This is the fourth film helmed by Michael Bay in the Transformers franchise, part sequel and part reboot, Age of Extinction may have just breathed new life in to the Hasbro big earner. This time around, following the events of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the world has entered a state of Autobot paranoia, and the government is seeking all the remaining Transformers for destruction. Mark Wahlberg replaces Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky, playing father/inventor/badass Cade Yeager who with good intentions and bad inventions hopes to take care of his young daughter Tessa, played by Bates Motel’s Nicola Peltz. Upon the discovery of an old truck, the Yeager’s lives are changed for ever as they are catapulted into a world of government agents, shadowy corporations, likeable comic relief and most importantly giant robots.
Personally, I’ve never been a fan of the Transformers franchise. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen every film in the cinema, I just haven’t enjoyed any of them, and I’m happy to say that this one is better then all of them, and is almost, almost a good film. Wahlberg’s Cade is a likeable leading man, partly due to the fact that inventors are always likeable (See Honey, I shrunk the kids/Flubber) and partly because Mark Wahlberg has a quality that Shia Labeouf definitely lacked, he is well suited for an action film. Nicola Peltz on the other hand was a typical Bay leading woman, which here means she has lovely legs and we see plenty of them, but she spends most of the movie playing the damsel in distress in incredibly short shorts. Jack Reynor (who is wonderful in What Richard Did) plays Tessa’s older, Irish boyfriend, who is first introduced as a rally driver, I suppose to facilitate one cool car chase scene, and then forget about it for the rest of the film. Supporting the human side of the cast are Kelsey Grammar, as the shadowy anti-autobot head of defence, and the always wonderful Stanley Tucci who steals the show yet again as a CEO of a company experimenting on the Transformers. Grammar is underused and forgettable, but Tucci is very funny and the only character who feels fresh in the film. T.J Miller (Silicon Valley’s Erhlich, and someone I was incredibly happy to see) features all too briefly as Cade’s comic relief friend.
One of my least favourite aspects of the Transformers films over the years has been the voice work of the Transformers. With the exception of Bumblebee’s radio vocabulary, the voices of the transformers have always felt too cartoonish, and borderline racist, in a series that seems to be suffering an identity crisis, stuck between the serious action film and the tongue in cheek, fun film that you would expect from a movie based on a toy. Thankfully though John Goodman pulls in a strong performance as Hound, a gun toting transformer. that Americans especially will love. Ken Watanabe ensures that the Transformers continue their streak of robot racism as a samurai transformer, who also happens to be the only autobot with a yellow face.
Without giving away too much of the plot, I will say that this time the story works. For the first hour of the film, I was actually incredibly enthralled, despite the lack of transformer on transformer action. Focussing on the effect on humanity that the previous films had was interesting and something that I really enjoyed and would like to see more of, should the series continue. Unfortunately Bay doesn’t seem to realise the potential this has, and the film devolves into standard Bay affair, with unnecessary explosions, things falling from the sky and Transformers fighting Transformers, all in a mash of action that happens so fast, with so much on screen, its hard to tell what is going on. The Dinobots which the film marketed so well feature for about 20 minutes at the end of the film’s 2 hour 45 minute runtime, and whilst they look great, they are really wasted.
I didn’t leave disappointed though. Perhaps because I didn’t expect anything going in, but for several hours after the film, something was lingering with me, hard to place but something. It dawned on me that it was the start of Bay’s film that I couldn’t shake. As Cade Yeager goes searching for scrap metal and old gems for his lab in an old cinema. The marquee reads “Thanks for 75 years”. It is in the cinema where Yeager comes across an old, strange truck which turns out to be the Autobot’s fearless leader Optimus Prime. As the theatre owner spurns the remakes and sequels of the day, Bay is reminding us that there is treasure still in the cinema. To quote Wahlberg’s character “I’m asking you to look at the junk and see the treasure”. Bay’s making his point, and he has made it well. Whilst these films are “junk” that doesn’t mean they are bad films, these films for one keep cinemas alive and a float, not just by bringing in money but they are a spectacle to be seen in the cinema with an audience, not to watch on your laptop or phone screen, and whilst they might seem bad now, like the relics in the theatre, people may look back on it in 75 years time and find something of real worth.
Bonus Points: One scene featuring Tessa’s boyfriend having to explain that he is legally dating Cade’s underage daughter due to the “Romeo and Juliet act”, a law which he keeps a little copy of in his wallet, not creepy at all. Although the fact that Bay put this in at all is strange, especially as he spends the whole film sexualising this underage girl.
Also look out for Youtube legend Kassem G’s very strange cameo.