Film Review: ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’

'Transformers: Age of Extinction' Review: Michael

Michael Bay continues to orchestrate symphonies of destruction and bombast, this time unleashing his robots on Hong Kong and parts of mainland China.

It’s not just that the Autobots look more distinctive and easier to tell apart than ever in “Transformers: Age of Extinction as Optimus Prime never tires of reminding us, these robots have actual souls. So who cares if the human characters are even more dispensable and the plot even more scattershot than usual? Resurrected to take on man-made knock-offs of themselves, these metallic superheroes cause so much destruction, it’s as if they’re trying to find a literal new definition for the term “blockbuster”  and indeed, as in the 2007-11 trilogy, which raked in $2.6 billion globally, helmer Michael Bay continues to evolve ways to make robotic shape-shifting look increasingly seamless and realistic in 3D. Extensive location shooting in Hong Kong and China provides a colorful new battlefield as well as an opportunity to cash in on the franchise’s second most lucrative market, and boffo B.O. is expected globally following the pic’s world premiere in Hong Kong and its public unveiling at the Shanghai Film Festival.

Set to be released in 2D, 3D and Imax 3D worldwide, the $165 million mega-production will reportedly kickstart a brand-new trilogy with a complete change of human cast (Mark Wahlberg steps in for Shia LaBeouf here) and the introduction of a new species, the Dinobots, which may have some crossover appeal for fans of another soon-to-be-rebooted franchise, “Jurassic Park.” Paramount is eyeing especially sky-high returns in China, where “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is the fourth highest-grossing film of all time with nearly $180 million, and where “Age of Extinction” received mainland production assistance from 1905 (Beijing) Network Technology Co., China Movie Channel and Jiaflix Enterprises. Still, it’s Hong Kong that gets the lion’s share of the attention onscreen, taking up about 30 minutes of the film’s 165-minute running time (a franchise record).

The plot, as scripted by Ehren Kruger (who penned the last two “Transformers” movies) bears more than a passing resemblance to that of the recent “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” Just as the X-Men are hunted by Sentinels engineered by a paranoid government using mutant DNA, so the Autobots, after siding with humans in an apocalyptic clash against the evil Decepticons, are being targeted for elimination by a second generation of human-designed Transformers. The project is spearheaded by FBI agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), who’s commissioned tech corp KSI, founded by Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) to do the R&D, using the severed head of Decepticon leader Megatron as a blueprint.

SEE ALSO: Review: ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’ 

At a Texas movie theater marked for demolition (no doubt a nod to the end of cinema as we know it), A.I. hobbyist and widower Cade Yeager (Wahlberg) discovers a rusty old truck among a pile of film cans and brings it home, much to the chagrin of his 17-year-old daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz, “Bates Motel”), and his assistant, Lucas (T.J. Miller). When the vehicle reveals its identity as Optimus Prime (again voiced by Peter Cullen), the strongest of the Autobots, Yeager fixes up his injuries while Lucas runs off to report him for a reward. Attinger dispatches his henchmen, forcing Yeager, Tessa and Optimus Prime to go on the run.

It’s nearly 40 minutes into the pic before Optimus Prime gets into a proper fight with a man-made Transformer, and this is preceded by a no less confrontational scenario, when Yeager meets Tessa’s professional race-car driver beau, Shane (Jack Reynor). The affectionate bickering among the nerdy but overprotective dad, his bossy bombshell daughter and her hot-headed b.f. feels like a warm-up act before the rock stars come onstage. That happens when, in classic Western fashion, Optimus Prime summons the surviving Autobots — Bumblebee, Ratchet (Robert Foxworth), Hound (John Goodman), Drift (Ken Watanabe), Crosshairs (John DiMaggio), and later, Brains (Reno Wilson) — to form his own Magnificent Seven.

Bay really lets rip when the Autobots, with the help of their human allies, break into KSI Headquarters in Chicago, ground zero in the previous installment. It’s an exhilarating sequence in which two man-made Transformers, Stinger and Galvatron (Frank Welker), slug it out with the good bots. When a spaceship enters the fray, the story goes into quasi-biblical mode with talk of a “Creator” and an all-important “seed,” replacing the Allspark as the MacGuffin here.

