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TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION (2014) review

July 8, 2014

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written by: Ehren Kruger

produced by: Don Murphy, Tony DeSanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura & Ian Bryce

directed by: Michael Bay

rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo)

runtime: 165 min.

U.S. release date: June 27, 2014

 

I viewed “Transformers: Age of Extinction” at the immense Navy Pier IMAX theater in Chicago with several other critics, days before its actual release. Others around us had received passes for this screening and had filled the rest of the enormous theater with a palpable sense of anticipation for the movie to start – all 2 hours and 40 minutes of it. Try as I may to maintain a sense of optimism when approaching any movie, this latest ‘rinse and repeat” noise fest from Michael Bay tested that mindset. Trepidation kicked in, knowing full well this guaranteed blockbuster product would be a test of endurance. At least I was in the best place possible to take in the undoubtedly superb sound and vision of this inane and repetitive franchise – still, it nevertheless left my butt numb, my head aching and my moviegoing psyche mad.

It’s been five years since Optimus Prime and his Autobots saved the world from the Decipticon’s nefarious machinations, leaving Chicago demolished in their wake. They were heroes then, fighting along our military men (and a few common folk, you may remember Sam Witwicky – although, no one in this sequel has) joining them to defeat a common enemy that day. Things have changed. Time has given the people of Earth a new perspective and the media an opportunity to plug a fear of alien robots into susceptible human minds.

Now all alien robots, Autobot or Decpticon, are hunted down and destroyed by a special black ops unit called Cemetery Wind, led by the super-serious/sunglass-wearing James Savoy (Titus Welliver), who reports to shady CIA agent, Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), whose goal is to eradicate all Transformers from our planet, because “it’s ours”. To see this through, the paranoid Attinger has formed an alliance with intergalactic bounty hunter, Lockdown (voiced by Mark Ryan), also a Transformer who can slip into a grey Lamborghini. He works for The Creators, a group of mysterious aliens who he refers to as the makers of all things Transformers.

 

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Meanwhile, in Paris, Texas, auto mechanic and wanna-be robotics engineer, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) struggles to find a way to beat the looming foreclosure on his ranch and workshop, while scrounging for scrap metal in order to invent the ‘Next Best Thing’ in order to put his hottie teenage daughter, Tessa (Nicole Peltz, offering nothing but looks to any scene she’s in), through school as he mandates a “no boys” rule. Yeah, right. There’s another mechanic, Lucas (annoyingly played by T.J. Miller), supposedly working alongside Cade, although it appears his sole purpose is to provide comic relief and confirm that Cade is the Alpha Male and is surrounded by zero competition.

At this point, it’s about a half hour in and I’d become painfully aware that what I was watching was pretty awful. Actually, it’s more like I was reminded of the worst aspect of all of Bay’s “Transformers” movies – the humans. I can tolerate all the eye-rolling low-angle shots and short-short camera-gazing (or are those pockets that Peltz is wearing?) that Bay thinks is cool, because all that is expected in these movies. But, please for the love of all that’s holy, do I have to hear all this idiotic dialogue recited from the mouths of actors who are on onscreen to merely run and pose? I guess I do, since that’s what I’ve endured through the last three movies and since the common denominator in these movies (besides Bay) has been screenwriter Ehren Kruger, who’s been onboard since the first sequel, “Revenge of the Fallen”. But more on him as we continue….

Back to Texas and over protective single-father Cade (couldn’t we just have a line somewhere that establishes that Wahlberg’s character migrated himself and his daughter from Boston to Texas after the death of his wife? That would explain how out-of-place his Cade Yaeger comes across in Texas) who finds a damaged and run-down Optimus Prime collecting dust in the Uptown Theater (never mind that this theater is actually located in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago’s northside, because – why would any in-the-know Chicagoan watching be pulled out of the story by such a thing?), an once-glorious, old movie house which is now closed and considered a relic. Before you wonder how a semi truck wound up in such a place (a plot point which is never answered – because why would moviegoers wonder such a thing?), we’re back with Cade where he proclaims to his partner (lackey, more like) and daughter, “I think we just found a Transformer?”, after tinkering on the truck he’d dragged back to his barn. He may not be the sharpest inventor in Texas, but he knows a thing or two about a thing or two when he hears, “Calling all Autobots!” blurt from the truck he just jump-started.

 

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It doesn’t take long for Attinger to track down Prime’s transmission and send out his goons, led by lap dog, Savoy, to pay the Yaeger homestead a visit, followed by Lockdown. Prime helps our one-dimensional protagonists, but if it wasn’t for the help of Tessa’s secret older boyfriend, Irish racecar driver, Shane Dyson (a dull Jack Reynor), she and her father Cade wouldn’t have made it off their property alive. Wait, this seventeen year-old has a boyfriend, even though her father forbade it? Indeed, this confirms just how obtuse Cade Yaeger is. He dispenses unreasonable rules and has no clue when they are broken. Hey, but at least he’s clever enough to call this new boyfriend “Lucky Charms” throughout the rest of the movie, because – the dude’s Irish and he’s Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yaeger.

Right about this time, I’m sitting there wishing the same thing I was wishing during the first two strained acts of  “Dark of the Moon”, the last/best movie of the franchise – this movie should not have humans. Kruger and Bay populate these movies with exceedingly stupid, unintentionally humorous and extremely rote human beings, that cannot be saved by any actor. All these movies needs are big and loud robots, doing what they do best – destroying the planet and spouting awful lines like, “There are innumerable mysteries to the universe. But who we are, is not one of them. The answer lies within us,” or better yet, “But when you look up to the stars, think of them as my soul,” while doing so. Ugh, the awful human dialogue has infiltrated Prime’s system like unwieldly techno-virus.

