IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 168 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Sixty-five million years ago, during the Cretaceous Period, beings known as the “Creators” detonate many “Seeds”, wiping out all life on Earth. In the present, a geologist discovers a dinosaur corpse covered in a strange metal. Five years have passed since the Battle of Chicago, and Cade Yeager, a struggling inventor, and his friend Lucas buy an old truck to strip it for parts in hopes of sending Cade’s daughter Tessa to college. Cade soon discovers that the truck is an injured Optimus Prime and repairs him. Meanwhile, Cemetery Wind, an elite CIA unit headed by paranoid agent Harold Attinger, has been tasked with hunting down the remaining Decepticons, but he secretly hunts down both Autobots and Decepticons, and, with the help of a Transformer bounty hunter named Lockdown, brutally kills Ratchet and head for Texas where Optimus is….
The Transformers franchise is a perfect example of a critic-proof series: film reviewers mostly seem to dislike them, in fact it would seem that film fans mostly seem to dislike them, yet they all flock to see these movies. It seems that you can’t move at the moment for comments about how sad it is that this latest instalment in Michael Bay’s series has been a huge success at the box office, or even how Bay is destroying cinema, the latter statement being one I totally and utterly reject. As for the first statement – well, these are films based on a toy line about giant robots that fight each other and transform into vehicles. What on earth do people expect? There are serious flaws with all the films, most notably some of the human elements and bizarrely out of place bits of teenage humour in films that could otherwise be ‘PG’ rated [except the BBFC would still rate them 12A as they tend to do with almost everything at the moment], and Bay certainly has his problems as a director, but when the films concern giant robots that fight each other and transform into vehicles, they work very well for me. In fact, as action movies, they really soar, and become quite an awesome experience, especially when seen at the cinema. I feel that many seem to expect too much from the films, without appreciating them for what they are. There also seems to be a hostility to huge amounts of action, as if a huge amount of action is a problem in an action movie and when it’s well done!
Of course the much maligned Bay, who repeatedly states how he makes films for audiences not critics, is asking for trouble with his fourth Transformers film by having it run close to three hours. This does seem like an awfully long time for such a simplistic film, especially when over half of it consist of explosions, gunfire, big robots knocking nine bells out of each other etc. But, as I was watching Transformers: Age Of Extinction, I asked myself two questions. First of all, was I bored? To that I answered, most certainly not, so engrossed was in what was going on. Yes, some scenes were unnecessary and went on for a long time, but being bored just never came into it. And secondly, did the film seem to be as long as it was or seem actually longer? My answer to that was no as well. I guess it’s partly because I love action – hell, there are times when I love it as much as horror, although screen action at the moment isn’t in a very good place because of the obsession with fast cutting and shakycam so you can’t actually see what’s happening properly – but, in any case, after the film finished, it seemed to me to run closer to 130 than its actual running time. If a good film is long, then all that extra length is doing is prolonging the pleasurable experience, and yes I am saying that Transformers: Age Of Extinction is a good film, partly because it delivers what it promises, and then some. I mean, what do people expect? Christopher Nolan-style [no doubt if he made a Transformers film people be will praising it to the skies] doom and gloom?
Transformers: Age Of Extinction seems to be the start of a new trilogy, which means that, while some of the familiar robots return, we have new human characters. Having Mark Wahlberg play the human ‘hero’ is certainly a step in the right direction after Shia LaBeouf, though once again we have a female lead, Nicola Peltz, chosen for her looks and not her acting ability. She plays Wahlberg’s daughter, and we get a virtual reply of the Armageddon situation where the father has a problem with the daughter’s boyfriend. It does seem like Bay, even though he often seems not to care [didn’t he say the fourth Transformers film was going to be smaller?], has listened to criticisms a bit, because there’s far less goofy humour [humour being something Bay is just not very good at], far less out-of-place crude stuff [there’s still a strange conversation about statutory rape though it’ll go over the heads of most kids], and more emphases on the real stars of the show: the robots. They talk more to each other in scenes which may be silly [and why the hell would they have accents?], but the whole thing is silly anyway and it’s good to get more of a sense of the robot’s personalities.
Unlike the last film, which dragged its heels a bit and took just a bit too long to get to the Bayhem, this one throws the stuff at you quite early on with a superb car chase which doesn’t involve any robots for a while but is pulsating stuff nonetheless and ends with a great stunt and money shot…mind you, each action scene contains about three money shots where you just want to laugh and cheer at the same time. Later on, a robot catches some falling humans as it jumps through a truck, and that’s one of the quicker highlights. The plot, in typical Transformers fashion, ends up seeming a bit too complicated for something that boils down to good robots fighting bad robots, and some things are left hanging or rushed through so that Bay and his writer Ehren Kruger can cram in more action, though it’s obvious that certain things, like an intriguing pseudo-religious element, will be expanded on in the sequels. Some of the best bits include Stanley Tucci, who always gives good value even if some may think the material beneath him, as an inventor who builds Transformers that are better than the originals, and then there’s the usual MacGuffin [a terraforming ‘seed’]. But yes, it still comes down to what you expect, though the climax is even longer than before. In fact the entire second half is the climax, and it’s one spectacular set piece after another [best bit…the ship!], nicely varied and slightly split up so it doesn’t become too much. There’s a purity about action filmmaking like this – it almost transcends being mere ‘action’ to become a genuine sensory experience. A comparison with, say, Man Of Steel, with its awful effects and constant use of what seemed like the wrong shots, really shows how good Bay really is at this kind of thing.
Unlike, say Mark Forster with World War Z, where it seems like he was embarrassed with what he had shot and told his editor to cut the footage into tiny one-second pieces and randomly put them together, or Kenneth Branagh with Jack Ryan, who seemed to employ a cameraman with Parkinson’s disease for the action scenes and obviously didn’t care whether you could see any of it, Bay’s action, up to now, flowed really well and you can always see what’s going on. In fact, the way his camera constantly swoops all over the place is one of the most exhilarating things about his filmmaking. In the previous Transformers films, shakycam was only used briefly when people were running around. Sadly, in this one, it’s used a bit more [probably because there are far more scenes of people running around], which is a shame, but all the big set pieces are mostly free of this dreadful technique, which is good, while the film as a whole looks great, unsurprising when it’s coming from Bay. We seem to exist in a time where filmmakers seem to increasingly want their films to look as unattractive as possible, so hurrah for Bay’s beautifully composed frames, bright colours, and huge amount of scenes taking place at sunrise or sunset. He and cinematographer Amir Mokri even make something like the inside of an old, dilapidated cinema look like a magical, almost golden, place. Bay even has the chutzpah to stage a meeting of the Autobots in Monument Valley, which of course looks more glorious then it has ever done.
Bay’s use of sound is also as striking as ever. Typically, Steve Joblonsky’s bland score, while not attractively detrimental to the film, just isn’t as good as the images require, though a few tracks, which have the vocals of a certain ‘Skrillex’, work quite well. Though still, in the end, as dumb as they come, Transformers: Age Of Extinction lessens some of the glaring flaws and annoyances [criticisms of racial stereotyping remain, but should only be an issue of you’re the kind who gets overly bothered by that kind of thing] of the first three Transformers films [as fun as they were] and is the best of the four movies. It’s as good a blockbuster to switch your brain off to as one can expect at the moment. I know this is not a fashionable statement, but I’m sticking by it. It’s possible to love all sorts of movies, and Transformers: Age Of Extinction picked me up, took me for a thrilling ride which I almost didn’t want to end, then put me down, shaken but satisfied.
Read Matt Wavish’s very different review here: