Don’t call it a reboot. But “Transformers 4” or as it is gangly called “Transformers: Age of Extinction” makes a mighty attempt to shake off the shortcomings of the last two films. The result is a mixed bag with winning effects creating transformative action set-pieces. And then there’s Wahlberg …
It is hard to believe that, after the last three “Transformers” films raked in close to $3 Billion worldwide, there would be a need to restart things with a completely new cast and story. After all, continuation of the already lucrative trend would make sense, right?
But let’s face it, the last two “Transformers” sequels may have made money, but they were rubbish narratively. I said in my review of 2011’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” that it was a “carnival of top-drawer special effects on top of effects punctuated by incoherent attempts to develop a story that provides a feeble excuse for another hurricane of effects.” In ultimately panning the film, I observed that the film lapsed into outright parody as it became ever more unhinged. The same can be said of this follow-up, but thankfully, it is more fun with a game cast led by Mark Wahlberg.
The story picks up years after the battle in Chicago from the last film. Cade Yeager (Wahlberg) is a struggling inventor and single dad. One day while purchasing some old junk, he happens upon a war-wounded semi-truck that’s hidden in a decaying movie theater. Little does he know that the rusting damaged vehicle is actually Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen). Meanwhile, after the tragic events in Chicago, a secretive government organization has been hunting Transformers to make the world safer. The idea is that the alien invaders should be eliminated. And that means both the Decepticons and the Autobots have to go.
Everything about “Age of Extinction” is focused on marketing especially as the third act takes the characters to China. And with a running time at something like 2 hours 45 minutes, there is truly something in this film to exploit every viewing eyeball worldwide. Once in China, for example, there are scenes that appear to be included merely to satisfy China’s distribution requirements. I’m not kidding, we see odd shots of Chinese government officials who speak in both English and Chinese. In one scene, a character speaks in both English and Chinese for no reason other than perhaps to appeal to viewers on both continents. I kept wondering if there were subliminal messages lurking within the film’s Chinese product placements. As my paranoia grew, I relaxed feeling reassured that nothing in a Michael Bay film could be that subversive, right? And trying to make sense out of a Transformers flick isn’t worth expending the brain power.
The necessary quotient of robot on robot action is met in “Age of Extinction” with a host of Hasbro toys given cinematic life. In attempt to explain the bots origins, the story loops back to the time of the dinosaurs. Like the revisionist history elements that marked the last installment, here natural history itself is warped into a Transformers event – the dinosaurs apparently weren’t victims of some kind of asteroid strike or natural disaster. Flash forward to today and Transformers old and newer combine to protect earth from threats from both within and without. A bounty hunter of sorts is after Optimus’ head and an old foe might make a reappearance.
One thing viewers don’t get here is any kind of genuine emotion. As hordes of faceless and nameless people are killed in this film (the body count is high), the characters continue to crack jokes. Again, like the last film, the movie lapses into parody. But even though it is eye-rolling, Wahlberg and Stanley Tucci (playing a billionaire inventor) keep things fun and lively. Don’t expect to be moved dramatically in any significant way, however. The interpersonal relationships and dialogue are written poorly and only act to weakly stitch action set-pieces together. This is a pity though, especially considering how well “How to Train Your Dragon 2” was able to mix action with a downright moving father/son/mother story.
I suppose it is too much to ask for this “reboot” to also make us care about people. These films are at their core about robots, the humans just get in the way.
Editor’s Note: Jonathan’s reviews now appear weekly in print in the Newnan Times Herald. You can also read them online athttp://www.times-herald.com/closeup/20140627WEEKENDER-Movie-Review_Transformers-4_Hickman