“It’s not war, it’s extinction”
Directed by Michael Bay
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Li Bingbing and the voices of Peter Cullen, John Goodman, John DiMaggio and Frank Welker
After the ‘Battle of Chicago’ the US Government has broken off ties with the Autobots and formed a CIA taskforce called Cemetery Wind to track down Transformers. When the leader of the taskforce, Attinger (Grammer) joins forces with Transformer bounty hunter Lockdown (voiced by Mark Ryan) to go after Autobots as well as Decepticons, Optimus Prime is forced into hiding, where he is found by mechanic and inventor Cade Yeager (Wahlberg). Just as you think you’re getting a handle on the plot, up pop Joshua Joyce (Tucci), a billionaire inventor who is mining ‘Transformium’ to create his own Transformers.
As the film progresses, it emerges that Lockdown is paying the CIA for Prime with a ‘seed’, a device which transmutes regular matter into programmable Transformium, and that Joshua’s prototype ‘Galvatron’ is actually Megatron (Welker), recreating himself through Joshua’s pet project. When Galvatron goes rogue, Joshua and his Chinese partner Su Yueming (Bingbing) take the seed to Hong Kong in an attempt to keep it out of his hands.
Meanwhile Cade, his daughter and her boyfriend team up with the surviving Autobots – Prime (Cullen), Bumblebee, Hound (Goodman), Drift (Ken Watanabe), and Crosshairs (DiMaggio) – to destroy Joshua’s lab, defeat Lockdown, and probably some human concerns I didn’t really care about.
What’s wrong with it?
Optimus Prime shoots a human. He does it to save a friend, and the dude is an unmitigated arsehole (he not only does horrible things in the name of his country, but is seeking to profit by betraying it,) but… This is Optimus Prime, the Transformer who insisted on being executed because he sacrificed the lives of imaginary innocents in a computer game to defeat Megatron. I could almost accept this, but so much of the rest film is Prime and his Autobots bitching and snarling at each other and the humans around them, and Prime threatening to kill people. Where’s the tragic nobility? The titanic gentleness? The retention of these traits is what separates them from the Decepticons.
Once more, the film junks a whole bunch of characters from the previous movie – literally in the case of Ratchet and Leadfoot, who appear only to be torn apart by Lockdown and Cemetery Wind – in favour of new toys… I mean, characters, that we neither know nor especially care about.
Galvatron barely gets a look in. Like Megatron’s previous persona, he is completely sidelined by the other antagonist of the film.
The backstory of Transformers is completely rewritten again. I could understand setting out to create your own instead of being tied to a pre-existing continutity (there are, after all, many already,) but it’s messing with the film series chronology now, introducing a new race of ‘Creators’ who want Prime for… reasons. And apparently the Primes were questing ‘knights’ of some kind, complete with swords and shields.
When he releases his sword, Prime’s arms reshape into armoured vambraces. It’s just a bit much.
The Dinobots are silent, even Grimlock, whom we only know for sure to be Grimlock because it says so in the credits. Also, they are apparently legendary warriors; it would be really nice to have some inkling what that legend is, perhaps in place of the Yeager plot.
I find it really confusing that Hound is voiced by John Goodman while Bumblebee at one point uses a line spoken by Goodman in The Big Lebowski to speak.
Once again, a huge amount of the frankly cumbersome run time is taken up with human characters who are nigh impossible to give a crap about. Cade’s daughter and her boyfriend in particular are just annoying, and punk out when they have the chance to do anything cool.
Once more, someone suggests taking the mission critical asset being pursued by Decepticons to a major population centre. Double points for it being an actual weapon of mass destruction.
Apparently having been told off for content which was offensive to blacks and Asians, Bay opts instead to have his main character relentlessly mock the Irish.
What’s right with it?
There are no jive talking black characters, no camp comic relief, and even the ‘Japanese’ Transformer is just a bit samurai.
Su Yueming is hands down the best female character the Transformers movies have yet produced. Portrayed from the start as intelligent and professional, she kicks serious arse (explaining that she had police training before taking her degrees, rather than just being Chinese and thus knowing kung fu) and blows off Joshua when he tries to kiss her instead of going all girly.
Although in some ways disappointing, the Dinobots are the epitome of the franchise’s visual panache. They are also wonderfully huge, towering over Prime as they emerge from the ship where they were imprisoned.
How bad is it really?
Age of Extinction earns the slightly dubious distinction of being the first film in the live action Transformers franchise not to be worse than the preceding film in every way conceivable. There is still far too much time spent on human characters who are no interesting (I literally do not give one fraction of a fuck about Yeager and his family for the entire runtime of the movie; I care so little that I can not even be bothered to flip to the wiki page and check what the daughter and the boyfriend were called,) and the Autobots are too damned pragmatic, but it’s so much better than Dark of the Moon that it looks like Shakespeare by comparison.
Best bit (if such there is)?
- Cade’s daughter and her boyfriend explain that their relationship is protected under the Texas Romeo and Juliet laws as they have a pre-existing juvenile relationship.
Cade: And you know how Romeo and Juliet ended up?
Daughter: In love!
- The Autobots charge into the battle on the backs of Dinobots.
What’s up with…?
- The legend of the Dinobots? I want to know, damnit. It’s probably in a tie-in comic, isn’t it?
- The questing knights? Why was this never mentioned before? Was it before or after the Primes began using sun-seeders? If the ship recognises Optimus then was he an original Prime, and if so how can he be Sentinel Prime’s successor? Is it inherited? Was Sentinel a knight? Was the Fallen? What are the thirty nine steps? How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Who is Keyser Soze?
- Lockdown? He’s a mysterious bounty hunter in service to the Creators (or at least under contract) and yet Prime seems to know him while being possibly ignorant of the mere existence of the Creators. Who is Lockdown? What’s his deal? Is this another spin-off comic? Damnit, movie, I demand that you explain yourself, preferably in a way that doesn’t involve me having to buy an extended box set instead of just renting the movie from LoveFilm.
- Cemetery Wind? Actually, it’s probably a very realistic codename for a taskforce, being essentially two random words which offer no clue as to its purpose.
- Attinger’s set of Transformers collector cards with the dead ones crossed through?
Production values – The visual effects are still stunning, but the continuing prevalence of fast cuts and shaky cameras detracts. 9
Dialogue and performances – There is pretty much nothing of note in the dialogue, but the bulk of the players are solid. Irish loverboy stands out as being a bit naff, possibly from doing the accent. 11
Plot and execution – The plot of Age of Extinction is a vast and overstuffed mess, delivered inconsistently and so paced as to present Fraiser as a greater threat than Galvatron. Very little is explained and less to any degree of satisfaction. 19
Randomness – The legendary Dinobots? Knights! Cemetery Wind? 15
Waste of potential – It’s still not all I believe a Transformers movie could be, but after Dark of the Moon, this was… actually impressive. 7