The critics have savaged Transformers: Age of Extinction. Even people like Harry Knowles of Aint It Cool News, who once wrote that Star Wars: Episode I was great, has ripped it apart. I haven’t read a single positive review of the film.
I kind of liked it.
And here’s the thing: I don’t necessarily disagree with any of the negative reviews, either. Contradictory? Maybe, but not quite. The only criticisms I have, which I hold against the movie are two-fold:
(1) The length; Transformers is not The Dark Knight — it doesn’t need 2 hours and 45 minutes to tell its story. Consequently, it also doesn’t need the myriad plots and sub-plots on top of sub-plots. The movie definitely needed some judicious cutting. And…
(2) *See “The Plot” section.
Yet, I was entertained. Maybe a movie is a movie and there are common criteria and judgments you should use to evaluate one. The problem is, I don’t do that. I don’t think it’s an accurate way to review a movie. If I was to do that, this movie absolutely fails. No question. But movies are supposed to be, I believe, first and foremost, entertaining, and second, provoke emotion. It’s not written anywhere that the emotions have to be “transcendent awakening;” they can be dumb excitement, too. That’s what this movie provides. It also provided a good opportunity to check off items on this list of things that all women in Michael Bay movies do.
There are a million things going on in this movie, so I’ll stick to the main(?) through-line, such as it is. I’ll try to avoid too many spoilers, but let’s be honest, I doubt anyone will care. Despite being positioned as a “reboot,” the movie depends a great deal on the previous entry, Dark of the Moon. It featured Earth’s leaders (read: the US) kicking the Autobots off of Earth because they believed that the only reason the Decepticons were still here is to continue their war against them.
Of course, that was dumb and the Decepticons were really trying to resurrect their dead planet, Cybertron, in Earth’s atmosphere and use humans as a slave workforce. The Decepticons ran an all-out attack on the planet, Chicago, in particular, and went for broke. The Autobots didn’t abandon Earth, of course, but they let Chicago get ravaged so we’d understand that the Decepticons really are the assholes we knew they were. They came in and saved the day — after thousands(?) were slaughtered and the city was decimated. Not the most heroic plan… but… well, but nothing, that’s actually kind of terrible. In any case, the Autobots helped the military retake Chicago and killed most of the Decepticons on Earth in the process. Shia LaBeouf’s annoying character, who (despite our protestations was at the heart of all of these films) is recognized as the hero he always aspired to be (I guess?) and hugged his girlfriend who was 10 times hotter than the previous girlfriend who was still really hot and out of his league. The Autobots are heroes and Optimus Prime, following the formula of the previous 2 movies (and the new one, too), gives us his big narrated speech at the end and says (this is a direct quote):
In any war, there are calms between the storms. There will be days when we lose faith, days when our allies turn against us. But the day will never come, that we forsake this planet and its people.
I wanted to quote it directly, because the plot of this film features a secret CIA unit hunting down all transformers, Autobots and Decepticon, alike because of the “Battle of Chicago” and Optimus Prime forsakes this planet and its people. Yeah, you read that right.*
*(2) Second criticism resumed: The plot of the 3rd movie had mankind coming to understand that the Autobots are our allies, they should be trusted, and will never abandon us. Literally, everything learned and achieved in the 3rd film has been negated before this movie starts AND Optimus Prime, our immovable symbol of bravery and honor, is deeply resentful and willing to abandon Earth to its fate. I’m OK with the overlong running time, the endless slow motion sequences, etc. but don’t negate earned plot developments for the sake of new plot just because. It’s like killing off Michael Biehn’s character from Aliens between that movie and Alien 3 because you don’t want to pay Biehn to come back or having Michael Stivic (aka: Meathead) from All in the Family leave his family to join a commune in California just because Rob Reiner won’t do the role anymore. I’m not suggesting that the Transformers plot developments are that offensive, but it’s the same concept — otherwise, why did we watch the 3rd movie? Nothing the characters did there mattered, in effect. Anyway…
Frasier and the Man in Black from Lost (or maybe you know him as the evil 1st officer of the USS Equinox from Star Trek: Voyager?) run this secret CIA group and have partnered with a transformer called Lockdown, who more than anything is after Optimus Prime for reasons that are murky at best. This spills over onto Mark Walberg’s farm. He’s an inventor (??) who sucks at it and is about to lose his house. Why an inventor has a farm that he doesn’t use is one of the questions I chose to ignore for my movie-going enjoyment. He claims he just needs to make one thing that matters (spoiler alert: he doesn’t and the movie never really apologies for not paying that off…) He has a hot daughter played by Nicola Peltz, who dresses hotly and has a secret boyfriend because Michael Bay. Walberg’s business partner and friend is played by the guy who plays “Erlich” on Silicon Valley on HBO. He’s moderately funny here. Anyway, Marky Mark finds Optimus Prime and restores him (sort of). Obviously, OP is pissed off about being hunted and attacked by humans because he gave that speech at the end of the last movie and now he looks like a jerk.
