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Review: TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION

Michael Bay’s latest exercise in excess is the biggest, longest, loudest, explodiest film ever made. 

I’m not exactly sure how to gauge the effect of Transformers: Age of Extinction had on me. I feel churlish for referring to it in such simplified terms as “good” or “bad,” and I’m even hard pressed to call it a movie. This film is a cinematic endurance test. It is a celebration of excess along the lines of a Bollywood film. Infamous schlockmeister Michael Bay, working on the fourth (the fourth!) of these movies, has only ratcheted up his movies more and more as the series has progressed and, with Age of Extinction, seems to have finally reached terminal velocity of sound and fury. The filmmakers throw just about everything they can at you, beating you aggressively down into your seat, and are going to make damn sure that you’re entertained. And if finding yourself lost in a spinning miasma of chaos represented by flying car parts, dancing electric air snakes, fire-breathing ancient dragon monsters, chases through space ships, gun battles in the streets of Hong Kong, and the constant mention of the word “transformium,” then you may just find yourself reasonably “entertained.” Although I think “dazed” may be a more appropriate adjective.

Trans4mers dragon

I was dazed upon my exit of the theater. On the drive home, I saw a billboard for an upcoming film that features a talking chimp on horseback, waving a gun around above his head. How odd that I should think how restrained that image was when compared to Age of Extinction.

I cannot think of a film that is bigger, longer, and more excessive than this one, and I’ve seen all of Zack Snyder’s films. I seem to have no recourse in describing this film, but to fall back on film theory. As action films have continued to evolve, editing has become faster and faster, the amount of information on the screen has increased and increased, the volume has risen higher and higher, and spacial continuity has pretty much flown out the window. Some film theorists, like David Bordwell, have referred to this phenomenon as “intensified continuity.” Others have used the more unkind term “chaos cinema.” The goal of this ever-mounting happenstance seems to be to overwhelm the audience rather than intrigue them. Consider me overwhelmed. We’ve now, in the modern epoch, reached something like Age of Extinction, which runs 165 minutes, contains at least eight acts, deals with a dozen different distinct locations, and features a bevvy of both human and robot characters, not to mention some robot dinosaurs for good measure. I cannot comment on the strength of the various characters because they typically only serve to fall through the air, screaming someone’s name, firing a gun, and mutating their bodies into vehicles. Sometimes they fall past some obvious product placement. Wanna go to Victoria’s Secret after the movie?

I understand that Michael Bay’s Transformers films are supposed to function as nostalgia – they are based on a toy product and a subsequent ’80s cartoon show by Hasbro – but Age of Extinction seems to have abandoned that angle. This is less a film version of an episode of the Transformers TV show, and more like an ambitious encapsulation of every single robot fantasy you had throughout your entire childhood rolled conveniently together into a deafening ball of swirling car parts. Some fans (and I know you’re out there) may be thrilled to see the Dinobots on screen, but they are but a drop in the bucket.

Trans4mers sword

I have always taken issue with the design of the robots in these films, as they seem to look like randomly assembled piles of machinery, lumbering in a vague human shape toward an enemy that looks a little too much like them. The indistinct robot design not only robs the Transformers of character, but makes for fight scenes devoid of clarity; I have trouble distinguishing one robot from the next, and soon the fights look like two junkyards fighting. Age of Extinction hones the design a little bit, adding celebrity voices to the characters, and this was the first time when I could tell what was going on in much of the fight scenes. Or perhaps my eye was simple becoming used to it.

And I haven’t even gotten to the story yet. Just to do my critical due diligence, the story follows blue-collar Texan Mark Wahlberg as he finds and repairs Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), the leader of the “good” Transformers. Transformers are being hunted and killed by a robot named Lockdown (Mark Ryan) who is in the employ of a kill-‘em-all politician played by Kelsey Grammar. Meanwhile, inventor and Steve Jobs-like design magnate Stanley Tucci has discovered the ancient source of all Transformers, a rare metal called transformium, which he is using to build his own Transformers. The new Transformers, however, turn out to be evil, as they are being infected by the disembodied brain of Megatron (Frank Welker), the dead leader of the “bad” Transformers. We go to China, to Hong Kong, and spend a good deal of time aboard an alien spacecraft. Mark Wahlberg is also having family troubles; he doesn’t want his teenage daughter (Nicola Peltz) seeing her older boyfriend (Jack Reynor).

In terms of tone, Age of Extinction is the most overall consistent of the series; it mercifully lacks the off-the-wall tonal messiness of Revenge of the Fallen, famously rushed into production during a writers’ strike. Age of Extinction is the first of the Transformers films to feature any sort of cogent narrative thrust, and just because there’s a WHOLE LOT of it, doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily be lost… too badly. That doesn’t mean that’s it’s still not exhausting. At the end, you’ll have felt like you ran a marathon. You too can stumble out into the sun afterwords, pleased to be outdoors, eager to take a nap in the sunlight. Have some lemonade. You accomplished something.

