Thursday, June 26, 2014

Transformers Age of Extinction: The Very Good & Very Bad Movie Review!

TRANSFORMERS fans are secretly a patient and forgiving lot. Yes, they bellyache about seemingly the most obscure of details, but they understand that they are fortunate to be living in an age where the toy store shelves are overflowing with product, comic book stores feature regular TF issues and, of course, four major motion pictures featuring the titular toy brand.

That doesn’t mean that they will be accepting of everything, and that best sums up how hardcore fans will feel about “Transformers: Age of Extinction” (“TF: AOE”), the fourth TF film directed by Michael Bay.

In a way, this is a surprising film, but only in the sense that everyone was surprised they were making it considering the widespread concern—even among TF fans—that after “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” everyone was kind of TF-ed out. Still, getting a film in the year of the franchise's 30th anniversary was quite cool.

A lot of ink has been spilled trying to paint “TF: AOE” as being different from the first three films and that it was effectively a reboot. The truth is that this film is very, very much like the first three and, if anything, it seems to be continuing what has been going on to begin with.

In the aftermath to the event of “TF: DOTM” and the so-called “Battle of Chicago,” the Americans have turned on the Autobots, declaring them cybernetic non grata, and are secretly hunting them down with the help of a mysterious Cybertronian named Lockdown. “The age of the Transformer is over,” blusters CIA suit Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer).

Meanwhile, down-on-his-luck inventor Cade Yeager (an earnest if overheated Mark Wahlberg) happens to come across a battered truck that is more than meets the eye. It is, of course, Optimus Prime in evasion mode and soon the guys with guns are on Prime’s trail. Prime then gets back together with the remaining Autobots in an attempt to stop, among others, the return of a very bad guy and a big explosion in a big city.

TF fans should see it, no matter what they felt about the first three films and chances are they will. They understand they need to find out—and see the Dinobots—for themselves. First, let’s talk about the film’s strong points. The CGI effects are astonishing. For a franchise that lives by CGI and could easily die by CGI, the effects engineers did not let the fans down. “TF: AOE” takes this as far as it can go, concocting increasingly elaborate action sequences to display the height of its action-scene prowess. They are the best effects in the series thus far.

Second, “TF: AOE” features some truly wonderful cars. Bumblebee returns as the next generation Camaro, but with Drift’s alt mode (Bugatti Veyron), Lockdown’s alt mode (Lamborghini Aventador) and Stinger’s alt mode (Pagani Huayra), the film can truly claim to feature the world’s most impressive supercars.

Third, the film gets a great turn by Stanley Tucci as a kind of greedy, corrupt Steve Jobs character. Tucci seems to be a strange choice for a TF film, but the previous films have featured unusual casting choices (John Malcovich, John Turturro). Tucci does not disappoint with a furious, almost wild abandon and a whole lot of yelling. He delivers the film’s most compelling performance. Chinese actress Li Bingbing has a nice turn as a bad-ass businesswoman.

Finally, “TF: AOE” has a lot of little nods to hardcore TF mythology. The whole point of one of this film’s big bads links up nicely with that character’s true nature. You don’t get much more hardcore than the Dinobots.

Then, we come to the film’s deficiencies. Say this for “TF: AOE,” it goes with every plot thread it comes across. The humans battle the Autobots, Prime gets backup and whatever is going with Lockdown goes on. It’s just that there is so much of the “whatever” going on and it weighs down the film. It’s pointlessly long and loud. There is absolutely no reason for “TF: AOE” to be 2 hours and 45 minutes long.

Even for a Michael Bay film, there is a lot in this movie that just doesn’t make sense. In particular, Optimus Prime (still bombastically voiced by Peter Cullen) and Cade Yeager make preposterously bad decisions at several key points of the film. Prime, in particular, does several small things (and one HUGE thing) that are clearly out of character, even with the dark premise of humans betraying the Autobots. It has to be pointed out that, with the obvious exception of Lockdown, everyone in this film is a terrible shot to the point of disbelief. And if you’re one of those guys who’s ever had an issue of robots with strangely geographically specific human accents, “TF: AOE” takes the oil cake with robots sporting a gung-ho American twang (John Goodman as Hound), an urban British accent (John DiMaggio as Crosshairs) and a mystical Japanese samurai presence (Ken Watanabe as Drift). Why? It feels like something that Bay could not be bothered to figure out in the bigger picture and they just went for it, to almost comical effect. Watanabe does get the film’s best line: “I was expecting a giant car.”

“TF: AOE” succeeds through addition by subtraction, jettisoning the annoying duo of Shia LaBoeuf and Megan Fox for the meh duo of Jack Reynor and Nicola Peltz. But the film doesn’t really get much out of its human cast aside from Tucci.

While we like the fact that a lot of “TF: AOE” happens in a different continent this time, it really does feel like the film was made primarily with Chinese viewers in mind. The film’s third act has a lot of country-specific elements that just goes over the heads of other audience members.

But perhaps the film’s most problematic element is its most anticipated element. The Dinobots—probably the reason a lot of TF fans are coming to watch this—are dropped pretty much without reason or effort into the fray. While it’s interesting and surprisingly nostalgic to finally see Grimlock and company eat some metal, it feels like the film’s biggest missed opportunity.

Still, Dinobots! “TF: AOE” is overly long and noisy, but its visual effects are top notch. The film’s end seems to promise that the forthcoming sequel will head in a different direction, but if you watch that last scene carefully, you’ll realize you’ve seen it before—almost word-for-word—in one of the previous films, and that eerily familiar feeling sums up the conflicting impressions left by “Transformers: Age of Extinction.” It's more of what we've seen before, promising more of the same.

Universal Pictures’ “Transformers: Age of Extinction” is now showing in cinemas.

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