I must admit I am not a fan of Michael Bay’s style of movie-making: loud, incoherent, and ultimately juvenile. That said, I went into Transformers: Age of Extinction with an open mind and found myself reasonably entertained, as long as I didn’t think too hard. This may be mainly because of extremely lowered expectations, and not because the film was particularly good. It is however, a great way to kill a few hours in a matinee show if you have nothing better to do. Spoilers may follow in this review, but honestly, this isn’t the kind of movie you can actually spoil much because there really isn’t any substance to it at all.
I liked most of the the very first Transformers movie. In some ways, it was groundbreaking; the design, movements, and transformations of the robots were unique and, dare I say, almost iconic. The second movie was horrifyingly bad, and the third one was an average action movie that was gleefully punctuated by an over-the-top robot Leonard Nimoy. The fourth time around, we sadly do not have a robot Leonard Nimoy, but it does have a few good things going for it:
- No Shia LeBeouf. I didn’t like his character, nor did I particularly care for his stuttering performance, so his absence is welcome. Instead the human protagonist is played by Mark Wahlberg, who plays a man from Texas named Cade Yeager. I was secretly expecting him to say, “Transfoahmahs,” in his native Bostonian accent, and was disappointed when he didn’t quite do that. However, I’ll say Marky Mark is far more fun to watch than the last guy, even if it isn’t brilliant acting.
- Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are absent from the writing credits. Instead, it was written entirely by Ehren Kruger. While the screenplay was still pretty terrible, the story felt more coherent than both of the first two movies, where they shared writing responsibilities.
- The robots’ designs are now quite differentiated from each other, so you can tell them apart. They even seem like they have a tiny bit more personality than in the previous movies.
In many ways, the plot of this movie resembles the first one: protagonist dude finds an Autobot hidden away, disguised as a junk vehicle; protagonist befriends the Autobots, and he and his friends get dragged into the battle with the Decepticons, all the while a shadowy government force is trying to hunt down the Transformers.
The human characters are Mark Wahlberg’s Cade Yeager; his teenaged daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz); their goofy family friend Lucas (T.J. Miller); Tessa’s secret boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor); evil CIA guy Attinger (Kelsey Grammar); his goon Savoy (Titus Welliver); and Stanley Tucci as Joshua Joyce, a prissy, narcissistic corporate man, in cahoots with Attinger.
The robots are played by their respective voice actors: Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), Hound (John Goodman), Crosshairs (John DiMaggio), and Drift (Ken Watanabe, playing a rather cliche Japanese samurai bot). Galvatron (an upgraded Megatron) was played this time by Frank Welker instead of Hugo Weaving or Leonard Nimoy. Additionally, there is a bounty hunter robot voiced by Mark Ryan. Making their first appearance are the dinobots, who don’t have voice actors (they just grunt a lot).
The acting for this movie ranges from okay (mainly from Mark Wahlberg and Kelsey Grammar) to terrible (every other human character). Poor Optimus Prime has a lot of cheesy lines to say, and the robots feel like they’re just reciting their awful dialogue instead of conversing. Once again Michael Bay has reduced the primary characters to just props and puppets, which is unsurprising since he even does that to human characters. Fans of Michael Bay say one doesn’t watch Transformers for the dialogue, but I do wonder what a Transformers movie would be like with an even semi-decent portrayal of the robots as actual characters.
Unlike the plot and acting, the production values and special effects are top-notch. The most entertaining moments are the giant robot spectacles and the movie often delivers on that front. The dinobots look monstrous, and they have that extra alien touch to them that make their dinosaur modes look a little too freakish. Other than that, they are quite a marvel to behold, and their sheer size is conveyed pretty well on screen.
If you’re a fan of the original Transformers G1 cartoon, the first alt-mode for Optimus Prime we see is a Marmon ’97 semi truck, which is similar in shape to the Kenworth K100 that was the original G1 Optimus.
Finally, if you liked the previous Transformers movies, this one is more of the same, but with less loathsome human characters, which strangely works out as a plus. I give this film two and a half out of five stars; it’s sufficiently entertaining to not feel ripped-off, but it’s a pretty mediocre movie.