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Transformers: Age of Extinction … Rules? What Rules?

It’s been out over a week now and I’ve seen it twice; once in regular 3D and again in IMAX 3D and I figured it was about time I wrote up  my opinion of the movie.

WARNING: There will be spoilers. If you’re a purist for untainted film viewing and haven’t seen the film yet then you might want to stop reading.

Transformers 4: Age of Extinction Poster

 

You’ve been warned…

Firstly, let’s talk about the advertising campaign. The most prominent logo I’ve seen for this movie has a 4 with half a Decepticon logo on the side. This is misleading; There are no LIVING Decepticons in this movie.

Transformers 4 Decepticon Logo

I didn’t understand the early tagline “the rules have changed” before seeing the movie because I couldn’t remember any “rules” being laid down in previous movies. I’m still not sure I have correctly interpreted it … there was one rule that had obviously changed and it was one Optimus Prime lived by from the very first Transformers movie (won’t spoil as it is key to the ending), but aside from that, I’m not sure the tagline fitted with the prominence it has been slung around. Humans are hunting Transformers but there was never a clearcut RULE in regard to that relationship, particularly after events in the previous movie Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

The trailers were fabulous at teasing us with snippits of bad guys, good guys, dinobots, American patriotism and Hong Kong. They taunted us with a G1 (original 1980’s Transformers TV show) Optimus Prime and the movie actually lived up to all this. The tagline “Stand together or face extinction” made more sense paired with this as it played on human, Transformers and Dinobots to make us curious about what kind of extinction was being referred to.

Transformers movies live for, and because of, CGI graphics. Advancements in technology mean we FINALLY get to see more of the bots we know and love along with a few new characters in the mix. There is far more time spent on the Transformers both visually and characteristically. It’s a big tick and a step in the right direction and I would have loved to see more of it. However, the Dinobots – a HUGE marketing drawcard and toy line – didn’t get the onscreen time we had all hoped for. They are limited to the battle in Hong Kong, almost exclusively stay in dino mode and don’t speak. Grimlock has been one of the most heavily marketed toys in the movie line, and he and his team barely get 20 minutes onscreen time. The battle between Grimlock and Optimus teased in the trailer is little more than what you see in the trailer. Nothing epic or grand. If Grimlock truly is a legendary warrior I can’t see him making it that easy for Optimus to subdue him. Nevertheless, giant robot dinosaurs are AWESOME and the short amount of onscreen time these guys have is put to good use.

Bay (Michael Bay that is – the – you know – director of this film?) was right, watching this film in IMAX definitely makes the experience more immersive and enjoyable. Even my hubby, who isn’t much a fan of Transformers (he’s a Gundam guy), was impressed by the depth and positive use of the 3D. I’ll also point out the IMAX version had longer scenes in it which helped the movie make a little (but not much) more sense.

The storyline isn’t great.

Transformers are being hunted and killed by the CIA and a factionless bounty hunter Transformer Lockdown. The big ticket is the capture of Optimus Prime who, badly damaged, pulls Cade (Marky Mark) and his family into the unfolding drama. A Steve Jobs style genius IT tycoon (Stanley Tucci) is using his company KSI to make his own Transformers, including Galvatron, who is used to try and capture Prime. Prime discovers the autrocities being brought upon his beloved Autobots and gets pissed. Majorly pissed. He decides to stop both the killing and the production of new human-made Transformers before being captured by Lockdown. Lockdown, in exchange of Optimus, gives the humans a “seed” with which they create more of the metal they need to make their own Transformers. The humans decide to move all their human-made Transformers to China where they have a production plant only to have Galvatron go rogue and take control of the 50-odd Transformers in an effort to obtain the seed for himself. The humans decide to hide the seed in Hong Kong (WTF?) and Galvatron follows. Optimus eventually escapes Lockdown’s ship and heads back to Earth to confiscate the seed before it can do any harm but discovers he needs a little more firepower (enter the over-the-top heavy artillery that is the dinobots) and minor destruction of a major Asian city ensues…

The villain lineup includes Lockdown (the non-factioned bounty hunter working for the “Creators”), Galvatron (aka Megatron reborn) as well as the human antagonist Harold Attinger (played by Kelsey Grammer). Lockdown is a great bad guy. He’s evil and cold, although he seems to have the good old Hollywood “bad guy stupidity syndrome” and his army were mostly cannon fodder, as were most of the KSI human-made bots. Galvatron is Megatron reborn but still finding his way in a new skin. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see him do much in this movie however the tidbits we do get set the potential for him to play a much larger (and hopefully more significant) role in future films. The human bad guy, Attinger, is ruthlessly determined to wipe the planet clean of all Cybertronians no matter the cost and Grammer plays him well. You hate him from start to finish, just as it should be.