SEE ALSO: Review: ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’

While the Chinese element is certainly generating buzz prior to the film’s theatrical release, the third leg of the pic is all over the map, geographically and structurally. Joyce is supposed to head to his branch operation in southern Guangzhou, but Chinese audiences will recognize random shots of Beijing mixed in with footage of the South China Karst, the much-touted Unesco World Heritage site in Chongqing (this lasts all but a few minutes). Then, Joyce and his beautiful regional manager Su Yueming (Li Bingbing) beam down to Hong Kong and end up in a ludicrous elevator sequence that confirms the stereotype that every Chinese (or Asian, for that matter) is a kung fu master. Once all the characters converge in Hong Kong, however, the stage is set for an epic showdown that proves well worth the not-inconsiderable wait.

Though “Pacific Rim” beat “Age of Extinction” to location shooting in the former British colony, the lurid images Guillermo del Toro served up made the ultra-modern city look like Chinatown. Kudos to Bay, then (despite the surreally ubiquitous lanterns), for capturing the city’s gleaming high-rises and seedy alleyways with lively verisimilitude. In several scenes, the dull, rusty hues of the man-made Transformers blend especially well with the grimy tenements, which resemble stacks of matchboxes. There’s even one stunt that may or may not be a reference to an incident that took place during production, when local gangsters demanding a “turf fee” reportedly threw an air conditioner at Bay (an indefensible act nonetheless in keeping with the spirit of the franchise’s electrical-appliance fetish).

As the sine qua non of the franchise, it’s the robots  endowed here with character-rich physicality and almost human-scaled facial features  who give the film its emotional heft. Optimus Prime’s charismatic leadership of his team, as well as his unwavering compassion for the humans, again makes him the movie’s moral anchor. Drift, with his samurai getup and Watanabe’s dignified line readings, strikes a neat balance with Goodman’s cigar-chewing, wisecracking Hound. Still, the character most likely to be beloved by audiences, especially tykes, remains Bumblebee, whose mischievous personality brings much-needed comic relief.

Among the human actors, only Tucci (suggesting a cross between a mad scientist and a tax collector) has any sort of character arc as he subtly evolves from a snarky comic role to a more fully fleshed-out character with a conscience. Li, whose appearance has been highly anticipated in China, oozes sex appeal while projecting a strong image as a hard-assed career woman, but her role sadly limits her to a few angry or stressed-out expressions.

Industrial Light & Magic again provides an orgy of visual effects and animation, delivering lightning-fast, acrobatic movements from the colossal Dinobots, and conjuring the man-made Transformers from graceful cubic formations. While light rays and spots are noticeably blurry against pitch-black backdrops, other 3D effects provide immersive experiences of large-scale destruction, pelting the viewer with a beautiful confetti shower of splintered metal and exploding debris. The furiously mobile lensing by d.p. Amir Mokri (“Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” “Man of Steel”), making use of smaller digital Imax 3D cameras for the first time, is even more tactile than before, though it still tries to squeeze too much into the frame.

That visual overkill extends to even the shorter scenes of individual bot-to-bot combat, and several haphazardly staged car chases appear to have been inserted to satisfy the auto lovers in the audience. The aggressive sensory assault is borne out by the breakneck editing of William Goldenberg, Roger Barton and Paul Rubell, and also by the score by Bay’s regular composer, Steve Jablonsky, which achieves a thundering majesty whenever the Autobots make a dramatic entrance, but is otherwise drowned out by the din of the Dolby Atmos sound mix.

Film Review: 'Transformers: Age of Extinction'

Reviewed at Peace Cinema, Shanghai, June 22, 2014. (In Shanghai Film Festival — closer.) MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 165 MIN.

Production

A Paramount release presented in association with Hasbro of a Don Murphy/Tom DeSanto production, a di Bonaventura Pictures production, an Ian Bryce production. Produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura, DeSanto, Murphy, Bryce. Executive producers, Steven Spielberg, Michael Bay, Brian Goldner, Mark Vahradian. Co-producers, Allegra Clegg, Matthew Cohan, K.C. Hodenfield, Michael Kase.

