FEATURE: TRANSFORMERS Age Of Extinction
|TRANSFORMERS Age of Extinction
"Stand Together or Face Extinction"
It has been seven years since the first movie and with this being the fourth movie in the franchise, everybody probably knows how these things are going to go down. And unless the producers suddenly decide to replace Michael Bay, the live-action Transformers movies will always have its mediocre to negative stigma. That said, there is something different with TRANSFORMERS Age of Extinction. While it continues the story told in the first three films, it introduces new characters, new villains and story elements — practically wiping the slate clean. This gives the production a chance to make the much needed changes to create that summer blockbuster experience everyone hopes for from a franchise such as Transformers. Prior to its release, Michael Bay said that he wanted make to the film more ‘cinematic’. Does that mean he’s willing to remove a lot of the elements that people didn’t like about the earlier trilogy? Will there be less explosions? Probably not on the latter, but Age of Extinction did attempt on some changes.
PLOT & PREMISE
Age of Extinction adds another layer to the now-cliche ‘Earth and Cybertron are intertwined’ deal, this time explaining what actually caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. They were basically used to create metal-based material by some alien entity. Then it goes to the present and picks up four years after TRANSFORMERS Dark of the Moon where everyone has been scarred by the Decepticon invasion of Chicago. In response, the government is hunting down all Transformers, including the Autobots despite all the help they did in the previous skirmish. Because of this, everyone has gone into hiding, including Optimus Prime and Bumblebee with little to no human contact as much as possible.
This is where struggling inventor and single father Cade Yaeger (Mark Wahlberg) enters. Despite the talent and passion he puts in his work, he just can’t get the break he needs to support his daughter, Tessa Yaeger (Nicola Peltz). As he continues searching for valuable parts, he stumbles across what appears to be an old and broken truck. Little does he know that this encounter would set everything in motion once more and change their lives, forever.
What the writers did was actually a great way to setup a new direction for the following films without the need to ignore everything that happened before. Definitely gone is the ‘boy-and-his-car’ premise the first trilogy had and has our main protagonist meet Optimus Prime instead. It is no way a complicated plot but effectively sets up the world that has experienced being on the brink of apocalypse.
Character development hasn’t exactly been a great selling point for the live-action Transformers films. There are human characters and the Transformers to which the former receives little development and the latter being more or less delegated as glorified set pieces. That said, Age of Extinction has the task of establishing and fleshing out a new set of characters and Transformers, adding more to the need of better character development.
To his credit, Mark Wahlberg is effective as Cade Yaeger the Single Father, but not so much as Cade Yaeger the Inventor. He actually came across as a mechanic, if anything. But one could really feel his concern for Tessa and would do anything to keep her safe, especially after seeing how far the government was willing to go just to get answers. Then there’s Tessa, your typical daughter and more of a damsel in distress. At least she gets rough and dirty when things go down, unlike that girl from Dark of the Moon. Completing this triad is Shane Dyson (Jack Raynor) who really did nothing other than drive around and add that father-daughter-boyfriend subplot. On the other side, Stanley Tucci plays Joshua Joyce, head of Kinetic Solutions Incorporated (KSI) that researches on human-made transformers like a robot-obsessed version of Steve Jobs. He’s this film’s version of John Turturro’s character from the first trilogy and goes that same journey from antagonist to protagonist. Tucci is good in whatever character he plays so that’s a plus. Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) is your corrupt government agent who hates Transformers so much but ironically uses a Transformer to get the job done. Then there’s Su Yueming (Li Bingbing), but more on her later. To be honest, the first four mentioned are the only notable ones and had character development in one way or another.
What’s surprising about this movie is that the Transformers seemed to be actual characters now, rather than just prop pieces that roll their heads when they die. Optimus Prime has become fiercer than ever, thanks to the atrocities humanity did to the Autobots. There have been many Autobot deaths in the previous movies, but this is the only one where he had a genuine reaction. When Jazz and Ironhide got the short end of the stick, there was little to no mention of them afterwards. Here, he’s so angry that he personally charged at the KSI main headquarters. He’s a damaged character who has lost all faith in humanity. The same can be said with the four other Autobots who at first didn’t gel together and had conflicts with each other. Hound’s personality was quite noticeable and fleshed out to a degree. He was a more effective trigger-happy robot than Ironhide. Bumblebee, on the other hand, took a step back after being in focus in the first trilogy, though apparently he’s one insecure robot. For the villains, there’s Lockdown and Galvatron, but also more on them later. The Transformers were actually recognizable due to their character and not just because of their colors.