Prime rounds up the remaining Autobots, who all seem to be in simultaneous shock and jubilation that their leader is still alive. They consist of distinctive stereotypes such as Scottish (or Irish, honestly I couldn’t tell) paratrooper Crosshairs (veteran voice actor, John DiMaggio, you may know him as Bender from “Futurama”), commando Hound (lazily voiced by John Goodman, like a Southern good ‘ol boy) and Drift (Ken Watanabe, cuz he’s Japanese), who is apparently something of a shogun. Of course, fan-favorite Bumblebee (also voiced by Mark Ryan, as the Michael Winslow of these movies) has also returned. If I had to choose, he’s also my favorite, simply because he isn’t outfitted with some kind of overbearing racial vocals that are recognizable inhabitants of Earth. How does that make sense? These robots are from another world, right? Why would they be representing different nations from our planet? Outside of Peter Cullen, who’s voiced Optimus Prime since the 80s cartoon version of the Hasbro toyline, I gave up trying to figure out who’s who and why in these movies, so I guess I should throw out such questions as well.

 

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Eventually, Cade Yaeger and his clan make it to Chicago, which apparently has miraculously recovered from robot devastation. Way to go, Rahm! If the storyline wasn’t already nonsensical enough, here’s where it’s kicked into high gear. They go to the Windy City after Cade hacks a Cemetery Wind drone that was left and links it to a Chicago-based corporation named KSI, where egotistical inventor Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci, hamming it up) has invented a controllable metal he’s calling Transformium. We learn he’s making his own Transformers, with help from Attinger, using this metal, an imprisoned Brains (that annoying little ghetto-talkin’ Autobot from the previous movies) and the head of Megatron.

Pretty soon Chicago is once again trashed, as Cade (now suited with an alien gun) and family team-up with the Autobots to stop Joyce’s creation Galvatron (Frank Welker, another veteran of the cartoon series), who leads an army of robots fresh off the assembly line. The chaotic battle goes global, spilling over into Hong Kong, because that’s where these new KSI bots are being manufactured. They’ll have a “Made in China” stamp on the bottom of their feet, no doubt. It’s there that Prime wrangles so-called Legends (but, actually Dinobots, another toyline from the 80s) into submission in order to combat Galvatron, Lockdown and anyone else who gets in the mix. Between all the toppling buildings, totaled vehicles and cacophony of explosions and gunfire, I’ll admit to losing track of the last hour of action and character motivation (as if that’s ever clearly defined in these movies), as all my senses seemed to gloss over and culminate in my own system overload.

This is the longest of all the “Transformers” movies and I have no clue why. Clearly, so much has happened since the last one that Bay and Company needed to play catch-up with all that has transpired. Not quite. It’s just more time for the fans to be inundated with more of same banging and clanging nonsense. Without a doubt, Bay’s sound and vision in this series have significantly improved, providing stunning action and impressive visual effects. Strip all that away though and we have a boring storyline with characters that insult one’s intelligence and waste ones‘ time. Due to my boredom, as time went on, I just wanted it all to end – that’s where my anger kicked in.

 

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No one in this movie reacts or behaves the way a normal human being would. Kruger’s dialogue here comes across like either a 10 year-old boy wrote it or a fortysomething man with a pre-teen mentality and most of the time it’s read like someone’s holding a cue card off-camera. The only actor who looks fully committed and invested is Tucci, who vacillates between spot-on smarm and little girl screams like no one else. The miscast Wahlberg delivers his worst performance since “The Happening” and a cruise control Grammer all but phones it in, while half-sleeping. Don’t get me started on the women of “Extinction” (not that any of these movies have provided stellar female roles), yes there’s others beyond the vapid Peltz (this is the same girl who butchered Katara in Shayamalan’s “The Last Airbender” from 2010, which earned her a Raspberry nomination for “Worst Supporting Actress”), but they’re all relegated to thankless roles, such Tucci’s executive assistant (Melanie Specht), his geologist assistant (Sophia Myles) and Su Yueming (Li Bingbing), who runs the Chinese KSI branch and serves as a forced love interest for Tucci’s Joshua Joyce, although she shows no interest in him. So, outside of Peltz, Tucci gets all the girls.

I could go on about certain scenes that standout among the many awful scenes. There’s the one where Optimus Prime and Cade Yaeger is getting some down time, taking a breather while hiding from their pursuers, and we find Cade commiserating with Prime about the petulant stubbornness of his teenage daughter. To which Prime replies, “I went through the same thing with Bumblebee”. Ugh. For me, this was the equivalent of Wahlberg talking to a tree in “The Happening”.

With all that transpired with these robots, aliens from somewhere out there, there’s no reason for a man or woman to sit around and try and….relate to or bond with them. Trust them. It’s mentioned that Titus Welliver’s character’s family was killed as a result of what transpired in Chicago. It makes sense then that humans wouldn’t trust the Transformers, just as it makes sense that Optimus Prime wonders why he should help mankind once again, since his kind is being hunted down. These are interesting concepts that Kruger does nothing with. Bay has no time for any deep examinations and he knows that neither will his fans. He knows what they came for and how to provide it. He can dress up dinosaurs in robot armor, but it’s still more of the same.

One observation is that “Age of Extinction” has an opening and ending that’s vaguely reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus”. Never thought I’d be mentioning that, but anything that stands out as different must be noted. So, that’s the one unexpected surprise in a movie that replicates almost everything from the previous three “Transformers” movies as it sets itself up for the inevitable sequel.

 

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RATING: *1/2

 

 

 

 

 

 

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