Please Note: This review most likely absolutely contains what may be deemed as SPOILERS by some readers.
It’s been seven years since Michael Bay and Paramount Pictures brought the first live-action TRANSFORMERS film to the big screen. Now, it’s most fitting that TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION arrives in the midst of the “Thrilling 30” – a year-long celebration of the iconic Hasbro brand, which first entered the pop culture landscape in 1984. Intended to “reboot” and energize the franchise as much as sequelize the original trilogy, Bay’s latest TRANSFORMERS is leagues ahead of where it all began, and filled with ties to the “Generation 1” lore that longtime fans such as myself hold dear.
If you’re still reading, I should note that I’ve been doing #TRANSFORMERSweek here on THE ROCK FATHER since last Friday, so my affection for these intergalactic robots should be crystal clear. And, unlike many reviewers you will find… I respect Michael Bay, and have enjoyed many of his films over the years. His signature style and unapologetic approach adds to the appeal, and unfortunately for some, they fail to judge things for what they are, and only get wrapped-up in the quite fashionable hobby of Bay-bashing. He makes films for audiences – and in the case of these, if you desire Oscar-caliber dramatic performances, dialogue and social commentary in a film based on a collection of toys which feature giant, living, breathing, talking robots from outer space that transform into vehicles and dinosaurs… why are you even watching?
AGE OF EXTINCTION is massive – a film that tops even the scale and scope of the climactic “Battle of Chicago” that took place in DARK OF THE MOON, and likewise serves as the catalyst for the world present in the latest film.
What happened in Chicago has been deemed a “terrorist attack” carried out by aliens, and borrowing from the Homeland Security/TSA posters you can see in every airport these days, the CIA has plastered America with warnings that “TRANSFORMERS ARE DANGEROUS,” and that “IF YOU SEE SOMETHING: SAY SOMETHING.” Unbeknownst to even the President, the CIA has established an elite Black Ops unit called “Cemetery Wind.” Under the instruction of Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) and the leadership of James Savoy (Titus Welliver), Cemetery Wind has one goal: Wipe out the TRANSFORMERS… all of them. But, as all good semi-existent government teams are – there’s more to this story than meets the eye.
Attinger has aligned himself with both a renegade TRANSFORMER called Lockdown (a stylish Lamborghini) and Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), head of the KSI company, who is currently reverse engineering TRANSFORMERS so they can build their own. Problem is, KSI needs “Transformium” (“what they’re made of,” says Joyce) to do the job, and there isn’t a source on Earth aside from the existing TRANSFORMERS… which is where Lockdown comes into play, offering Attinger a “seed” to grow the Transformium in exchange for Optimus Prime… which will lead to a hefty profit when given to KSI. Savoy lost family in the Battle of Chicago, so his motivation is personal.
In a lot of ways, Lockdown is like a combination of Boba Fett and Predator (especially the latter), traveling in a massive ship and collecting trophy specimens of alien life forms from around the galaxy. His motivation, however, is a bit of a glitch in TRANSFORMERS lore, claiming he works for the mysterious “builders” of Prime, who want him back. In fact, I don’t believe that Cybertron is ever mentioned – but it doesn’t matter.
The human core of the story is carried by Mark Wahlberg, who plays a down-on-his-luck inventor, Cade Yeager, who along with daughter Tessa (Nicola Pletz), comedic relief Lucas Flannery (T.J. Miller), and racer Shane Dyson (Jack Reynor), ends up discovering, and ultimately aligning with Prime and the Autobots, in turn making themselves targets by “aiding terrorists.”
Prime himself is angry in this movie, so much so that you could almost title it TRANSFORMERS: OPTIMUS PRIME IS TIRED OF THIS SH**! He’s been betrayed by humans – hunted, injured and nearly killed by the very species that he’d sworn to protect. And after seeing video of his Autobot brothers being destroyed by Lockdown and the Cemetery Wind crew, he swears vengeance – and for the first time that I can recall, outright says he will kill the person responsible.
With a running time that inches close to the three-hour mark, there is just a lot going on in this film – from a fatherhood story to how the dinosaurs died – to get into it all here. The pace and excellent use of 3D (which I’m never huge on) make for an experience that can feel exhausting at times, but ultimately entertaining. There’s a brief commentary about the state of cinema and pop culture – as well as some stabs at the type of people that exist in this world and how their motivations are often far from pure.
But this is a movie based on a collection of toys which feature giant, living, breathing, talking robots from outer space that transform into vehicles and dinosaurs. And when the Dinobots finally arrive, it all comes full circle for this kid who once played with TRANSFORMERS on his bedroom floor, spouting off phrases like “Me Grimlock” and “Autobots, Roll Out!”
The fourth time is the charm here, with AGE OF EXTINCTION landing firmly as my favorite of the entire series.