Optimus Prime has a much bigger role in the film and ultimately the story is about his journey and evolution. We finally get to see a bit of the emotion going on within the Autobot leaders mind and how betrayal and a millennia of war has finally taken its toll on him. Peter Cullen does an outstanding job voicing Optimus working with what I am sure were some challenging concepts for the character. Optimus is a much darker version of his former self. This isn’t the upbeat G1 or Transformers Prime Optimus most people are used to.

He’s supported by Bumblebee, who seems to be the robot comedic relief in the film along with newcomer Hound. Hound is voiced by John Goodman and personally he was the stand out character/voice (other than Optimus) in this film. He was both funny and respectful and highly memorable. Crosshairs and Drift round out the Autobots. Crosshairs was almost like an Autobot version of Starscream … eager to see his comrades fail so he could take command. Drift was the Asian Triple Changer (robot-helicopter-bugatti) who believed in inner piece and loyalty to his sensai (Optimus).

As for the humans, Cade Yaegar (Marky Mark) is actually quite a likeable character. I thought Mark Whalberg did a decent job making his character believable (as much as you can when dealing with ginormous talking robots that turn into vehicles). The character fit better into the Transformers movie world than Sam in the original movies. The overprotective father looking out for his little girl story was relatable and brought a few laughs and knowing nods from the audience. Tessa (Nicola Peltz) is the eye-candy of the movie however her plot device is pivotal in bringing Cade and Optimus together. Tessa’s boyfriend (Jack Reynor) is probably the most forgettable and irrelevant “main” character in the entire transformers franchise. I’m still trying to figure out what purpose he served – the movie didn’t need him (and his acting was AWFUL!). Ideally he should have been good guy cannon fodder, but alas he wasn’t.
Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), the IT tycoon genius, was ok and filled in successfully as human comic relief but I felt he was used in too many scenes. I could have done with him having less on-screen time. Li Bingbing was beautiful and her fight scene was the highlight of her performance but she didn’t get much of a chance to show us her character other than a few scenes that felt stiff.

So the storyline was disjointed. Some of it defied logic or didn’t make sense. Who in their right mind heads to Hong Kong to defend an alien weapon of mass destruction? Who??

The blatant product placement and marketing was too in-your-face. Oreo-bot anyone? Seriously??

Oreo Bot

What was Bay thinking with all the branding? “How many beverages can we get our actors to drink on camera in 150 minutes?” The drinks advertising got ANNOYING. I don’t mind subtle marketing, but a Coke ad (oh wait – Bud Light, Chinese packaged milk drink, nameless other drinks) I didn’t need. After all, Transformers movies are one giant TOY ad on their own without the ancillary products.

The action scenes were ok. Only ok. Surprisingly I normally like Michael Bay’s action sequences. This time around I felt like he didn’t have his heart in it or he didn’t complete the vision of what could have been. The other Transformer movies I came away with car or battle scenes or sequences that were utterly memorable. This movie, not so much.

Optimus battling Grimlock was underwhelming in the most breathtaking of settings. Wushan Valley near Chongqing in China looked AMAZING on the big screen, especially in IMAX. I wanna go there and see it for myself! Unfortunately in the film you would be lead to believe it is on the back side of Hong Kong Island… I WISH!!! It’s actually several hours flight away in the heart of Mainland China.

The Chinese rule over Hong Kong propaganda in the film, like the shameless plastering of American flags in Texas, really wasn’t needed. Everyone knows China will protect its sovereignty. It didn’t need to be spelled out in such an in-your-face way. Everyone knows Texas is a patriotic state in the USA. Don’t they?? It didn’t need an abundance of stars and stripes to confirm that (at least not for those of us outside the US).

Hong Kong was under-utilised. As much of an illogical storyline choice as it was, Hong Kong could have been an awesome battleground. Instead we got most of the battle taking place somewhere that looked nothing like Hong Kong, or even like a Chinatown in a back lot somewhere. It looked like a vacant lot in some American gangster neighbourhood with cheesy token Chinese props. There are no glass houses in the middle of any of the central business districts in Hong Kong, nor are there ancient temple ruins. Most of the vehicles in the battle scenes aren’t available/used in Hong Kong – certainly not the blue SUV that is driven, or the blue single decker bus. There is no raised line railway in Central (it’s all subway in the areas that were seen onscreen) and the MTR trains are very distinctive, looking nothing like whatever the train is you see in the background of the Hong Kong scenes. The Legco building (Hong Kong Government Offices) were used to some impact, but it seemed to be the only location to get any significant damage other than the Wan Chai Convention Centre.

