Reel Matt

This blog started as my movie marathon — watching a movie a day for a whole year — and has continued as a place for me to write reviews about movies, TV, and various other items.

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Transformers: Age of Extinction

Film #447

THE PLOT

An automobile mechanic and his daughter make a discovery that brings down the Autobots and Decepticons - and a paranoid government official - on them.

Year 2, Film #82

THE REVIEW: When I saw Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the third film in the franchise, I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. Oft criticized for poor plot, acting, and pretty much anything else besides the city-destroying, mayhem-inducing, action-packed giant transforming robots, Dark of the Moon was surprising in that it showed some promise in the plot department with the inclusion of NASA and space exploration, and even some in the acting department with the wonderful Alan Tudyk and John Malkovich. By no means was it great, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as it’s predecessors and offered a little more than just mind-numbing summer action. Unfortunately, Michael Bay wasn’t able to keep that up in this fourth installment and the result makes you wonder if the Age of Extinction subtitle isn’t referring to the end of the franchise.

The biggest downfall of Transformers: Age of Extinction is that it bites off way more than it can chew. You see the vague attempt at effort to make this a decent film, but it’s easily lost in the sheer magnitude of the story they try to tell. While I don’t remember the Spiderman films very well, Age of Extinction evokes the same feeling that this is really three or four different stories mashed into one, each taking up an extraordinary amount of time. Maybe a better comparison would be The Dark Knight Rises. As good of a film that was, it still felt like too much was crammed into one movie. But with Age of Extinction, that’s taken to the extreme. You have the humans vs. autobots, Lockdown (an evil transformer voiced by Mark Ryan) vs. the autobots, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) and crew vs. the CIA, Joshua Joyce’s (Stanley Tucci) attempt at creating new transformers, the impending doom from the seed, and of course the Dinobots (who, possible spoiler but who cares, don’t show up until the last 30 minutes) — all individual stories that on their own would have enough material to comprise a film. Combining all these into one can only be compensating for a severe lack of appeal in each one individually and that’s exactly what’s happening. Bay, along with writer Ehren Kruger, must think that because their story, characters, etc. aren’t good, if they try and get good pieces scattered about, that it will be greater than the whole. However, this is a case where the sum of the parts is worse, much worse, than the whole.

So issue one, aside from the expected issues with a Transformers film, is that it’s a big, incoherent, sprawling mess. But the much greater sin is that Age of Extinction disappoints in an area where the franchise usually excels: the action. This might just be due to fatigue from the franchise, the whopping 165 minute runtime (the longest in the series), or a combination with the sprawling plot. For the first time in the series, I didn’t find myself just mesmerized by the destruction and mayhem taking place, but very much removed from it. There were countless questionable moments that took me out of my suspension of disbelief, the biggest one being a point vital to the plot. The whole premise of Age of Extinction is that after the Autobots destroyed Chicago in the process of saving Earth in Dark of the Moon, humans (being led by the United States and the CIA) is now targeting and hunting the transformers. Problem one is that they return to Chicago and the city looks like nothing happened to it. Only four years have passed and they somehow managed to rebuild everything in the city? Sounds reasonable, so that can only mean we have to destroy it again, right? Of course! This time though, I was consciously aware of how purposeful the destruction was. In previous Transformers films, you give the action the benefit of the doubt because it seems as natural as it can. Giant robots are roaming about trying to save the world and a few building happen to get demolished in the process. In Age of Extinction that turns into a game of “How many things can we tear to shreds?” which gives the action a much less spontaneous and genuine feeling.

I could go on with my complaints and general plot puzzlements — since when did the auto-restore/pimp-my-ride feature that brought back Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) from near death exist?, how exactly does (spoilers, but again, who really cares) Megatron stay alive with just his head remaining?, why are the Dinobots so prized by Lockdown and why it Optimus the only non-dinosaur he covets? — but I think you get the point already. Now you’re thinking, “Well if the action isn’t even good, are there any redeeming qualities at all?” The answer, surprisingly, is yes. Despite how horrible the entire films is from start to finish, top to bottom, there is one person (and partially a second) that makes the film at least somewhat bearable and that is Stanley Tucci (and Kelsey Grammer who plays CIA leader Harold Attinger). The character of Harold Attinger can only go so far and Kelsey Grammer did the best the he could do to create a powerful and intimidating villain. But what Stanley Tucci did with KSI President Joshua Joyce is absolutely incredible. Each time Joyce appears on screen he gets better and better and it’s all because of Tucci’s incredible acting. My favorite moment in the film is when Joyce is waiting on a roof to be picked up and while he waits, he takes a sip from a juice box, only to look over his shoulder and discover a flying transformer hovering right behind him. Age of Extinction owes a lot to Stanley Tucci because he not only makes this film bearable, but somewhat fun to watch. For the brief time we see him (mostly in the latter half) he manages to make up for many of the film’s shortcomings, so much so that I would consider giving the film a higher rating just for him.

Alas, I won’t and Transformers: Age of Extinction will have to be satisfied with two out of five stars (it should be happy it got that many). While I honestly would consider seeing the film again just for Stanley Tucci’s character, I just cannot ignore the gross inadequacies of the rest of the film. Even by Transformers standards, Age of Extinction ranks very low on the story and character front with so much bloat that the film sinks because of all it’s extraneous, tangential, and pointless side-plots, sub-plots, and main-plots that have so many holes they cannot stand on their own. Most disappointing of all though is the subpar action scenes that leave you unimpressed and bored most of the time, something no blockbuster should ever do. And while there are a few bright lights in the film, including the shining North Star that is Stanley Tucci, I can’t in good conscious recommend you see this film. Maybe after it comes out on Netflix and you have nothing better to do on some rainy afternoon. Even then, I might recommend you take some breaks during the almost three hour (!) runtime and try to do something more productive or useful (blasphemous I know that I would suggest taking a break during a movie).

Transformers: Age of Extinction opens in theaters tomorrow, June 27, 2014.

THE RATING: 2 out of 5