Transformers: Age of Extinction

Directed by:  Michael Bay

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, John Goodman, Ken Watanabe, Nicola Peltz, and Peter Cullen

Harold Attinger: “We have a saying here on Earth: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Lockdown: “I too have a saying: I don’t care

Transformers, both the toys and the cartoon, mean something to those of us who grew up in the 1980’s.  So I was delighted to hear that the movie franchise was being rebooted.  With a new cast and the addition of Mark Wahlberg, this seemed like a great opportunity to create something special.  Unfortunately, Transformers: Age of Extinction fails to break new ground and fails to deliver the Transformers movie we were all hoping for.  Perhaps director Michael Bay should have joined Shia LaBeouf in departing the franchise.

Several years after the battle in Chicago, the world has changed.  Transformers are no longer America’s revered heroes.  CIA operative Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) is leading a covert operation to hunt, collect and ultimately destroy all Transformers, including the Autobots who had previously saved Earth.  Attinger is hunting Transformers under the guise that all aliens must be destroyed as enemies of humankind.  However, he actually has a secret partnership with a corporation called KSI and its billionaire head Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci).  They are working on developing a technology called Transformium which would allow humans to create and control new and improved Transformers.  Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) directed all of the Autobots to go into hiding to avoid assassination and capture.  However, with the help of the menacing space bounty hunter Lockdown (Mark Ryan), Attinger’s dastardly team has succeeded in decimating all but a handful of Transformers.

Enter Cade Yaeger (Mark Wahlberg).  Yaeger is a single dad, and a struggling inventor/junk collector in Texas.  He fixes electronics, but also invents robots and other gadgets.  Unfortunately, his business is not lucrative, and he is on the verge of bankruptcy and eviction.  His daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) is about to graduate from high school and is attempting to go to college.  Cade’s financial troubles are making it nearly impossible for her to pay for school.  In addition, after his wife’s passing, Cade became overprotective.  He does not date, and does not allow Tessa to date.

During one of Cade’s scavenger hunts, Cade stumbles upon a massive truck.  As Cade tinkers with the truck, he realizes that it is a Transformer.  After Cade removes a missile from the truck, Optimus Prime rears to life.  Unfortunately for Cade and his family, Attinger’s team knows that Optimus is at the farm, and they swoop down to capture him. Cade, his daughter, and her boyfriend  unwillingly get swept up into a battle with the government and aliens.

Age of Extinction could have been an amazing film.  As I watched the movie, I could not help but ponder what the film could have been in the hands of a more adept director.  Imagine alien robots in the hands of J.J. Abrams, Joss Whedon, or Bryan Singer.  Age of Extinction could have been action-packed, filled with witty dialogue and interesting characters.  Unfortunately, the film was directed by Michael Bay, who has not struck the right note with this franchise since the first Transformers movie.  Age of Extinction fails in so many ways, it is almost difficult to know where to begin. 

As an initial matter, the characters are dreadful.  The only likable character in the film is Mark Wahlberg’s Cade, who is earnest, creative, and loving.  He is a man simply trying to protect his family.  All of the other human characters are horrible.  Peltz’s Tessa is a typical teenager, but incredibly annoying and spoiled.  Her boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) is even worse.  His character is cocky, but not in a funny way.  He just comes across as rude.  Kelsey Grammer’s Attinger is inexplicably evil, greedy, and arrogant.  And Stanley Tucci’s billionaire character is borderline schizophrenic.  He goes from cold, sinister evil to comic relief.  It is simply nonsensical.   

With the focus on these uninteresting human characters, Bay and Age of Extinction’s writers miss the boat.  The focus should not have been on Bay’s anti-government, anti-corporate plot.  The real menace was the intergalactic play and bounty hunter Lockdown.  Lockdown had the best line of the film, quoted above, and that happened in the first 15 minutes of the movie.  He also had arguably the most menacing and powerful moment in the film.  There is a scene where Optimus Prime is fighting Transformers built with Transformium.  But Lockdown enters, strolling down the street with a massive space ship behind him.  It is a phenomenal moment in the film and a fantastic visual.  But there was not enough of that.  Instead, Bay unskillfully tries to intersperse human drama into the plot, and it just does not work.

Moreover, the film is almost three hours.  When watching a good movie, the time flies by.  You don’t even realize how long you have been sitting in one spot, and you would be willing to sit even longer because the movie is just that good.  I felt every minute of Age of Extinction ticking by.  About two hours in, I had not seen the Dinobots and I cringed because I knew that meant I still had a significant amount of time left to go.  Additionally, there were so many random things happening in the plot, that it felt completely unfocused.  How was Cade able to morph from inventor to a gun shooting alien fighter?  Wouldn’t it have made more sense to build in a military background to make Wahlberg’s transition from Texas dad to alien killer more sensible?  Why did they go China, and suddenly have random characters breaking out into martial arts displays?  Wasn’t there enough alien fighting already?  It was just too much, and not in a good way. Perhaps if the dialogue was better, the characters were more enjoyable, and the plot was more cohesive, the film would not have felt so bloated.

The only redeeming aspects of the film are the special effects and the alien robots.  The cars are absolutely gorgeous.  The fight sequences are impressively realistic, and Optimus Prime demonstrates once again why he is Prime.  There is some hope for the franchise.  The introduction of Lockdown and the Creators opens ups a new avenue to explore that could breathe new life into the series.  However, new writers and a new director are absolutely essential.

Transformers: Age of Extinction earns a 0.09% rating.  You’ll need a couple of martinis to make it through this one.