It's like they say – a succesful first part of a franchise sets up one, and possibly two sequels. But a third is often a film too far.
Despite the decent cast they have rallied to reboot this popular Hasbro toy-based franchise and its trademark spectacular effects, the fourth instalment makes some attempts to feel fresh but comes off as curiously boring and monumentally stupid.
The opening scene shows a fleet of mysterious alien ships descending to Earth during the prehistoric era, where they drop some unknown bombs which burn everything and render it into a strange sort of metal.
Jumping forward to the present, a geologist discovers a dinosaur's remains in the Arctic. However, this isn't a regular fossil – it appears to be made of metal. Move once more to Texas, where bankrupt inventor and single father Cade Yaeger (Mark Wahlberg) is struggling to make ends meet with his teenage daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) and employee Lucas (TJ Miller).
Yaeger stumbles upon a decrepit truck which he buys to take apart for scrap, however the truck reveals itself to be Autobot leader Optimus Prime in hiding. Covert CIA operation Cemetery Wind – tasked by Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) with destroying the remaining Transformers which destroyed Chicago in the last film – gets wind of Optimus' presence, and they bust in guns blazing. With Yaeger and his daughter now persona non grata for harbouring the fugitive, they go on the run with Optimus and Tessa's boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) to escape the government killers.
Optimus puts the call out to the surviving Autobots and they gather around him to uncover the motive behind the CIA's plan. When the alien bounty hunter Lockdown appears on Earth and appears to be working with the CIA to take down the Transformers, our heroes discover a link to technology giant KSI owned by Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci). Traveling to their headquarters in Chicago, they discover that KSI has been harvesting the metal from destroyed Transformers' bodies and creating their own robots. Lockdown and the robots from KSI are dispatched to take out Optimus and his allies, but KSI's chief creation Galvatron starts displaying the evil Decepticon Megatron's traits. Optimus and co. have to travel to China to stop the production of KSI's robots, which may all harbour Megatron's mind, and naturally the CIA are hot on their heels. Destruction ensues. And Dinobots.
If the preceding two paragraphs seem confusing, that's because they reflect the movie. The film is unapologetically a Michael Bay movie from top to bottom. Bombastic explosions, overreliance on slow motion, wanton devastations and panning low angle character shots abound, and occasionally all of the above simultaneously.
Bay is ably assisted by cinematographer Amir Mokri, and the dusk skies above the Texan cornfields are lensed in gorgeous hues. However the pair's framing during the fast-paced action scenes becomes confusing, and this is not helped by the pace of the editing when the explosions and gunfire begin to ramp up.
The action works best when longer takes are utilised, allowing for some genuinely awesome sights to be unleashed upon the audience, especially once the Dinobots step into the picture. However, these moments are few and far between, and by the time the doubly-as-long-as-it-should-be third act moves the action to China, the onslaught becomes yawn-inducing. The efforts from the stunt team and VFX people at Industrial Light and Magic are as strong as we have come to expect from this franchise, and Steve Jablonsky's score is effective but never special. The painfully obvious product placement however is distracting and frustrating in equal measure.
On the human side, Wahlberg is a likable, physically adept lead (though never quite convinces as a scatterbrained inventor). Peltz and Reynor as his daughter and her boyfriend are fine, and Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammer are reliably great in their respective clichés: 'money hungry businessman who realises the consequences of his greed' and 'powerful, behind the scenes shadowy government figure'. The stealer of the show however is TJ Miller, who in his short time onscreen as Lucas provides some serious laughs.
Early in the film the following self-aware line is uttered: 'Sequels, remakes, they're all crap.'
Having seen a number of decent sequels myself, it's an unfounded generalisation. But it certainly reflects the filmmakers' attitude here – it's as if they don't care about the fundamental quality of the film they're making, they just want a wrapped product. Anyone could have told them that the script from Ehren Kruger would result in an overlong, overly complex confusion. What's more, it's clear that when a character responds to a question 'My face is my warrant', this is a screenplay bereft of acumen. That said however, some of Lucas' lines and also the Chief of Staff's conversations with Attinger are very funny.
Attinger would have you believe that 'the age of the Transformer is over'. Unfortunately, this film will likely do big figures at the box office and the age of the Transformers will continue with further mindless instalments. What the franchise needs is a more intelligent, smaller scale film which allows a single story to play out, rather than multiple separate, daft plots. Admittedly this is a series starring talking alien robots. So my hopes have about as much chance as this film does with critics worldwide. Nada.
- Reviewed by Callum Ryan, an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Transformers Age of Extinction stars Mark Wahlberg, Jack Reynor, Nicola Peltz, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer. Directed by Michael Bay. 157 minutes. Rated M (Action violence and coarse language). Paramount Pictures. Umbrella entertainment. Showing now.