Rating: 2 Burritos
2 burritos

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18 comments

      • Is it sad that I thought this movie was better than #3, but on par with #2?

        And if you were listening very closely, some of the throwaway dialogue was pretty amusing, and also very anti- the current political environment…then there were the explosions to hide any subversive messages like that.

  • It sounds atrocious. I mean, let’s face it, atrocious is the word that this reviewer spent the whole article carefully avoiding. Also, wtf is a sub-plot involving a father who doesn’t want his daughter dating an older man doing in a film about a brutal war between two factions of giant alien robots?

  • Prior to going to see this movie I sat down for a marathon. I had seen the first one, back when it came out, but hadn’t bothered to go see the others. However, as Transformers are something my boyfriend is passionate about, I knew that I’d be seeing this one. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed the first movie, was entertained by the second, and thoroughly enjoyed the third.

     Transformers 4 was a good movie, even if there were a few things that bugged me. It kept me transfixed and I enjoyed the story. There was some comedy interraction between Mark Wahlberg and Jack Reynor (the daughter’s boyfriend) that helped keep the story a bit more realistic (amidst the fantasy of the Transformers). I also liked that it wasn’t Mark with a love interest, it was he as a father trying to protect his daughter, then she brings her unknown boyfriend along. There were a few things that I did have a problem with.

     I assume that I should preface the rest of this with the word SPOILERS, though since the article is about the movie, one should expect some spoilers.

     The first thing that got under my skin was the fact that there was very little continuity between the earlier movies and this one. The first three movies had a few constants in them like Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel and John Turturro. This new movie made absolteuly no reference to them or where they were. These three seemed to be constantly involved with the Transformers, especially LaBeouf’s character with Bumblbee, yet it was as though they were forgotten. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the new trio, and was surprised by their friend’s death (for some reason he just kept reminding me of Russell Brand), but they weren’t the original trio.
     
    The second thing that got to me was that they said that it’s been five years since Chicago, yet the whole city is rebuilt as though nothing had happened to it. In five years? Really? I could see a few of the buildings rebuilt, but it looked as if the whole city had been reconstructed, good as new or hadn’t been touched in the first place.
     
    That being said, I laughed when the laughter was due, enjoyed the chases, was startled to see Kelsey Grammar in the role of a bad guy and had fun. I was afraid that there was going to be some time travel tool used to get the dinobots into things, but I think they handled that well. I would’ve liked to have seen more of them, and I wonder at the havoc they’ll reign now that they’re loose, but I liked them. I did chuckle at the product placement throughout, but that is something that I’ve come to expect in any movie. Michael Bay seems to take it a bit further, but it’s always there.

     I especially liked the fight scenes that Wahlberg had with Titus Welliver, and the fighting that Bingbing Li did against a lot of people. Tom Lennon’s character made me chuckle. I LOVE all of the voice actors! Overall I’d have to give it four burritos out of five.

  • Do not listen to the detractors for nothing on Earth will ever satisfy your inner Transformers geek more than witnessing the utter, complete and total redemption of Michael Bay. With one glorious fell swoop this evidently slow-to-warm-up-but-eventually-wizard-like filmmaker has expunged all his previous crimes against the Transformers fan base and finally delivered them to their deservedly blissful state of Cybertronian nirvana.

    Like a twenty first century Jesus armed with $200 million dollars, Bay has redeemed even the gravest of the sins of our childhood. Not only has he risen phoenix-like, still burning yet majestic, from the putrid black ashes that remained from the burning of our childhood dreams and his own reputation. Incredibly, he has somehow also redeemed the once unforgivable abomination that was the ascension of Rodimus Prime. In one two and half hour expedition to the pinnacle of awesomeness he has made whole the millions of innocent hearts so cynically and selfishly broken all those years ago.

    Suddenly the pain and confusion that was so cruelly and needlessly inflicted upon us in 1986 can be forgotten. Even the fresher scars, the proverbial salt in the wound that is the memory of the first three piles of turd rubbed onto celluloid that Bay tried to pass off as Transformers films, have been forever healed. Like faithful, stubborn and persistent visitors to a highly priced and extremely talented plastic surgeon, we have had our scars forever erased.

    All those that have ever nestled into the sometimes prickly and often disappointing bosom of the Transformers geekdom, go forth like pilgrims to thine local cinema. Flock now so that you all can finally revel in your long overdue and much deserved cinematic birthright: a truly epic journey into the elusive and sublime joys of well thought-out and skilfully delivered Transformers ‘fan service’.