Crew

Directed by Michael Bay. Screenplay, Ehren Kruger, based on Hasbro's Transformers action figures. Camera (color, 3D), Amir Mokri; editors, William Goldenberg, Roger Barton, Paul Rubell; music, Steve Jablonsky; production designer, Jeffrey Beecroft; supervising art director, Mark W. Mansbridge; art directors, Sebastian Schroeder, Ben Procter, Benjamin Edelberg, Stephen Cooper, Wiliam Ladd Skinner, David E. Scott; set decorator, Rosemary Brandenberg; costume designer, Marie-Sylvie Deveau; sound (Dolby Atmos/Datasat), Peter J. Devlin; supervising sound editors/designers, Ethan Van der Ryn, Erik Aadahl; re-recording mixers, Greg P. Russell, Scott Millan, Jeffrey J. Haboush; special effects supervisor, John Frazier; visual effects supervisor, Scott Farrar; visual effects and animation, Industrial Light & Magic; visual effects, Method; ILM co-visual effects supervisor, Patrick Tubach; ILM visual effects producer, Wayne Billheimer; ILM animation supervisors, Scott Benza, Rick O'Connor; stunt coordinator, Mike Gunther; 3D conversion, Legend 3D, Prime Focus World; 3D stereographer, Matthew Blute; associate producer, Regan Riskas; assistant director, K.C. Hodenfield; casting, Denise Chamian.

With

Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Sophia Myles, Li Bingbing, Titus Welliver, T.J. Miller. Voices: Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, John Goodman, Ken Watanabe, Robert Foxworth, John DiMaggio, Mark Ryan, Reno Wilson.

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  1. Lun says:

    I’m very very love the film

  2. Alan says:

    That’s world famous boxer Zou Shiming. He is trained by Freddie Roach… the same guy who trains Manny Pacquiao. He won gold metals for China in the Olympics in 2004, 2008, and 2012! Personally, I think it’s completely racist that you saw boxing and thought it was martial arts just because the dude was Asian. That is true racism.

  3. Luke says:

    Ratchet wasn’t summoned by Optimus…. so it was more like the Magnificent Six. As for the movie, I liked it for what it is: a visual effect spectacle, though I think it is the worst of the four. However, there are some ridiculous moments where I just thought “Optimus can _____? Why didn’t he just do that before?” Also, there were many things that just seemed shoe-horned into the movie without adequate development or reason, like the Dinobots. And the blatant product placement ticked me off a bit.

  4. Jonathan says:

    N the human made bot seems so strong with their special transform ability but they got crushed easily by auto bots doesn’t make sense at all , 50 vs few of them, auto bots should all be destroy before Optimus reach them.

  5. Jonathan says:

    This movie is really bad , at the end optimas prime can just fly to space? Come on then why they need space ship

  6. The third sucked w//o Megan. Now this one without Shia just doesn’t make sense.. https://vidd.me/5Mx

  7. MYPC says:

    I give it 5 out of 10.
    This film is not detail.
    e.g. 1. Don’t know why the O Prime can fly at the end.
    2. Don’t know how can the O Prime suddenly got fixed.
    3. Don’t know how can the Lock down make a deal with human.

    I yawned 3 times, during the fight. (even I was sitting at D-Box, a moving chair.)

    People living in H.K. will think it is a comedy movie, when looking at the scenes of H.K. which actually filmed in China. And lots unnecessary scenes, like the Chinese Gov send aircraft to H.K. to protect H.K.

    Nevertheless, thanks for filming in H.K., lots of creative ideas.

  8. John says:

    These movies are not made for “die hard” fans there made to appeal to all ages

  9. Neoracer Xox says:

    You guys get the movies you deserve: Reboots, and THIS.

  10. John says:

    Michal bay directed the movies he didn’t write them and he don’t give a damn what people say about his work plus for all those people criticizing him you will never make the money he has so it’s a win lose situation and the bay transformers are not meant to be a reboot of the g1 series they are two completely different universes and a quick thought the legendary Stephen Spielberg is the executive producer

  11. Walter White says:

    It’s boringgggggg, after 10 minutes, film is boring, slow …. there that acton scenes of raising the level … but after a while it’s just as boring.
    When a side of his character that we do not care, and written in a sheet of toilet paper scenario!