There are some fabulous windy roads, tunnels, neighbourhoods and derelict buildings that could have been used as backdrop scenery for car chases and battles to make the scenes realistic. I was hungering to see Hong Kong Island ripped apart in an over the top battle of mass destruction never before seen with all the glass towers tumbling like icicles being smashed. Cars could have been shredded left, right and centre. In the end, the climatic battle felt rushed and fake and most of real Hong Kong wasn’t even scathed let alone used. I (and most of the 2 full house audiences who saw the movie with me) couldn’t relate to such an overly fake rendition of the city we live in. (Did this happen to those living in Chicago with Dark of the Moon or did they use the real city much more?)

I love Transformers (the concept, the original, the collectables) so I was always going to see this film. If you take out the questionable storyline the film is not too bad. The Autobots are outstanding and I could have happily watched longer scenes with and between them. Optimus is great both visually and in evolution of his character. I know there is debate about the new look of the transformers onscreen and how “untoylike” or “too human” they look and while I do agree they are untoylike (where DO Optimus’ wheels go when he transforms from Western Star to robot mode?) I do like the new look as much as the old. I loved the old Peterbilt truck, I loved the nod to original G1 with the flat nosed cab over Freightliner truck and I adore the new Western Star truck.

As a member of the audience, I found myself frustrated by this film (and not just because of what Optimus does at the very end or the ending in general). The battle wasn’t as epic or as grand as I had hoped or expected.  I was drawn into the world of this movie at the start but by the end of the film I felt like the film was missing something. It needed an end-credit sequence to wrap up some of the questions left hanging regarding the Autobots together with the Yeager family, the Dinobots, the creators and possibly Optimus.

This film isn’t going to win any favours with critics (and from what I’ve seen hasn’t so far) nor will it win any awards (unless ILM pick up something for their CGI work) but it is an enjoyable film with blasts of action and humour. It has some nice hidden nods for Transformers fans (G1 Optimus, G1 ringtone, etc). On a scale of Transformers movies 1-3 it is better than 3 and on par with 2, maybe a bit better…

What did the sprogs think? Mitchell, my 7 year old, LOVED it. He asks if we can go back and see it at least once a day. He wished there was more Grimlock and Dinobots in the movie. He wants ALL the toys and he wants another movie right now! Bethany, my 9 year old, enjoyed it. She also complained that she wanted to see more Dinobots, particularly Scorn and Slug.

Is it my favourite Transformers film?

Not sure…

Visually, the original film has so many memorable scenes in it that I loved… including my favourite all time scene of the Optimus Peterbilt doing a skidding 180 with Jazz hard on his tail behind. I love the scene because it’s raw reality. It looks so simple but you know that’s gotta be one hard stunt to get right with a huge truck like that. There are CGI scenes in this new film that are mind-blowingly stunning (Optimus and Grimlock together are amazing) but nothing raw and gritty using the real vehicles.

Character-wise this is my favourite film. We get to see a very broken version of Optimus trying to get out of a very dark place. We get to see and understand the dynamics of the Autobots relationships to each other more. We get a non-stuttering, non-whiney lead human character who actually feels like he has purpose. We get a couple of truly evil bad guys. It’s a step in the right direction.

What did you think of the film? Love it? Hate it? Meh it? Love to hear your opinion.

 

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6 thoughts on “Transformers: Age of Extinction … Rules? What Rules?

    • You know I didn’t touch on length but I agree with you. For what we were given it is too long. I think, as with all the Transformers movies, there are scenes in this movie that we don’t need and scenes that go too long. I don’t mind a long movie, even if it isn’t mind-blowingly amazing, as long as it flows well and leaves me feeling satisfied at the end.

  1. Pingback: Transformers, Less than Meets the Eye

  2. “The storyline isn’t that great” – there’s the understatement of the year! Great special effects, a movie that is almost like taking a ride at a theme park. However, my main criticism of all the Transformer movies is deviation from the source material – the old cartoon series had great plots of the autobots vs. decepticons as the autobots protect earth and decepticons try to destroy it – Bay does these big sweeping global scale disaster movies while the plot, well as much plot as you can have in a movie about cars that turn into robots, gets cast aside.

    • I tend to agree. G1 had human characters like Spike and his dad but at the end of the day it was all about the bots. I’d love to see a good simple autobot vs decepticon movie focussing on the dynamics and interaction of the bots without the bloated human scenes and superfluous storyline dragging it down…

      • My only thought on why he drags it on with the humans that no one cares about – because he needs to show – “look I’m doing all these great live action special effects – robots next to humans!” Otherwise to focus on the robots would just be one very expensive cartoon, though I think people would like it. Oh well.

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