Trans4mers: Continental Drift (Movie Review)
Transformers: Age of Extinction: 3 out of 5
Harold Attinger: We have a saying here on earth: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
Lockdown: We have a saying too: I. Don’t. Care.
Lockdown: We have a saying too: I. Don’t. Care.
How does one approach reviewing a movie like Transformers: Age of Extinction? It ultimately does not matter too much, as this Michael “Boom Boom” Bay-directed franchise has no real problem turning a profit, even while critics and a certain percentage of audiences chuck nothing but garbage its way. This is the fourth installment of the series and while all of the human actors from the past three films have been tossed aside in favor of a new cast, Michael Bay has not moved away from what he has done in the previous installments. There is some directorial evolution, sure, but this is still an overlong exercise in big-budgeted spectacle. Really though, it comes down to what I expected to see and the film with a poster that features one robot riding on the back of a dinosaur-shaped robot gave me a pretty big clue of what I was in for.
Obviously it is not fair for me to give a film like Trans4mers (the much easier title that I will now continue to use) a pass, simply because it is a “big robot movie” and supposedly does not require deeper analysis because of this, because that would not be fair. Where is one supposed to draw the line with these big, summer spectacle films? Something like the vastly superior Edge of Tomorrow is currently struggling at the domestic box office, despite being nearly 45 minutes shorter than Trans4mers and much smarter in how it tells a story. Other films from this summer have real emotional heft or attempts at driving some social commentary from within, in an attempt to be more than just a visually arresting action experience. Trans4mers certainly gets points for looking as good as it does, but this does not discount the fact that it plays around with a very silly story and has little going for it, beyond the sights of giant robots battling each other in broad daylight.
As we still need humans to help guide these stories, this film is set several years after the events of Dark of the Moon, with the public now rightfully terrified of Transformers coming in and ruining their lives, after the destruction of downtown Chicago. Mark Wahlberg is Cade Yeager – single father, struggling inventor, Texan. He has a daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz), and is doing what he can to help her get into college. Cade purchases a beat up truck, which turns out to be Autobot leader Optimus Prime, who is in hiding. Apparently an evil CIA guy, Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) has been heading up black-ops missions to eliminate all Transformers, both to get rid of their race from this planet and a more nefarious plot as well. This all eventually leads to the Yeager family going on the run, with a goal of having Optimus reunite with his fellow Autobots and ideally put an end to some developments being headed up by business tycoon Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci).
I want to talk about this new cast a bit, as the three most notable actors are all actually quite good, regardless of how well their characters are written. Mark Wahlberg is a nice change in pace from the manic energy provided by Shia LaBeouf in the previous films, with his character’s low-key, but very earnest (in the most Wahlbergian sense of the word), persona mixing well with his need to constantly protect his daughter. Basically, Wahlberg brings enough likable energy to create a nice change in pace from the incessant need to cram a crazy human into every non-robot moment of the other Transformer films. Then you have old pros Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammer, who are both clearly having a good time, with Tucci playing a character that has an actual arc as well as serving as the guy who reacts to all the craziness going on around him in humorous fashion. Grammer is more restrained, mostly around to talk tough from a distance and order an equally solid Titus Welliver around. It is the two younger actors, Nicola Peltz and her character’s Irish boyfriend, Shane (Jack Reynor), who fail to make much of an impression, but at least they were in good company.
On the robot side of things, these creations never looked better. Something that has always impressed me about these Transformer films is the fact that they feature giant robot brawls that are not hidden from the audience. We are not seeing robots fight in the rain at night, but during the day, with plenty of color and an appropriate sense of scale to these beings. Helping things further is the use of new IMAX 3D cameras, which not only assist in making the film look pretty amazing, in terms of the shots Bay and his cinematographer Amir Mokri manage to capture, but continue to help Bay slow down his trademark style. Something I looked forward to in Dark of the Moon was Bay’s decision to shoot in 3D, which would take away his rapid cutting ways and that is very much the case for Trans4mers as well. Combining this with the incredible work done by ILM and you have a film that really knows how to put the money all on screen.
To say a bit more about the robots, I enjoyed the new editions quite a bit; two in particular. The main antagonist is an intergalactic mercenary named Lockdown, who has plenty of personality to go with his dark nature and serves as one of the more intriguing Transformers in this entire franchise. Hound is the other Transformer I want to make note of, as he is voiced by John Goodman, who must have just provided a ton of material in the sound recording booth, as we hear plenty of him and he made for a delightful new character in the Transformers universe. Oh, and there are Dinobots in this film. As if this franchise needed something more ridiculous, it was finally time to put Transformers shaped like dinosaurs into this series and you basically have to already be sold on the concept of this franchise if the idea of a fire breathing T-Rex robot is going to excite you.
So where does the film go wrong? Plenty of places, but it mainly lies in the decision to overcomplicate the story and make a film with a very bloated running time. At 166 minutes, this is not only the longest film in the franchise, but one of the longest films as far as most summer action movies go, and it is wholly unnecessary. There is no reason this film needs to be this long and it is a mix of poor decision making on the part of not only Michael Bay, but screenwriter Ehren Kruger, who continually fails to impress me. Given that this is a series based on toys and comics centered on robots turning into cars and planes, I am not sure what it is that suggests these films need to be so overlong, but it is certainly an overbearing aspect of a film that otherwise has many moments that are legitimately entertaining.
Make no mistake, Trans4mers is fairly reckless in terms of presenting a film that tells a coherent story, crafts decent characters, and understands proper pacing, but it does know how to deliver in moments that count for those seeking a certain kind of summer spectacle. As I said, the money is all on screen and being the blood-thirsty robot that he is, Optimus Prime leads his troops into skirmishes that really deliver violent robot battles, mixed with some good moments for the humans as well. While heading back to Chicago seemed weirdly uncomfortable, given the time focused on telling us how terrified and sad the city has becomes, based on the events from a few years ago, the use of China and Hong Kong as the location of the 45-minute finale served as a fine backdrop for some well-staged sequences, including a terrific man-on-man brawl on the side of an apartment building. Do these aspects make up for the forced humor, strange choices made as far as representing the Transformers, and other strange/poor decisions that are largely attributed to Bay? Not really, but while I am not condoning actions this film takes, I won’t deny being engaged by it for various reasons either.
Call it what it is and you are probably not wrong. Trans4mers is an overblown spectacle, helmed by a man who does not know when enough is enough. He fortunately has a good eye for what looks great on camera and a few very solid actors handling silly roles, which is enough to keep this very long film constantly moving forward. I won’t deny that I can still get caught up in the sights of giant robots battling each other in cities either, even if this film does not quite top the stakes of the last (we have Dinobots, sure, but the world is not coming to an end this time around, were the Autobots to fail). The film amounts to being a bloated summer blockbuster that will inevitably make enough money to justify another entry in the franchise. Clearly these films are satisfying a large audience overall, regardless of naysayers, and while I am fine with moving on at this point, there is a goofy charm that keeps me from hating the intended fun that Michael “Boom Boom” Bay’s Transformers films have to offer.
Cade Yeager: You guys have never seen a truck like this before!