Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds
Director: Michael Bay
When it comes to the Transformers series you really have to do one thing, manage your expectations. I mean what do you expect to get from films about cars that morph into giant humanoid robots that were initially based on children’s toys? And after all they are directed by Michael Bay; the grand-master of the explosion and leering camera angle. More famous for his negative reviews than any to the contrary. And yes you would never see Optimus Prime at The Cannes Film Festival, but does that mean we can’t enjoy him all the same?
Because credit where credit is due, Transformers: Age of Extinction is a far superior movie than it’s predecessors. Ironically a film that concerns itself with the Jurassic period is actually the most evolved in the series to date in terms of plot, acting and pacing. The wave of negativity this film has faced has been purely pre-empted because of the lukewarm reception the previous two installments received. We can consider the original Transformers Trilogy a BETA test which Bay has used to improve his product… and by god has it worked. No longer are we stuck in the turgid Windows XP we have jumped head first into Windows 8.
If you can sidestep the usual Bay-isms in this film you’ll find the content far more rewarding than you may have done before. I agree that things to do tend to blow up quite a lot, some of the plot work is nonsensical and there really isn’t a place for feminine heroes yet I immensely enjoyed it despite all this. Firstly, gone is the whiny and Shia La Beouf as Sam Witwicky (the hapless hero of Parts 1-3) and in his place has stepped the all-action Mark Wahlberg. It’s remarkable what a great decision that casting change has been. Wahlberg’s Cade Yeager is an inventor and a single father struggling to live in modern day America. He feels a strong debt to Optimus Prime and instead of falling through the movie with a scared look on his face he eventually tools up takes the bad guys down himself (with the help of a Transformer gun).
The second most notable change stems from the less than tepid Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the entire story in this film is based upon the negativity that the Battle of Chicago, from the previous film’s conclusion, has caused in human society. All Transformers Auto- Bot and Decepticon alike are on the run from the CIA and Optimus Prime is in hiding. Well, that is until Cade Yeager finds him in the form of an old abandoned lorry carriage and welds him back to health. That prompts the arrival of Kelsey Grammar, a ruthless government operative who is in negotiation with an evil entity from Cybertron known as Lockdown. In a bid to save his remaining brothers and protect Yeager’s family from harm Optimus gathers the last remaining Auto- Bots for a final showdown against evil. All the while Joshua Joyce (the superb Stanley Tucci) is using dead Decepticons to build his own Transformer… which is beginning to look a lot like the late- Megatron.
Now if that doesn’t appeal to you initially I’ll explain why it’s actually quite an interesting and diverse narrative. Due to mankind’s hunting of Tranformers the only Auto- Bots left alive are hardened veterans like Drift (Ken Watanabe) and the perfectly voiced Hound (John Goodman) who is mocked up like an old Nam war veteran who carries an anti- Tank gun and smokes a shotgun shell like cigar… Oh, and Bumblebee is chucked in… to sell action figures.
The opposition in this film is rather intriguing as well. The previously mentioned Lockdown is a Cybertronian villain who is neither Auto- Bot nor Decepticon. His mission on Earth is simply to extract Optimus Prime and return him to the “creators”. Thankfully as well his actual mission statement is never revealed which leaves huge scope for the next two movies. Also, his head turns into a gun… so that’s cool.
Stanley Tucci’s Joyce is hilarious throughout and his villainous creations Galvatron and Stinger, which are intended to be man- controlled Transformers, actually begin to run amock and take control of themselves. Bringing Megatron back from the dead and giving us a new breed of Transformer that change shape and morph in a more fluid and agile manner. Neither evil is completely vanquished at the film’s end and essences of both still remain.
Optimus Prime is a radically changed leader in this film. Less idealized and far more resentful of human beings, all told it is a much darker affair and it’s a shame it took the series so long to get to this point. You can’t help but feel that if Bay had of been brave after he made Transformers back in 2008 he could have jumped straight into this movie. Obviously with a bit of tying up, the first and fourth installments would link quite well. Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon were just re-hashings of the original Shia LaBeouf and his air-head girlfriends (did anyone notice when they switched Megan Fox with Rosie Huntington- Whiteley?) facing off against whatever Megatron could think up. By changing the human cast the series has taken a step forward.
Outside of Tucci, Grammar and Wahlberg though the human element is slightly lacking. Nicola Peltz is chucked in as Cade’s teenage daughter to again fill the void of the faked tanned heroine who never does much “heroing” and Jack Reynor plays a flashy stunt car driver, only cast in the role because Michael Bay had recently watched What Richard Did shortly before he went into pre-production for this movie. At one point I thought Mark Wahlberg’s character was going to die and I feared that Reynor would step up as the lead next time round… thankfully he doesn’t.
My enjoyment purely stemmed from the fact that Bay and previous Transformers scribe Ehren Kruger have actively tried to improve their film-making when it comes to the Transformers. The only detractor being is that they decided to chuck in the Dinobots, which makes the picture at the top of this article redundant. They again are thrown in to make the title link to the plot and to sell action figures. They are visually impressive but they only get twenty- minutes screen time and their genesis isn’t ever explained… hopefully that will happen in later installments… but I doubt it.
Yet, applause is deserved here, I was immersed in the story from the get-go and I enjoyed the new world that Bay and Kruger have sculpted. It is a world where Transformers either fight, kill or die with little hope of survival and where men are willing to do anything to earn their share of the profits in this dark new society, whether that be through murder or tampering with technology they don’t understand. If Earth was saved from Extinction this time round it will be even harder to survive the Evolution that is certain to follow.