By: Bryan Montgomery
Rating: 6.5 out of 10
The Transformers franchise has been one of the most polarizing in the recent history of cinema. Successful financially, Michael Bay’s foray into the famous Hasbro toy line has been panned by critics and fans alike, but these same individuals continue to churn out films on a regular basis, much to the chagrin of film fans. After a three-year hiatus, Bay comes back with a partial re-boot of the franchise with Age of Extinction, another exercise in cinema insanity, as the master of chaos returns with another disjointed entry into this franchise.
Set several years after the battle of Chicago in Dark of the Moon, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) accidentally stumbles upon the battle-worn Optimus Prime, who he repairs before a grouping of government agents come to his farm, assisted by the interstellar mercenary Lockdown, who is hunting Optimus for his own gain. What follows is a globe-trekking chase hat pits Optimus against several surprising adversaries, as the corporation led by Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), who have unlocked the ability to use the chemistry of the Transformers to their own ends, leading to some shocking results.
To follow Dark of the Moon, which was arguably the best film in the Transformers franchise, Bay had to do a careful balancing act of forgetting about the original trilogy while at the same time keeping intact what made the first three films so popular in the first place. Luckily for all action-savvy filmgoers, Bay is a huge fan of simply doing things bigger and bigger with every film that he directs. Age of Extinction is an exercise in the extreme from the opening credits. It is undoubtedly bigger, but in no way does that vindicate the franchise, as Age of Extinction experiences the same pitfalls as its predecessors.
A lack of regard for any character in the franchise has always been a shortfall for Bay and Transformers, and that has never been more prevalent than in Age of Extinction. The addition of Lockdown provides a breath of fresh air simply because it is nice to see a villain that has nothing to do with conquering the Earth, rather a mercenary with a simple mission to capture Optimus Prime. It’s the simplicity of Lockdown that makes the villainous addition to the franchise work, nothing seems out of place as the bounty hunter is simply doing what he was sent to Earth to do.
What results from Lockdown’s hunt of Optimus Prime is possibly some of the best action sequences that we have seen in the franchise so far. Nothing will be able to match the sheer scale and intensity of the Battle of Chicago from Dark of the Moon, but the final conflict in Hong Kong is easily the second best battle scene in the franchise so far. The much talked about addition of the Dinobots is simply put, awesome. Anyone who wants a definition or example of Michael Bay’s insanity only needs to watch the battle scene to see Optimus Prime riding on the back of Grimlock, a T-Rex inspired Dinobot, with a sword.
Luckily, the film is able to benefit from these moments thanks to another incredible set of visual effects under Bay’s leadership. The primary draw for these films is always the effects-laden spectacle that is presented on screen, and Age of Extinction keeps up the reputation for bar-setting visuals; if anything interested moviegoers should check out the film just to see the widespread destruction and chaos that Bay is able to put on the screen, which makes Zach Snyder’s destruction of Metropolis in Man of Steel look like child’s play.
As mentioned before, the film simply falls short of becoming a quality entry in the franchise because it never truly decides to turn the attention away from the action and towards the characters on stage. Wahlberg and Tucci do a strong job in their roles, but nearly every other role in the film is wasted, simply generic and uninteresting characters that fill roles needed to justify running away from computer generated robots. What’s worse is the continued reliance that Bay pays to making stupid, cliché jokes that simply do not resonate, or attempt to use quick-hitting comic relief that does not give the audience the time needed to even realize that a joke is being made in the first place. During the first movie or even Revenge of the Fallen, it was a little funny, but this being the fourth film it feels like a tired and boring routine, and one that Bay needs to move away from.
Ultimately, Age of Extinction fails not just because of the standard Michael Bay shortfalls; those should be expected from one of his films. It’s simply not interesting. Early on in the movie, the story of the creators starts to come into play. It is not touched on again until the end of the film. The true purpose and semi-twist behind the new Transformer Galvatron is unveiled. Optimus never really gets a chance to fight him. Since this is allegedly the first in a new trilogy of Transformer films, it would have been beneficial to the franchise to provide a small degree of direction heading into new installments, but Bay rather focuses on this single picture, which ultimately makes Age of Extinction fall short.
The Transformers franchise will not die as long as moviegoers continue to file into theaters to see the newest three-hour Michael Bay epic. Unfortunately, Age of Extinction will rank among the franchise’s many disappointments, seen as an installment that was unable to kick-start a new trilogy despite the ingredients that could have resulted in greatness. Bay does several things right, the inclusion of Wahlberg, incredible visuals and Dinobots, but the lack of an immersive plot, the reliance upon clichés and poor humor and a disjointed set of objectives for this new trilogy will put a lot of pressure upon Bay to get this series back on track.