In Transformers: Age of Extinction the world has turned its back on Optimus Prime and his Autobot companions. Following the Battle of Chicago, covert special forces team “Cemetery Wind” has begun rounding up (and subsequently executing) the remaining Transformers hiding on Earth – both Autobot and Decepticons, alike. Ambushed by the black ops agency, Optimus Prime is gravely wounded, barely escaping with his spark intact. Sending a message to the rest of his allies, Optimus instructs his friends to stay hidden – and avoid humans at all costs.
While some humans remain grateful to the Autobots for their part in stopping Megatron and Sentinel Prime’s invasion four years back, others have become obsessed with unlocking Cybrertronian secrets by any means necessary – giving rise to improved Transformers that are engineered by mankind. However, when a dangerous enemy arrives on Earth, Optimus must team up with a new group of human allies – led by robotics inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) – as well as legendary Cybertronian warriors, to once again defend our world.
Michael Bay returns to direct his fourth Transformers film – from a script by Ehren Kruger (who previously worked on Revenge of the Fallen as well as Dark of the Moon) and, by now, viewers should have a pretty clear idea of what to expect from Age of Extinction. Some relish in the eye-popping action visuals, while others can’t stomach the human drama or Cybertronian designs – and the latest film will do little to change minds on either side. Bay introduces several new story lines, people, and robot warriors that successfully reinvigorate the franchise, but for every fresh element, rushed backstories and/or underdeveloped threads will prevent the film from winning over skeptics. Still, for audience members that enjoyed prior films in the series (even while acknowledging their faults), Transformers: Age of Extinction is the biggest “Robots In Disguise” movie yet.
Even though Age of Extinction forges a new direction for the series, the story relies heavily on human/Transformer relations after the invasion of Chicago to provide some intriguing angles and themes to explore in the follow-up. The plot cracks Transformers movie mythology wide open, introducing arcs with much broader reach than the core Autobots vs. Decepticon battles that fueled the first three films. While the movie doesn’t address or develop every included plot line (or name-drop), Kruger evolves the established formula with some interesting additions – especially when it comes to the origins of the Cybertronians, as well as humanity’s attempts to harness Transformer tech.
The choice to free Optimus Prime and Bumblebee from the snare of Sam Witwicky’s youthful exploits is a welcome one. Cade Yeager’s involvement in the story can be heavy-handed at times, but he’s a much more convincing human action hero - especially considering the increased scale of the storyline and battle sequences. Wahlberg is fine in the role, selling both action as well as comedy beats, and decreasing the amount of eye-rolling drama that was included in the last entry. Yet, despite his best efforts, a handful of Yeager lines will undoubtedly turn up as Internet memes.
The rest of the supporting cast offers a mix of solid (albeit campy) or adequate performances. Stanley Tucci (as inventor Joshua Joyce) is an entertaining parallel for Wahlberg – driven by the same curiosity and goals as Yeager, while simultaneously becoming slave to his obsession. Kelsey Grammer (as Harold Attinger) fleshes out an otherwise one-note evildoer part – ultimately depicting a convincing, and often chilling, portrayal of paranoia and fear mongering in the post-Fall of Chicago (and post 9/11) world.
This round, Bay ensures that his new robot characters are given slightly more development than many of the CGI heroes and villains of Transformers 1-3 - but fans should temper expectations. While the four Dinobots have been featured heavily in the Age of Extinction marketing, their actual screen time is lower than some might anticipate. Above all else, the Dinobots serve the film’s primary goal: upping the onscreen visual spectacle. In that way, they are a smashing success, but longtime fans will, without question, be left hoping the characters are revisited with more depth in the next entry.
On the other hand, Lockdown is easily one of the series’ most memorable and interesting Transformer characters. A Cybertronian bounty hunter armed with advanced weaponry and a ship full of otherworldly beasts, the villain is unimpressed by ongoing Autobot/Decepticon feuding – adding unique perspective to the series’ two-sided conflict. After Megatron’s repeated attempts at enslaving Earth, Lockdown’s ambivalence toward humankind is a refreshing change of pace – especially given the antagonist’s unwavering focus on his assigned mission (unconcerned with the ramifications).
As for the rest of the robot cast, newcomer Autobots Hound, Drift and Crosshairs are each given time in the spotlight – and, as mentioned, the plot makes room to actually feature their personalities (even if each one still relies on movie warrior archetypes). Franchise favorite Bumblebee is, once again, given more to do than other supporting Autobots; but more than any other installment, Age of Extinction is centered on Optimus Prime. Fortunately, Bay makes smart use of The Greatest Leader of All Time – both in action and drama. After humankind betrays the Autobots, Optimus begins to question his idealistic beliefs in Earth and its people, revealing a dark and cynical side to the hero’s otherwise unshakable personality. The Autobot leader has mourned the loss of fallen allies in the past, but for the first time, audiences will be forced to confront the toll those sacrifices have taken on Optimus Prime.
Transformers: Age of Extinction is also playing in 3D as well as 3D IMAX and for existing fans of the franchise, a premium ticket is recommendable (though not essential). 3D IMAX is the best return on added investment – viewers will pay more but the added screen size definitely enhances the experience, offering scale to the robot cast (especially the Dinobots) along with powerful sound that highlights the Transformers’ unique audio design. On a standard screen, 3D will add immersion, but Age of Extinction adheres to the subtle (as opposed to pop out) approach to 3D – meaning that frugal viewers who expect noticeable “3D moments” may be underwhelmed – even though Paramount Pictures invested in a quality 3D presentation.
Returning franchise fans will find certain additions to be a welcome change of pace, but for viewers who have written off the Transformers movies, Age of Extinction‘s refreshed storyline and cast will not be enough reason to give Bay’s live-action toy series another shot. As with every prior installment, Age of Extinction is designed to be a rowdy piece of summer blockbuster escapism - moving quickly through plot points to setup the next explosive action set piece. For that reason, Bay succeeds at giving his audience what they are looking for – unmatched CGI spectacle.
Transformers: Age of Extinction runs 165 minutes and is Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo. Now playing in 2D, 3D, and 3D IMAX theaters.
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