Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
Michael Bay’s robots in disguise have returned for their fourth big screen outing, which reinvents the franchise (although not really…at all). Unlike their eighties animated counterparts, there’s definitely not more than meets the eye here. If you’ve seen the first three movies, then you know exactly what to expect going in. That’s not a criticism in and of itself, just a fact. To be fair, Age of Extinction actually isn’t as terrible as one may expect.
The movie picks up four years after Dark of the Moon’s climactic battle. All Cybertronians are facing hatred and intolerance due to the scale of the devastation inflicted upon Chicago during the last movie. Autobot and Decepticon alike are hunted by the CIA, while behind it all lurks a new threat from beyond the stars.
The plot is simple enough but to say it is far too drawn out would be an understatement. The greatest criticism I would put upon Age of Extinction is its run time. At 165 minutes, it truly wears you out by the time the credits roll. There is plenty that could have been left on the cutting room floor.
Most of the action is impressive, although some feels repetitive and unoriginal. One of the earlier setpieces involves another battle in Chicago which does little to differentiate itself from the Chicago sequences of the last movie, making for a feel of been there, done that.
The final act is better, conjuring up some semblance of originality by finally showcasing the much anticipated Dinobots. Admittedly, seeing Optimus Prime charge into combat atop a giant mechanical Tyrannosaurus Rex was exciting. The only problem again lies in the movie’s run time. There is so much unnecessary padding between action scenes that by the time the epic final act comes around, you feel exhausted. It’s a shame really because I’m pretty sure I would have appreciated the spectacle of the Autobots teaming up with the Dinobots so much more had it not taken so long to get there. Poor editing really is Age of Extinction’s Achilles’ heel.
The majority of the padding involves stretching out subplots for the human characters, most of which are clichéd and monotonous. It’s well known at this stage that Age of Extinction features an all new human cast and those of you who have yet to see the movie may wonder what difference this makes. The simple answer is not much of one.
Despite the change in acting talent, Age of Extinction maintains the same overall tone and feel of its predecessors. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is entirely a matter of opinion, but personally I just feel indifferent about it. Had Sam Witwicky returned, fine, but they went with someone different, which is also fine.
Leading the cast this time around is Mark Wahlberg as down and out inventor, Cade Yeager. Wahlberg is actually a pretty good addition to the franchise. He slips into the role of every man turned action hero well here and is a natural fit for this world. Judging Wahlberg and Yeager alone, I can offer no criticism. However, judging Yeager in the context of his life situation, he must hit nearly every Hollywood cliché in the book.
Cade Yeager is a family man struggling to make ends meet and pay the bills; a single father trying to come up with enough money to put his kid through college; and an over-protective parent who refuses to allow his daughter to date. It’s all enough to make you roll your eyes and sigh but luckily Wahlberg is likable enough here that you can just about let it go.
Nicola Peltz and Jack Reynor on the other hand – portraying Yeager’s daughter Tessa and her boyfriend Shane respectively – are by far the worst new additions to the cast. If they were removed from the plot, the rest of the characters could probably have served the same function without them and the movie would have been a lot more streamlined, which definitely would have been for the better.
Their relationship’s subplot lacked even the smallest hint of emotional depth and was entirely uninteresting. Their characters felt more like they were created to service Wahlberg’s protagonist, but all they did was bog both him and the movie down in contrived scenes that would have been better deleted.
Kelsey Grammar’s performance as villainous CIA agent Harold Attinger was admirable enough. That being said, between Attinger and his right hand man in the field, James Savoy – portrayed by Titus Welliver – it felt like they were rehashing the role served by Patrick Dempsey’s Dylan Gould in Dark of the Moon. As you may recall, Gould was in league with the Decepticons and incurred the wrath of the movie’s protagonist by threatening the person for whom he cared the most. This is more or less exactly what Attinger and Savoy do between them in Age of Extinction.
And on the subject of roles that felt a little familiar, Stanley Tucci’s Joshua Joyce seemed like a replacement for John Turturro’s Seymour Simmons. While their backgrounds are different, Joyce’s personality and role in the plot were very similar to those of Simmons in the first three movies. It didn’t meet with much success either, while the award for having the most annoying subplot may go to Tessa and Jack, Joyce is a not so distant runner up.
However, none of us to go to see these movies for the human characters, we all go for the giant robots! The only problem is, at this point do many viewers actually recognise any of the Autobots in these films other than Optimus and Bumblebee? While Ratchet – the only other remaining Autobot from the first movie – makes an appearance, the rest of the Cybertronian heroes feel largely interchangeable at this point.
It seems as if when each movie begins, Optimus and Bumblebee have a brand new entourage of fellow robots in disguise for no particular reason other than to sell more toys. New Transformer characters this time include a wise cracking, cigar smoking Autobot by the name of Hound, voiced by John Goodman, and apparent Cybertronian samurai, Drift. I can’t decide whether the fact that the latter is voiced by Ken Watanabe makes him more or less of a racist character.
The big bad this time goes by the name of Lockdown and, in all fairness, he is the most unique and interesting antagonist the franchise has seen since Megatron in the first film. And while other of the villainous robotic characters could certainly be labelled as repetitive or predictable, admittedly I didn’t entirely dislike the direction that they chose to go with them.
Then there’s the Dinobots; the main selling point for this movie and probably the reason a lot of people who are on the fence may go to see it. When they appear on screen, they do look great and add an element of uniqueness to the setpieces in which they feature. However, considering the marketing campaign is very much focused around them, the Dinobots don’t receive nearly as much screen time as one might anticipate.
One thing seems sure by the end of Age of Extinction, the movie creates the potential to take the franchise in an interesting new direction for the inevitable sequels. Whether this is capitalised upon or not remains to be seen. Whether it makes sense is another question entirely. Cybertronian history seems very convoluted and more than a little inconsistent at this point. However, the opportunity to expand upon the mythology in a fresh and intriguing way is certainly there, even if this fourth entry in the series doesn’t really differentiate itself from its predecessors in any monumental way.
I can’t say that I was disappointed by Transformers: Age of Extinction because it was exactly what I expected it to be, based on what we’ve seen before and Michael Bay’s track record. I also can’t say that I was blown away by it for the same reasons. It is not a terrible movie, it is not a great movie, it is just very much a Michael Bay Transformers movie; over the top, two dimensional and far too long but ultimately watchable nevertheless.
Despite its flaws, it may be the franchise’s best entry since 2007′s Transformers and could have even elevated itself to the status of above average action movie had it cut out about an hour of unnecessary material. Basically, if you’ve seen the other Transformers movies, whether you love or hate them you know what you’re getting yourself in for with Age of Extinction. It does exactly what it says on the tin.
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