Perhaps the best advice to consider before seeing a Michael Bay blockbuster would be to ignore all logic.
I was frustratingly disappointed after my first viewing of 2009’s Revenge of the Fallen, having foolishly convinced myself that the film would build on characters and relationships developed in the first film, only to find a nonsensical trainwreck with a weak and shallow plot. The Transformers series as a whole defies logic, because even considering the dwindling critical acclaim throughout the first three films, here we are 7 years after the original with a fourth edition in the series; Transformers: Age of Extinction.
Whilst the film furthers the storylines that were explored in the previous films, canonically Extinction feels more like a spinoff, given the complete revamp of the whole human cast. Mark Wahlberg replaces Shia LaBeouf as the film’s protagonist, Cade, a cash strapped inventor who comes across the decrepit, worn-out Optimus Prime.
Far removed from his starring role in Boogie Nights 17 years prior, Wahlberg has become the archetypal action film hero, with roles in last year’s Pain & Gain and 2 Guns only further cementing this status. Nicola Peltz stars as Cade’s daughter, Tessa, with Jack Reynor as Shane, her race-car-driver boyfriend. After fixing up Optimus Prime, the film’s heroes are thrown into a whirlwind of Autobot action as the government, aided by bounty hunter Decepticon Lockdown, hunt the remaining Transformers for research for their own Transformer army. Typically, the film culminates in the ultimate battle in Hong Kong with a fight over the Seed, an alien weapon capable of obliterating entire populations.
Age of Extinction largely relies on retaining components from the original trilogy, in which it succeeds; the opening sequence sticks to the idea of historical origins on Earth, Optimus Prime delivers some booming philosophical narration at the film’s close and Bumblebee still has his slick, snap humour that made him the most likeable character in Labeouf’s storyline. You can’t help but feel that the acting is actually good too, Wahlberg is superb, and the additions of Stanley Tucci and John Goodman are much-welcomed highlights.
Yet it’s probably this repetition of the familiar formula that ultimately makes the film fall flat; the retelling of an over-cooked storyline that has had the candle well and truly burning at both ends is more evident here than ever before. There has to be a limit on the amount of times planet Earth can take an Autobots vs Decepticons showdown, and the fourth outing in Extinction comes daringly close. Michael Bay’s recipe of running from explosions in slow motion, combined with unnecessary camera angles of Nicola Peltz, feels somewhat exhausted, and after Megatron miraculously returns for the finale, it almost seems like Bay is parodying himself. Somewhere amongst the 165 minutes of CGI explosions and the Dad/boyfriend relationship that is awkwardly botched throughout, the film misses the mark, and too often treads into ludicrous plot elements too, like that of the dino bots. Granting, this is exhilarating and impressive, and fans will appreciate the efforts to extend and enhance the range of Transformers on screen, but the whole ‘bigger and better’ philosophy that comes with each film’s release only really begs the question of “when will they stop?”.
Modern day film making is a risky business, and the danger with sequels in popular franchises such as this is that the plots become almost too generic. Consider Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series, and you’d be hard pressed to pinpoint a major component which differs in each film. Compare this to the original Star Wars trilogy, which delivers an action-packed original, a darker sequel and an exciting ending, and you have a different scope of film making all together. Within the Transformers saga in particular, it’s hard to differentiate separate plot elements because everything has become too blurred – the Seed in this could easily be substituted for the All Spark or the Matrix, for instance – which is a shame, considering how enjoyable the original film was. This is one of the main issues with Age of Extinction; we’ve now seen Optimus Prime fight the film’s main antagonist in four films (and each one has featured some incarnation of Megatron too) and come out on top each time, so it feels ultimately, that the films aren’t progressing anywhere at all.
It’s simply just too easy to write off this film as a ‘popcorn-blockbuster’, so to speak, as the genuine emotion in these new characters provides a relatable connection and backbone to the story. Although, perhaps this is where Age of Extinction is so agonisingly infuriating, as it slips back into the Michael Bay mould, which is already loaded with computer generated explosions. It would be incorrect to suggest that Extinction balances the weights between characters and action sequences perfectly, yet this is something that a great deal of directors and producers fail to achieve, particularly on an epic scale such as this. In truth, Transformers: Age of Extinction would be a far better film as the first film in a series, but with a date already in mind for the fifth instalment in the franchise, it’s hard to not consider the wider world of this film.
Age of Extinction won’t win over any new fans – you’ve probably made up your mind if you’re on board with Optimus and co. by now – and certainly won’t win any major accolades, but for an action packed couple of hours with some comical moments, it’s probably worth the couple of quid. Just remember to leave your brain at the door.
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