I have a love/hate relationship with Transformers. I watched several iterations of the show when I was young and I, of course, loved having the toys, but it was never a franchise I had any real loyalty to. The first movie wasn’t anything spectacular, but it was a fun blockbuster that accomplished what it was trying to do. Then Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen happened. That steaming pile of garbage masquerading as a even the dumbest summer blockbuster wasn’t just bad, it was offensive. While the third film may have been better, it still couldn’t wash the stink of number 2 off itself. As a result, I was not looking forward to Transformers: Age of Extinction in the least.
It is now five years after the events of the battle of Chicago, aka the movie where they finally got rid of Megan Fox. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) is a simple Texas robotic engineer with a jokey sidekick and a teenage daughter whose secret boyfriend is a stock car driver. You know, the average American family. After stumbling across a near dead Optimus Prime, Cade and his plucky group find themselves in the middle of a CIA conspiracy to kill all of the Transformers, Autobot and Decepticon alike. As it turns out, the CIA has ‘partnered’ with a tech company to harvest the focus group named Transformium, what Transformers are made of, and create an army of human controlled Transformers.
I don’t know if the writing got better or what. Maybe Marky Mark just knows how to perform mediocre dialog more convincingly. Perhaps the money they threw at Michael Bay made him actually direct the actors towards a good performance. Regardless, this is the first Transformers movie I have seen that had human characters who were both interesting and likeable. That’s not to say they’re deep, nuanced characters, but they do more than run through battles screaming like morons and have better things to do than watch their parents eat pot brownies and play with a small dog.
The only real problem with the Transformer franchise as a whole was the reliance on the human characters. While they were big parts in some of the shows, some had little to no human characters at all. It’s become an inescapable fact of the movie franchise, but at least they are bearable this time around. Kelsey Grammer and Stanley Tucci make great villains and both have somewhat interesting character arcs. Marky Mark having to come to grips with his daughter going out into the world and dating humanized him more than Shia Labeouf having to deal with crazy roommates. Seriously, fuck Revenge of the Fallen.
If you don’t like Michael Bay movies, you won’t like Age of Extinction. It’s that simple. While it may be a good dumb action movie, it’s still a dumb action movie. Why it’s so shocking that it’s good is this franchise had come to represent what was wrong with Michael Bay. His movies lack substance, but they usually made up for it with fun, and that’s why we liked them. Transformers lost the fun with Revenge of the Fallen and only had scraps in Dark of the Moon. However, Age of Extinction was a movie Michael Bay didn’t want to make and didn’t have any of the same cast. It looked to be just a shameless milking of the franchise.
That’s what makes the resulting enjoyable movie so shocking. I keep feeling as if I’m going to look back and realize what a steaming pile of garbage that only managed to distract me with explosions it actually was. I went in expecting to hate it and had a good time. I let the movie say its piece and let it stand on its own from the others. It also really helped that after three movies, Michael Bay finally figured out how to make CG robot fights where you can actually understand what the fuck is going on.
Since the CIA was hunting Transformers, Optimus Prime and Bumblebee are the only returning cast. The new Autobots’ design are completely ridiculous, but in a way that feels more like the show and less like a mechanic’s wet dream. The new human created Galvatron, who looks suspiciously like Gypsy Danger, and his soldiers look like iTransformers in a way that’s fun to watch. Of course, the big deal are the unnamed and pretty unimportant to the plot Grimlock and his Dinobots. They may not amount to more than big weapons for the good guys, but hot damn was watching giant robot dinosaurs kick serious ass the definition of awesome.
Because of the intense negative emotions I have surrounding the second movie, it was almost painful for me to admit how much I enjoyed Age of Extinction. Somehow Michael Bay actually managed to turn the Transformers franchise around. Well, to an extent. Transformers will never become anything other than a mindless action movie, but that’s what you expect and want out of something about giant transforming robots fighting. If you can forgive the few Michael Bayisms still present you can have a great time with Transformers. Check your brain at the door and just bask in the explosions.
In Theaters: June 27, 2014
Runtime: 165 min
Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, T.J. Miller, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor
Genre: Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Official Site: http://www.transformersmovie.com/#home