Mark Reviews Movies

Transformers: Age of Extinction


2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Michael Bay

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Titus Welliver, Bingbing Li, Sophia Myles, T.J. Miller, the voices of Peter Cullen, John Goodman, Ken Watanabe, John DiMaggio, Mark Ryan, Frank Welker, Reno Wilson, Robert Foxworth

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo)

Running Time: 2:45

Release Date: 6/27/14

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 26, 2014

There is plenty wrong with Transformers: Age of Extinction, but we've come to expect that from this franchise. Everything about these robots and the mythology surrounding them is pretty much an incomprehensible bust.

In the first movie, for example, it was a little strange to notice that the robots have mouths that actually move to form speech in the same way a human's mouth does, which suggests they must shape the sound coming out of their mouth, which further suggests that they breathe, and that, of course, makes no sense, even if we see one smoking a cigar in this movie. Here, we notice that the robots blink, too, which makes even less sense. We also learn in the fourth movie that the Transformers were indeed created, and perhaps the inevitable fifth movie will feature the creator explaining why he/she/it decided to include such unnecessary physical quirks in their design.

The robots are still silly, and the movie reminds us that their silliness is on an existential level. Here are robots with souls. There are good robots, and there are bad robots. They fight, an older and wiser robot says, like children because that is what they were designed to do. All the stuff they've been warring over for the past three movies, really, is just some kind of joke played upon them by their unseen creator. Their affairs don't matter in the grand scheme of things, and it's about time that this series came to realize that fact.

The Autobots—the good robots that turn into vehicles—are still here, but they feel like out-of-place visitors in this story. There are fewer to keep track of this time, and each of the five here is distinct from the others and bland on its own terms.

There's one, called Hound (voice of John Goodman), that's a stereotypical career soldier. There's another, called Drift (voice of Ken Watanabe), that's a stereotypical samurai. Crosshairs (voice of John DiMaggio) has a bad attitude, a Cockney dialect, and part of its body forming a trench coat (in case the breathing and the blinking weren't extraneous enough). The two returning Autobots are Bumblebee, which speaks using its car radio, and Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen), which speaks mythological gibberish or calls to arms using a morose tone.

The humans, of course, were never much better in this series: more types who were so broadly written and played that they at times didn't seem like human beings. This time, though, we also have a smaller human cast, and the characters aren't broad caricatures—or at least they aren't as insane as in previous entries. The hero in this movie, played by Mark Wahlberg, is identifiable to some degree. He's a single father who just wants to protect his teenage daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz). Wahlberg's gosh-darn earnestness keeps his Cade Yeager grounded, even when he's arguing with Tessa's boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) at times when there are far more important concerns, such as escaping CIA assassins and bounty hunter robots from another galaxy.

There's a lot of plot again and the majority of it doesn't make much sense. Basically, Cade finds the damaged remains of Optimus, repairs it, and ends up being hunted by Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) and his top-secret team of Transformer destroyers. Attinger has a multi-million-dollar arrangement with Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci, who begins a bland villain but becomes an amusingly frantic hero by the end), the head of a technology company, to provide him with Transformer technology. Meanwhile, the bounty hunter robot Lockdown (voice Mark Ryan), with which Attinger entered into a deal to destroy the remaining Transformers on Earth, has other, more sinister plans with a piece of alien technology called "the Seed," which, it turns out, wiped out the dinosaurs.

None of it is important, and by the end, it becomes apparent that the plot of the movie (and, indeed, the plots of the three movies before it) has two purposes: to set up a sequel and to get from one action sequence to the next. We know there will be giant robots fighting, and director Michael Bay has either toned down the panicky, incoherent staging and cutting of these sequences or it has become easier to grow accustomed to them. Either way, we can actually see giant robots fighting here, which is a good step forward. The next step would be to actually make us care about them.

The best setpieces, though, belong to the humans. Near the end, there's a chase down the side of an apartment complex in Hong Kong that uses the narrow ledges of the building quite well. Before that, there's a vertiginous scramble from a spaceship to the Sears Tower (not the Willis Tower, thank you very much) across cables that get narrower (Whatever one calls the building, it and the rest of the city have recovered quite quickly from the last battle—a case of either optimistic thinking about the city's construction times or trying to save money on the effects budget). This franchise has become a case of judging bad apples, and Transformers: Age of Extinction is the least rotten of the bunch.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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