Wednesday, 2 July 2014

[Review] Transformers - Age of Extinction



After an admirable, if not deeply flawed, detour with his 2013 true-crime satire Pain & Gain, Michael Bay returns to the safety net of the commercial summer blockbuster with the latest installment of the ever popular Transformers franchise.

Set five years after the events of the last instalment, Michael Bay does away with the Shia LeBeouf character and replaces him with Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg plays Cade; a would-be inventor of robotics technology who lives the simple life in Austin Texas with his teenage daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz). Elsewhere in the world (meaning America), in the wake of the Battle of Chicago, a top-secret and corrupt political movement  -- led by an unconvincingly "sinister" Kelsey Grammar -- aspires to eradicate the Transformers from our planet.

Meanwhile, the few remaining Autobots are forced into hiding as their leader Optimus Prime disappears without a trace. As fate would have it, Cade just so happens to discover Optimus (in Vehicle form) among the wreckage of an old abandoned theatre and brings him home. But soon after, the feds track down Optimus' location. The feds threaten to kill Cade's daughter, forcing Optimus to save the day. Finding themselves on the lam from the feds, our band of heroes seeks to uncover the truth behind the "sinister" conspiracy and save the day whilst at it.

If you have seen any of the previous films in this franchise, then it goes without saying that you should know the formula that this franchise adheres to by now. Once again, there is a mysterious object that the Autobots and Decepticons are fighting over that threatens to wipe out humanity. Leaving the human characters caught in the middle of Extra Terrestrial Robotic warfare.

Over the course of three separate installments, this franchise hasn't so much evolved; rather it has recycled the same narrative trajectory at nauseam. It should come of no surprise that not much has changed with the fourth instalment. Age of Extinction retreads familiar ground and adheres to its formulaic DNA-structure to good and bad effect.



As is always the case with anything directed by Michael Bay, the man demonstrates yet again that he is very capable of blowing stuff up in a convincing manner. Age of Extinction fills it expected quota with some extremely well-crafted, if not overly long setpieces. But even then, that feels like a backhanded compliment. Yeah, we know that Michael Bay can blow stuff up but so what? What else can he do?

There's barely enough story in Ehren Krueger's screenplay to cover the first two acts, let alone the way too bloated 165 minute run time. By the time the film hits the second act, the narrative just gives up trying to do anything of interest and devolves into an onslaught of flashy setpieces strung together by dull expository dialog.

All of Michael Bay's worst traits rear their ugly head once again. From the racial stereotyping of the Samurai Autobot (voiced by Ken Watanabe) to the ugly moments of blatant in-your-face product placement. At one point, the film stops dead in its tracks to become a commercial for Budd Lite Beer.  Although, to Bay's credit, these moments are slightly less obnoxious than what they have been in the past.

It isn't all bad though. Despite given little to do, Mark Wahlberg is a welcome change as a "down on his luck" country Dad. When we first meet him, he is six months behind on his mortgage repayments and facing foreclosure. Despite the criticism leveled at him by his 17 year old Daughter, he remains the eternal optimist. Hoping to stumble on that one invention that will change his fortunes.

His daughter, on the other hand, is mostly there to fill the shoes of the damsel in distress. Oh, and there is also that small issue of her 20 year old boyfriend, who provides the expected comic relief as tensions flair between him and the overprotective dad. Stanley Tucci also shows up and helps to breathe further life into the film as the head executive of a major robotics company. But still, Ehren Krueger's overly inflated screenplay provides little for the human characters to work with as they struggle to pass the finish line with little momentum.



But to be fair, one could say that this series has never been about the human characters. After all, we all know why we're here, right? We're here to see Giant Robots fighting Giant Robots. That has always been the mass appeal of the Transformers franchise. Age of Extinction sure as hell delivers on that promise. If you want to see some amazingly well crafted set pieces where Robots fight other Robots with little in the way of logic or plot then, you're going to get your money's worth. For fans of the franchise, you should know what to expect by now, and you should expect more of the same.

Somewhere buried in here is a decent Summer Blockbuster just waiting for a better editor to have at it. But still, at three hours, it is far too bloated for its own good. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, over the span of three hours, Stanley Kubrick went from the birth of mankind to the birth of a new species. In the span of 165 minutes, Michael Bay goes from Point A to Point B before immediately resetting back to Point A.

Age of Extinction is the very definition of excess film making. While it is nowhere near as offensive as previous installments in this franchise have been. It is, however, so incredibly safe and formulaic that it borders on completely forgettable. Even with the addition of the Dinobots, it still manages to invoke the all too familiar feeling of "been there and done that." Fans of the franchise will cheer with glee at the sight of Optimus Prime riding a Dinobot, but everyone else will remain largely unmoved.


★★
(out of five)


- Daniel M


 

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