-Richard "Rikun" Jao
Confession time: I was one of those kids who grew up in the late 80s/early 90s that was of the perfect demographic to be a Transformers fan...but it never caught on for me. Yes the toys were cool and now that I look back there was some relatively smart writing involved, but the original show itself bored me. The animation was clunky, there was a lot of crazy exposition, and too many robots fighting each other onscreen for me to keep count or even care. Now nearly 20 years and 3 movies later Transformers: Age of Extinction has been released and while it's noticeably better than the last two sequels, I can only give it a resounding "meh".
Oh sure there's a lot of action, the VFX budget is definitely off the charts, and the Hong Kong shots make the city look gorgeous, but there's only so many times you can explode things before everything starts feeling the same, and with this film reaching for nearly 3 hours the last thing you need is a bored audience.
The current story finds our favorite bots on the run since the 3rd film. You see, after wrecking all of Chicago the U.S. Government isn't too keen on letting either Autobot or Decepticon stay on Earth and have proceeded to hunt down every last one of them for the good of the country (sure it is...). We have a new protagonist in the form of aspiring inventor Cade Yaeger (played by Mark Whalburg) as he tries to make a living to support himself and his college bound daughter. When what he thinks is an old junk truck turns out to be Optimus Prime in disguise, it sets off a chain reaction of events that thrust him headfirst into a global conflict of obscene proportions. And if that sounded exactly like every other Transformers movie you've seen then congratulations, you just figured out how Michael Bay prints money with every installment of this series.
There are some good elements in this film. Mark Whalburg is much a more tolerable protagonist than Shia LeBeouf and the Transformers themselves get more screentime as opposed to sharing it with the US Military. Optimus, Bumblebee, and the three remaining Autobots are distinct characters, if not a smidge stereotypical and when the Dinobots show up it's nothing but nonstop mayhem destroying enemy bots left and right. And say what you will about how brainless the plot is, at least the cinematography looks good and you can actually tell what's going on this time.
However given how long it takes for the Dinobots to finally show up and all of the pseudo-intrigue that's supposed to hold our attention, all the explosive battles feel like one exhaustive sequence after another. It creates a weird dichotomy of a lot of stuff going on (Transformium, the Cybertronian bounty hunter, the CIA, etc.) and yet at the same time nothing of real value happens. We have a character arc for Optimus and some hints as to what the Cybertronian world may be like, but there is absolutely nothing that pushes the overall story of the Transformers forward. The fact that more recent animated series manage to do so much more in the same run time than all the movies combined speaks volumes, but if the box office numbers on this movie are anything to go by there is an airtight audience for this spectacle.
As I said before, Transformers: Age of Extinction is an all around average blockbuster movie. Not terrible by any means, but is ultimately a shallow explosion exhibition that really isn't all that different from the first couple of movies. There are much better blockbusters coming out this summer that are worth much more of your time, and really I'm pretty sure at this point most moviegoers have had more than enough of their fill of Michael Bay.
Hope you Transformers fans have fun with this one. I'm sticking to my Ninja Turtles. Now THAT'S what my childhood was all about.
Wait...what was that? A Turtles movie? And Michael Bay is attached to it?