Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

The rules have changed

Like it or not, Michael Bay’s Transformers series has proven itself to be an unstoppable worldwide moneymaking machine. Slammed by the majority of critics, the Hasbro films have generated billions of dollars for the studio and toy company, pushed visual effects house ILM to its breaking point and given fans the opportunity to witness giant robots beat the living daylights out of each other in style, crushing cities in the process. Suffice to say, the series has had an interesting history thus far; the first Transformers (2007) picture is arguably the easiest to enjoy, a rather relatable story about a boy and his first car — which happens to be an intergalactic shape-shifting robot, who is part of an ancient alien feud that has found its way to Earth — and succeeds thanks to Bay’s a frantic, but fun signature style, a crafty script and some solid performances. The second outing, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) — the most criticized film in the series — went into production with an incoherent screenplay and is perhaps best summed up as a product of the Writer’s Guild strike. Bay promised to right his wrongs with the third, and apparent ‘final’ chapter in the trilogy, Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) — a darker tone, focusing more on the titular robots opposed to the human players — shot in meticulously designed 3D, the picture succeeded as the best ‘all-rounder’ the series had to offer.

Prime-time Entertainment!
Prime-time Entertainment!

Now, with this fourth Transformers installment, apparently kick-starting a new trilogy, Bay seems determined to bring fans the biggest, ‘craziest,’ Transformers film yet. First and foremost, the human players have all been changed, for better or worse. Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky — who’s narrative and character have undoubtedly been fleshed out to their absolute limit — and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s, Carly, are no longer needed, as the series heads down an exciting new path, working as part-sequel, part-reboot, building on, and expanding, the mythos explored in the first trilogy.

Age of Extinction opens some four years after the climactic battle of Dark of the Moon, as humanity attempts to pick up the shattered pieces and rebuild all that was lost in the devastating calamity — there are meticulously designed propaganda-type posters, billing the Transformers as alien threats, hinting to mankind that we should remember the events that rocked Chicago, and keep our world ‘Alien Free.’ The devious Decepticons and valiant Autobots — previously aiding mankind in saving their planet — led by the gallant, powerful and wise, Optimus Prime (voiced as always by Peter Cullen) — whose vehicle mode is a blue and red, flame-painted pick-up truck — have all but vanished from the face of the Earth, or are somewhere in hiding. The Transformers have disappeared due to being viciously hunted down and destroyed by Harold Attinger, sinisterly portrayed by a menacing Kelsey Grammer — far from his Cheers (1982) and Fraiser (1993) days — a powerful businessman who is in control of a US black ops team named Cemetery Wind, led by a merciless James Savoy (Titus Welliver).

Nicola Peltz, the new, all-American gal.
Nicola Peltz, the new, all-American gal.

Meanwhile, a down-and-out amateur Texan inventor — on the verge of facing financial ruin — Cade Yeager, a strapping, hardworking family-man, played by Mark Wahlberg — having recently teamed up with director Michael Bay on the low budget feature Pain and Gain (2013) — is desperately trying to make ends meet, while attempting to put his stunning 17-year-old daughter, Tessa Yeager, through College — wonderfully portrayed with cheek and style by the arrestingly gorgeous Nicola Petlz, The Last Airbender (2010), proving that she has what it takes to become a major female Hollywood contender. With a side business of refurbishing junk, Cade purchases a beaten and battered rusty old truck, damaged almost beyond repair. After carrying out some work on the core unit, which seems to fuel the truck, Cade realizes that he has, in fact, made a startling discovery, having found a Transformer. Both Tessa, and Cade’s chilled-out business partner, Lucas (T.J. Miller), advise him to turn this renegade robot in to the government, but Cade is somewhat reluctant. By the time Cade finally makes up his mind, Attinger and his team have already tracked the truck down — who happens to be the legendary Optimus Prime in disguise. When the government officials descend on Cade’s farmyard property and are prepared to kill him and his family in order locate the truck’s whereabouts, Prime retaliates, putting Cade, Tessa, Lucas and even Tessa’s secret boyfriend, Shane (Jack Raynor) — who coincidently happens to be a race car driver — directly in harm’s way. What our heroes don’t know however, is that Attinger is in cahoots with another sinister power; an ancient, unknown bounty hunter, Lockdown (voiced by Mark Ryan) who is working for a higher being, hell-bent on capturing Optimus for his own mysterious purposes.

The picture opens superbly, with an absorbing prologue that alludes to what really wiped-out the dinosaurs, then moves into an amiable father/daughter narrative, focusing on the struggling Yeager family and their potholed relationship. As soon as the Transformers arrive however, the usual Bayhem kicks into full overdrive, sadly pushing the human element into the background, shifting its focus to the alien machines and their intergalactic quarrel.

Let the Bayhem begin!
Let the Bayham begin!