If there was a complaint that everyone had with Age of Extinction, it was too long. Not the kind of long that one would wish will never end. There were parts that can be trimmed down or even cut out without affecting the movie overall. To start off, they were establishing a new set of characters, a new family, and were spending quite the time so that the audience would connect with the struggles this father-daughter team was going through. That scene in Lockdown’s Knightship/Nightship where Cade and Shane were looking for Tessa, definitely could use cuts here and there. But what probably contributes most to this long film is China. Nothing against the Chinese or anything, but they could’ve had the final act in another state, or any other location, and it would be the same. Many of the sequences there were obviously placed for the Chinese presence. Case in point was the motorcycle chase scene with Tucci and Bingbing’s characters in the outskirts of Hong Kong, to be capped by a cheesy martial arts fight. That’s the extent of Li Bingbing’s character, aside from that subplot as Joshua Joyce’s sort of love interest.
Another detraction were the blatant product placements. And by blatant, it is borderline insulting. There’s Shane being sponsored by Red Bull, then there’s that Oreo robot inside KSI, then there’s that truckload of Bud Light where Cade had to drink one bottle after crashing. Oh and there’s that tetra pack drink that Joshua was drinking on that Hong Kong rooftop. One could only guess that these might have paid for the much more relevant presence of the Transformers in the film. In contrast, there was far less military presence compared to the first trilogy. The battles weren’t fought by waves of military personnel using their fancy weapons and vehicles. It was human against human and Transformer against Transformer combat, which is definitely a welcome change. On that note, the role of the U.S. government took a 180-degree turn from being all out supportive, to all out antagonistic thanks to Kelsey Grammer’s character and his Cemetery Wind black ops team.
Lockdown is a relatively new character the mainstream audience won’t probably recognize. To the uninitiated, he was introduced in TRANSFORMERS Animated as a bounty hunter, which carried on to the movie as well. He didn’t really care about the Autobot-Decepticon war and was only concerned of his hunt and serving ‘The Creators’. He’s not the best of villains but his character had more layers than Megatron during the entire first trilogy. He also introduced the mythos that Optimus Prime and the Dinobots were apparently knights that rebelled against The Creators. The movie didn’t dwell upon this too much and just served as a quick explanation how the Dinobots became. And as hyped as the Dinobots were, they were just there as rides of the Autobots, thanks to the great leadership coercion by Optimus Prime. It was funny how the Autobots themselves acknowledge this iteration of Optimus Prime as quite dangerous and willing to kill for what’s left of his cause. As for Galvatron, he was the main villain at one point but served more as a setup for future installments, especially after he was written out before the final battle.
TRANSFORMERS Age of Extinction has been considered by many as another dumb movie in the Transformers franchise. While true, it’s still objectively better than the previous installments. For one, the Michael Bay humor that everyone hated since 2007 has been toned down in comparison. Though the main crux against this movie was it tried to cram in so much material, clocking in at almost three hours. And despite this, plot holes were still left open — Galvatron and Optimus Prime. Galvatron was very much alive with every intention of reviving his Decepticon armada. Optimus Prime suddenly decided to blast off into space, not knowing exactly who to look for. With these couple of threads, they could easily have a starting point for a fifth installment.
On that note, is a fifth installment worth watching after how Age of Extinction turned out? There are multiple ways they could go with these new movies and to their credit, improvements were made. The CGI was much easier to follow and less in-your-face-random-shards-of-metal. Opportunity to do world-building is also there with Optimus Prime setting out in space. Overall, as long as Michael Bay is at the helm, the Transformers movies will remain the same. But if they acknowledge their faults and keep making improvements, then the live-action Transformers movies might not be as dumb as it is now. Though that’s just wishful thinking to be honest.
Contributors: Elise Cruz