Review - Transformers: Age of Extinction

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014), PG-13, 165 minutes - Why do I continue to subject myself to these films?  I always get my hopes up, just to have them dashed by a film that can't live up to my expectations for an franchise based upon one of my favorite childhood toys/cartoons.  I did enjoy the initial film from back in 2007 although calling it a guilty pleasure may be a better way to describe it these days.  2009's Revenge of the Fallen was so disappointing that it not only inspired an hour and a half long airing of grievances with friends in the parking lot immediately following our seeing it, but it was also the inspiration for what was probably the most negative review I've written.  2011 saw Dark of the Moon, which fell into the 'pleasantly surprising' category for me.  Having threatened to swear off the franchise after Revenge of the Fallen, I found this promising in itself.  Between my renewed sense of hope for the franchise and the news that the fourth installment would include the fan favorite Dinobots and a cast lead by Mark Wahlberg, I can honestly say that I was excited for Age of Extinction.  Maybe Michael Bay was finally going to get it right?  The first trailer was released and I couldn't help being hopeful.  Optimus Prime was in his classic G1 big rig form, Wahlberg was joined by Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, and Titus Welliver, the action looked great, but wait...Optimus was riding Grimlock like a horse?  What the...?  And Michael Bay strikes again.  I should have known better.

Age of Extinction picks up a few years after the events of Dark of the Moon.  After the Battle of Chicago, the United States government is no longer allied with the Autobots.  They have instituted a program for reporting 'alien' activity.  This info-line dispatches a Black-Ops group called Cemetery Wind (overseen by Grammer's Harold Attinger) to eliminate or collect and contain any remaining Decepticons.  In actuality, they take out Decepticons and Autobots alike and deliver the remains to the R&D department of a company run by Joshua Joyce (Tucci) called KSI.  KSI has 'cracked' Transformer technology and is building a fleet of Transformers that they claim they can control.  Meanwhile a mercenary Transformer known as Lockdown is hunting down Optimus Prime for their creator, who is only referred to in this film and is clearly a lead for yet another sequel.  Optimus and the other Autobots have pretty much lost faith in the human race, but Cade Yeager (Walberg), his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) and her boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) help to rebuild that faith by joining the fight against Cemetery Wind, KSI, and Lockdown.  To add to the chaos Attinger is in cahoots with Lockdown's efforts to locate Optimus in exchange for a 'seed' (that he plans on selling to KSI) that will terra-form a portion of Earth into the metal that Transformers are made of (dubbed 'Transformium' by KSI).

The story isn't actually all that bad (even if the script is pretty brutal at times) so I won't outright denounce Age of Extinction the way I did Revenge of the Fallen, but it is definitely a missed opportunity at re-invigorating the franchise.  Despite the customary exciting Michael Bay explosion filled action scenes it feels every bit as long as its running time of two hours and forty five minutes.  I would highly suggest waiting for it as a rental of some sort instead of rushing out to see it in the theater.  That way you can pause for bathroom or snack breaks. For those that are fans of the G1 cartoon, there are a couple things that you'll appreciate (see spoiler section below).  Unfortunately, they don't make up for the forty or so minutes that could have been easily been trimmed out of this film.  I realize that my inner movie snob may be rearing its ugly head a bit.  This is obviously, after all, a big-time summer blockbuster-popcorn flick that I'm sure the majority of the public will enjoy.  Sadly, too many assumptions are made and too many questions are left un-addressed for me to truly enjoy it.












*****SPOILERS*****

- Fans of the old cartoon will very much appreciate Frank Welker being brought in to voice Galvatron.  For those who don't know, Welker voiced Megatron in the original cartoon and was passed over in favor of Hugo Weaving in the first three films.  Peter Cullen voices Optimus Prime once again.

- Galvatron becoming a reincarnated Megatron was a cool touch.  It happened differently than in the cartoon/animated film from 1986, but the reference is appreciated.  

- Other voices that may sound familiar: Hound (John Goodman), Drift (Ken Watanabe), Crosshairs (John DiMaggio), Lockdown (Mark Ryan).

- What was Shane doing parked on the outer edges of the Yeager property when Cemetery Wind came looking for Optimus Prime?  At first I thought his car was going to turn out to be an Autobot.  It seemed even more likely when he made a comment about having the best day behind the wheel ever even though he was a really good driver.  No such luck.  The care was just a regular rally car and ends up being abandoned at the end of a chase scene.  No explanation for his being there at all.  Not even a throw away line about wanting to check on Tessa because he saw threatening vehicles arrive at the house.

- I ended up being disappointed with Stanley Tucci's character.  Not because of a poor job by Tucci (he was pretty entertaining), but by the script.  Joshua Joyce went from a ruthless, arrogant business man to a whiny punchline of a character.  It just didn't feel like a natural transition.

- If you were excited for Dinobots as I was, you'll be disappointed.  They don't show up until the final thirty five minutes of the movie.  I felt like they were horribly mis/underused.  The coolest scene involving any of them can be seen at the very end of the trailer above (Optimus dismounting and slicing while Grimlock wreaks havoc).

- I would have loved to hear the line 'Me Grimlock!'  But no such luck.

- So a 'seed' was dropped on Earth ages ago, wiping out the dinosaurs?  Why didn't our planet become overrun with Transformers?  This loose end only explains the existence of the Dinobots, and not very well at that. How'd the Dinobots get caged on Lockdown's ship?  What is the long standing prophecy of the Dinobots fighting for a knight?  What's the story behind the knights (other than that Optimus is obviously one)?

- Transformium?  Really?  They couldn't come up with a better name for the metal that the Transformers are made up of?

- The fact that the Autobots have lost faith in humanity is understandable.  The fact that they outright wanted to harm humans is unacceptable.  That is the most basic difference between Autobots and Decepticons, and the film makers tried to throw that out the window this time around. 

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