The screenplay by Ehren Kruger — the writer responsible for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) and Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) — is by far his wildest creation yet, constantly bombarding viewers for the film’s entire 165-minute runtime with fresh mind-bending ideas. Viewers are introduced to the ‘Seed’ — working as the feature’s McGuffin — a power source possessing the ability to terraform large expanses of any surface on Earth into pure Transformanium — material being used by humans to create their own breed of Transformer. Then there are the ancient Dinobots — undoubtedly the film’s biggest draw-card — whose absurd re-awakening will leave most with a host of new questions, arriving when the film couldn’t possibly get any busier. Although the Dinobot’s screen-time is somewhat limited, I doubt many will protest when Optimus is seen charging into battle, sword in hand, mounted on a fire-breathing Grimlock’s back.

Let’s not forget the elaborately scaled action scenes which are amazingly staged, beginning with the chaotically dramatic car chases, clearly inserted to satisfy auto enthusiasts, before taking our heroes into more outlandish type settings, such as a Giger-esque surreal nightmare inside Lockdown’s alien space craft — expanding the boundless universe by showcasing an array of astounding alien creatures, some of who are being held captive. The clear standout though, is an outrageously breath-taking, visually inflated finale, which levels the city of Hong Kong in its wake, proving that Bay has what it takes to create a genuine Blockbuster spectacle. As far as action goes, this is undoubtedly, the biggest, most overstuffed and ambitious Transformers film to date.

Marky Mark, exposing his big guns!
Marky Mark, exposing his big guns!

Age of Extinction additionally introduces audiences to a plethora of thrilling new characters, including a host of new Transformers. Autobot commando, the cigar-chomping Hound (voiced by John Goodman) — who transforms into an Oshkosh Defense Medium Tactical Vehicle — brings gung-ho gusto to the group, former Decepticon and team tactician Drift (voiced by Ken Watanabe) — who changes into a black and blue 2013 Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse — adds an Eastern flavor to the gang as the oddly shaped, oriental warrior, whilst Autobot paratrooper Crosshairs (voiced by John DiMaggio) — whose earthly disguise is a green 2014 Chevrolet Corvette C7 Stingray — shines in the picture’s 3D action sequences. When it comes to the Decepticons, we meet the man-made Galvatron (voiced by Frank Weller), who shares an uncanny resemblance to Autobot nemesis Megatron. In terms of human players, Stanley Tucci’s, The Hunger Games (2012), Joshua Joyce is the feature’s clear standout. An arrogant designer convinced that he can assemble brand-new Transformers, that are able to bend to his will — working with samples of metal that were recovered from the bodies of fallen Transformers, including the ruined husk that used to be Megatron — Joshua finds himself in the midst of the chaos in search for more raw materials to fulfill his wild ambition. With Joshua, Tucci successfully provides much of the film’s comedy, being less obnoxious than the series’ last jokers, John Malkovich or Ken Jeong, as Tucci knows exactly what his role requires and delivers it in spades; Tucci pretty much nails it.

The real star of Transformers: Age of Extinction is effects house Industrial Light & Magic, who, once again, provide an orgy of cutting-edge visual effects and animation, delivering lightning-fast, energetic movements for the grandiose Dinobots and spawn man-made Transformers from graceful particle-like cubic formations. The bot-to-bot combat is fluid, fierce and awfully life-like and the transformers themselves are glossier, with the robots physically looking more human in design. The colossal robotic life-forms appear to be smoother and less disordered this fourth time around, even so, the on-screen commotion still often results in somewhat of a sensory assault. The aggressive frenzied pacing is borne out by the sharp editing of William Goldenberg, Zero Dark Thirty (2012), Roger Barton, World War Z (2013), and Paul Rubell, Thor (2011), whilst the 3D — with Age of Extinction being the first ever feature film captured with the IMAX 3D digital camera — is simply out of this world.

Welcome to Michael Bay's Jurassic Park!
Welcome to Michael Bay’s Jurassic Park!

Being a Michael Bay vehicle, Transformers: Age of Extinction, features all of his signature attributes and is, without a doubt, a technical marvel, almost resembling a lavish multi-million dollar commercial. Sporting a visually aggressive aesthetic, cinematographer Amir Mokri, Man of Steel (2013), employs both dynamic contrast and vibrant colors along with Bay’s signature gleaming lens flair and notorious Dutch angles. The score is equally as monstrous, with composer Steve Jablonsky, Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), impressively incorporating elements of Imagine Dragons’ official theme song, Battle Cry within the mix; even electronic musician, Sonny John Moore, better known as Skrillex, has been summoned to enhance the delightfully chaotic soundtrack.

While essentially a new beginning for the Transformers franchise, Age of Extinction follows the path of its predecessors in being big, loud and brimful. Bloating a mammoth budget, being a joint US and Chinese production with partners China Movie Channell and Jiaflix Enterprises — explaining the picture’s superfluous third act move to Hong Kong — Transformers: Age of Extinction is a viscerally impressive, jam-packed extravaganza, tailor made for those who like to over indulge. Even with all its self-professed haters, Michael Bay’s Age of Extinction has one defining redeeming factor, its eagerness to open up and expand the vast alien universe, fueling future installments with limitless possibilities.

3.5 / 5 – Great

Reviewed by S-Littner

Transformers: Age of Extinction is released through Paramount Pictures Australia