Bad guys show up and things blow up. Marky Mark’s hot daughter’s race car driving boyfriend shows up to save them (sort of… Optimus Prime did the heavy lifting) and they escape. Erlich dies and no one much cares. Stanley Tucci is in the movie, too, as another inventor who’s profiting from the transformer bits that the government gives him.
There’s actually a lot more, but I promised to limit spoilers, so suffice to say there are 28 hundred more transformer fights, car chases, nonsensical screaming matches, and action poses. And I was along for the ride (excepting my criticisms). The movie is certainly not boring. And, big plus, there is zero percent Shia LaBeouf in this movie. He’s not even mentioned. No one else from the previous trilogy of films appears (or is mentioned) either. I’m grateful for the lack of Shia, but some acknowledgement of the history there might have been nice. Or maybe even from Josh Duhamel’s character. Maybe he would have had something to say about the Autobots being slaughtered, for example. Just sayin’.
It’s a Transformers movie. I mean, you have to enter it expecting a known quantity. In fact, dare I say, this one improves upon the previous three in two big ways:
(1) No Shia LaBeouf. Or his parents’ characters. Or the humping dogs. This kind of contradicts my issue with continuity that I cited earlier, but he really was annoying. I’m willing to forgive it here.
(2) One of the biggest criticisms of the earlier movies, Parts 1 and 2 in particular, was the lack of Transformer screen time. You can’t say that about this movie at all. In fact, this has probably the most Autobot screen time out of the whole series. They flipped the quotient between the human and robot characters here — whereas there was way too much Shia and anything the robots did in the first trilogy was always through the prism of the humans. In this film, the Autobots are given a lot to do and they interact with each other a lot. In the case of the Autobot John Goodman voices (IMDb tells me his name was “Hound”), that’s a good thing — he’s moderately amusing. In the case of the green Autobot, less would have been more. In the first movie, the limited screen time was somewhat understandable given how they told the story, but the Autobots didn’t really have any time for characterization. Even Optimus Prime was barely given a chance to say or do anything. Part 2 is just terrible. It spent way too much time with humans we hated and two racist-stereotype bots that are cousins with Jar-Jar Binks in terms of annoyance and loathing. In this movie, I didn’t mind Mark Walberg’s character too much (I definitely didn’t mind his daughter), but the humans here were really just connective tissue to jerk the plot forward. And the movie is called Transformers; it definitely delivered.
I realize that this all comes off as really negative despite my assertion that I was entertained. I really was. It’s entertainment like watching two people argue over a fender-bender on the side of the road as you drive by. An interesting diversion.
**PS: Only at the end do I realize that I have completely omitted mention of the Dinobots featured so prominently in the commercials and trailers. They were almost omitted from the movie, too, because they appeared at about the 2 hour and 30 minute mark and are akin to a Deus Ex Machina. They don’t have personalities like the cartoon characters did (a point which Harry Knowles rails against in his review) and exist solely to give our heroes a boost over the villains at the end. They were cool and made for great action, but were pretty peripheral to the whole thing and then they just run away at the end of the movie.
Will we see them again?
Where are they going?
No one thought to explain.