s odd to say, following what seems like such a damning review, but due to the first act alone Transformers: Age of Extinction, with it’s likable and sometimes genuinely funny characters, is probably the best of the sequels to date, but once the Transformers are introduced in number it’s pretty much by the numbers for this movie franchise, with a running time that sucks most of the joy from it. Shame really, with an hour shaved off and a streamlined plot it could’ve been a great film.
D grade – for storytelling
B+ grade – for visuals
B- grade – for acting
C+ grade – for action
Overall grade – C
Looking for massive things that kick the crap out of each other? Go back and watch Pacific Rim or this year’s monster mash, Godzilla. Fancy some of those Michael Bay sunset shots and tricky camerawork but with an actual fun and unpredictable story, catch his last flick, Pain and Gain.