TRANSFORMERS 4: AGE OF EXTINCTION HAS PLENTY OF WARTS AND WILL HAVE MORE THAN ITS FAIR SHARE OF CRITICS, BUT FOR FANBOYS IT’S A GUILTILY DECENT ENTRY IN THE FRANCHISE
Director: Michael Bay
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammar, Titus Welliver, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, J.T. Miller and Peter Cullen
Running Time: 2Hrs, 45 Min.
Michael Bay, you got some ‘splainin’ to do.
The entire reason I was looking forward to seeing Transformers 4: Age of Extinction is because I was promised my favourite Autobots of all time-the Dinobots. A large portion of this inevitable blockbuster’s promotion and marketing was centered on the inclusion of the lumbering yet awesome prehistoric robo-beasts. And not only did they get little more than a glorified cameo, reduced to mere props during the movie’s climactic action scene, with no back story or explanation, but they left my ABSOLUTE favourite-Slag the stegosaurus-out completely.
You might think that given the fact that the entire reason I went to see T4 was ruined, I’d have hated the movie. And I was tempted to, but T4 isn’t horrible, and it was a much-needed upgrade on the second and third movies in the Transformers trilogy (though not as good as the first). Extinction manages to redeem the franchise just enough to breathe new life into a property that was dangerously close to becoming stale and irrelevant. And I must admit, I’ve always had a soft spot for Michael Bay’s Transformers movies that has more to do with nostalgia then genuine affection. When I was a kid, nothing excited my imagination more than Transformers; the toys, the cartoon, the comic book, I ate it all up and was hungry for more. And when they released a full-length animated feature film in 1986 that may or may not have included the death of Autobot leader Optimus Prime (I couldn’t convince my parents to take me to see the movie in the theatre so I didn’t find out until that fall’s new season of the after school cartoon that Optimus did indeed bite the big one), one that was rated PG instead of G no less? Well, forget about it. That’s why, no matter how groantastic Bay’s movies got (particularly the second one), I couldn’t help but adore them in a shameful fan boy kind of way.
It’s been five years since the events of Transformers 3, and following the destruction of Chicago, the world has turned on the Transformers, forcing Autobots and Decepticons alike into hiding. Elite military units (aided by a mysterious new force) hunt refugees down with lethal efficiency, killing former allies under the veil of political secrecy while a powerful multinational corporation harvests the secrets from their corpses. Meanwhile in Texas, inventor Cade Yeager is on the verge of losing both his home and his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) but sees his luck take a turn for the worse when he buys the wreckage of a truck he intends to sell as salvage. He soon discovers that the truck is a badly wounded Optimus Prime in hiding and from there, the hunt is on as Prime and his reluctant new human allies find themselves on the run from shadowy government forces, powerful aliens with an unknown agenda as well as a new breed of Transformer being controlled by a familiar malevolence. And before you know it, the entire world needs saving while Cade tries to convince Optimus that not all human are psychotic jerks (good luck with that).
T4 stands as it’s own flick in the series, and while events from previous movies are referenced for story purposes there’s no mention of previous characters other then Autobots that no longer enjoy starring roles (other then Optimus, the only Autobot to return from the previous films is Bumblebee). The special effects are an orgasm of awesome, and Bay and company throw in a few new extras to keep things fresh. You’ll have to forgive or ignore the customary holes in the plot if you really want to enjoy T4 (seriously, the plot does have more holes then three tonnes of Swiss cheese), and since this is a Michael Bay movie there’s an explosion every thirty seconds or so and no shortage of giant robot fistfights. And when the Dinobots do appear on screen, they’ll make Transformer fan boys swoon.
What to say about the human characters? The true stars of these flicks are and always have been the robots, so the humans are unimportant. Having said that, Mark Wahlberg is efficient as the struggling Cade Yeager, trying to protect his daughter from the chaos and devastation that now surrounds them as well as her new boyfriend (Shane Dyson played by Jack Reynor). J.T. Miller hangs around in the first act to offer comedic relief, which usually misses the mark, but Stanley Tucci picks up the comedy baton as Joshua Joyce, a greedy and flaky corporate tycoon turned reluctant, little-girl-screaming world savior. And while Kelsey Grammar is convincing as the hard nosed, unforgiving Harold Attinger, whose responsible for hunting down and exterminating every Transformer he can get his hands on (and who almost makes Dick Cheney look cuddly), Titus Welliver just can’t give Attinger’s CIA field operative James Avoy the necessary snarl you’d expect to find in a professional soldier who stares down giant robots as part of his day job. After that, the humans are merely set pieces who spend most of the movie running around and screaming. Peter Cullen returns as the voice of Optimus Prime, John Goodman and Phil Watanabe voice newcomers Hound and Drift while in a nod to the uber-popular 80’s cartoon, Frank Welker shows up to do some voice work as well.
Would I have liked T4 if it wasn’t for my adolescent love of Transformers? Probably not. In fact, had it not been for my love for the property I would have just spent the past two pages ripping apart the juvenile writing, mediocre characterization and ignoring the obvious questions the movie doesn’t even try to answer (Why does the Transformer pterodactyl have two heads? Do some Autobots really like Japanese culture, explaining the presence of a Transformer samurai? And how Optimus handles the Dinobots-which again, were never explained-after all the fighting and he doesn’t need them anymore is a genuine head scratcher). Despite my affection for the property, I’ll readily admit that T4 is far from perfect, bordering on OK, and it will undoubtedly have legions of justifiable haters, whose opinions will be perfectly valid. But it’ll still make a billion dollars regardless. Michael Bay is a master at getting us to ignore plot holes and storytelling failures with explosions and special effects, and in this case he had my childhood nostalgia working for him as well. T4 plants seeds about future movies and the film ends on an almost to be continued note (the next movie looks like it may delve into the origin of the Transformers species, dealing with their Creators and their motives) and hopefully by then Bay will have figured out how to shorten these films down a bit (T4 runs nearly three hours and it definitely lags in places) and may have improved his story telling skills (one criticism I have of the franchise as a whole is that Optimus just doesn’t seem to be the same dignified ‘Bot from my childhood, and definitely doesn’t seem to be the kind of inspirational leader that commands absolute loyalty and espect from his followers). But either way, Michael Bay still owes me a Dinobot movie.