    This movie isn’t for the hordes. It isn’t for the unfortunate souls that weren’t brought up living and breathing robots from Cybertron. It’s not for the critics. It’s an expensive, much belated and exclusive gift made especially just for you. An epic, royally triumphant and completely kick-ass Transformers movie that respects the fan base while also creating a new folklore that not only doesn’t make you want to stab yourself in the face with a rusty nail while having your eyeballs lacerated by a million paper cuts, it is actually pretty awesome in its own right.

    A true fan will find it almost impossible not to love this film. It is simply that good.

    Michael Bay I never thought I would ever say this but, thank you. Even the $600 million odd dollars and approximately seven and a half hours of my life you wasted setting up the story line of this movie with those first three abominations now seems like time and money well spent.

    For after nearly thirty long years of shattered hopes and unfulfilled expectations, finally our inner 6 year olds can live the dream. Finally we can stand on the apex of the Mount Everest of 1980’s nostalgia – and wholeheartedly and enthusiastically enjoy a Transformers movie for the first time – all the while being snugly wrapped in a delightful bubble of restored faith, emancipation from loss and total satisfaction.

    Do not take heed of reviews written by people that have never transformed a toy from a robot to a car in their lives. Do not be distracted by accounts of gratuitous product placement. Worry not about a repeat of previously indecipherable shot composition and editing. Cleanse yourself of the horrible memory that is Shia LeBeouf.

    This film delivers much more in the way of fan service than any of the previous films. Some of it is subtle, some quite overt (Galvatron transforming into a cannon and Optimus spending some time looking much like his G1 alter ego in truck form are notable examples). The movie is peppered with a lot of little touches that would probably be lost on people new to Transformers, but that had me clapping the screen at stages. Some people actually applauded the movie when it ended.

    It’s like they finally aimed it at the fan base, rather than take it for granted that the fan base would go anyway and trying to make it work for everyone else. And I for one appreciated those touches as they have been sorely missing from the franchise. But regardless of whether that stuff resonates with you or not it still has a much better plot than any of the other films and importantly it’s a grand spectacle – almost without a doubt bigger and more outrageous than any other movie in history, period. It is simply EPIC.

    Anyone that is a true Transformers fan obviously wants to and tries to like these movies. Three times previous to this I have failed in this task more or less and pretty much became a card carrying member of the &@#% You Michael Bay You Killed My Childhood club. Yet this time when they take it in yet another direction that is completely incongruous with the beloved and sacred G1 mythology – I totally went with them instead of fighting it. And actually, it is pretty damn cool.

    I didn’t have to try to like this movie. As a Transformers mega-geek Age of Extinction was inherently enjoyable to me in nearly every way. Plus as I said it has a lot of delicious little morsels for the old school fans that just become the cherry on top of a very sweet sundae.

    I am honestly and truly sorry for anyone that thinks they are a Transformers fan but that doesn’t absolutely love this movie. I think it is just a horrible defect in their personality. They will never be happy unless watching the movie is a mere carbon copy of their experiences watching the G1 cartoon. Yes Michael didn’t go in the direction we wanted him to at first. But where he has ended up should allow us to forgive if not forget and appreciate the unique and incredible nature of this motion picture.

    When we thought all hope was lost, Michael Bay has given us what we have been wanting all these years. But for some their own cynicism will not allow them to celebrate the occasion. To them I say let the 6 year old inside you finally let go of all the pain and rip up your Bay Haters membership card.

    All the Transformers aficionados that are brow beaten, dejected and void of all hope should rest assured that finally Michael Bay has miraculously managed to not completely &@#% up a Transformers film.

    The jaded, dejected and resentful among the once wide-eyed and awestruck Transformers mega-geeks: rejoice! For you are the chosen ones. You are the chosen few for whom Transformers: Age of Extinction won’t be a loud and obnoxious destruction of two and a half perfectly good hours of your life. It will be an exhilarating, deeply satisfying and ultimately spiritual experience.

    • I applaud your vocabulary, sir. And thank you for having the courage to say what we’ve all been secretly thinking, “Thank you Michael Bay and company for gleefully taking away 165 minutes of my life, and allowing me the chance to spend those minutes deciphering a movie instead of selfishly spending quality time doing something else.”

    • I would rather look for my transformer nostalgia in a dump.  Because that’s really what this movie was, little bits of Transformer nostalgia in a big steamy, bright, loud, explosive pile of ….
      I feel sorry for you, sorry that this movie fulfilled any hole that was left by the cartoon disappearing in the 80s.Bay is right about one thing, I hated this movie, and I will still go and see the next. So why should he change his recipe.  He only makes mega movies.
      And from one fan to another.  I can’t believe we are talking about the same film.  Seriously…