  12. Burrito Grande says:

    Hopefully, with the success of this latest TF film, someone will recognize that it’s time to make a film series based on Voltron. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voltron

  13. Trevor says:

    I really don’t understand why these movies are hated so much. They’ve got great action, great visual effects, and if you think the stories and scripts are weak, then you should go watch The Dark Knight Rises again. I’ll be waiting

    • Jared says:

      The movies are hated on because it has what we the die-hard fans don’t want. We don’t want kissy-kissy scenes, we don’t want porno shots of girls Michael Bay was probably doing something naughty over in his room, we don’t want racist stereotypes trying to pass off as humor, and we only want minimal human engagement.

      I am taking some of this from Screen Junkies “How to Fix Transformers” video, and at the same time I am not, I honestly think that a good chunk of the actors that were cast for the first three were crap. Shia LaBeouf kept stuttering and made the cliche enough lines seem even more cliche, Megan Fox was only used as Ms. Hot Shot, and had a similar deal with LaBeouf’s acting, and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley was the same as Fox.

      For the Transformers themselves, I really would like to see more shots that aren’t 5 seconds long. If you look at some of the scenes from the Transformers films, compare it to Pacific Rim, and Pacific Rim wins. Because Pacific Rim actually let you see what the hell was going on.

      It’s all over the place, but I really hope they do well with Age of Extinction. I agree the visuals and action are superb, and Mark Wahlberg should be in it, but I know it won’t be too well.

      If I had to do anything, fire Michael Bay and hire Joss Whedon. He would give us the Transformers we want

  14. Tracy says:

    So basically there’s zero character development, a lot of cool CGI which is described as “overkill”…and yet this reviewer gives the movie a positive review?

    No wonder the state of filmmaking has reached this level. And Hollywood will be scratching its head wondering what went wrong as theaters empty out and people run to their televisions for stories that actually mean something. Who would have thought that would be the case ten years ago?

  15. mattinacan says:

    ugh someone put Bay out of his misery already

  16. Pete says:

    So much snobbery regarding these TF films. These movies never aspired to be high art. The point is to make something exciting to make money. It’s based on a toy commercial TV series, after all. And to think some people have the nerve to treat people who do like the movies as if they are some lower form of humanity. Get over yourselves!

    • Kenny says:

      Nothing wrong with having bad tastes. Look at the commercial success of Grown Ups 2. They make these movies for people like you, enjoy them.

      • Pete says:

        Then I guess even my bad taste is selective. After watching the abhorrent Grown Ups 1, I couldn’t even stomach the thought of watching the second film on TV.

  17. JJ says:

    This series is such crap. Enjoy the latest chapter, dumbass moviegoers.

  18. Chloe says:

    If this film is more about the robots than the humans, then I say, “It’s about time!” Look at the cartoon. TransFormers was always about the robots–their lives, their history, their desire for home. Who cares about the people?

    • Robert says:

      i agree with you Chloe if the movie its focusing more on the bots like the recent games and tv series i’m all for that

  19. Micah J. Berman says:

    The critic, while point well taken, needs to stop with the op-ed and give us the facts. From what I gather, this movie is far superior to the latter two of the series, we’d all be surprised, I’m sure, if the film got anywhere near a fresh rating on RT.

    Still, I’m through with critics and their OP-ED pieces on the director (michael bay). This is about the movie, not the director’s past performance.

  20. Christopher says:

    What a snob sprinkling few facts and lots of negative opinion. Ew.

  21. Benedict Johnson says:

    Michael Bay is the Nickelback of movies.

    • freeek says:

      Sounds great then. I love Nickelback, Transformers 1 & 3.

      • Dave Brown says:

        Soooo….you basically just admitted that you really don’t like movies or music. Yeah, this is the movie for you. It’s an unnecessary sequel. It’s a remake of a cartoon show from the 80’s. It’s also based a cartoon that’s sole purpose for existing was to sell toys! And Nickelback, really? C’mon!

        At almost three hours I’m out. If this thing was just under two hours I might indulge in some dumb-assery, but this is not going to be the type of movie with themes, characters or sweep that requires that running time. I hope it bombs and sends a message, but it won’t. I would be a very happy camper if I drive by a packed parking lot to a movie theater and hear only Nickelback blasting from the cars parking. Uggggggghhhhhhh……

  22. Nancy P says:

    Sounds just like the other films…..this series needs a proper reboot.

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