Transformers: Age of Extinction Review

This film, the latest in Michael Bay's multi-BILLION dollar franchise, is critic proof. There's nothing that I could say that the viewing public doesn't already know or anticipate. This is another Transformers film which is better than its predecessors in certain aspects and worse in others. Transformers: Age of Extinction is a Michael Bay film.

Set four years after the previous film, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the Autobots are on the run from a special CIA squad, "Cemetery Wind" (aka Corpse Fart), which has been tasked with the eradication of mechanical alien threat. Optimus finds himself begrudgingly teamed up with Marky Mark and not-Megan Fox before they destroy a great chunk of Hong Kong. Don't go blaming me for spoiling anything. This is all in the trailer.

This film sees Shia LaBeouf replaced with Mark Wahlberg and while Marky Mark's emotional range doesn't seem to extend beyond a perpetual quizzical look, he's a welcome change to the usual 120 minutes of sprinting, sliding and "OPTIMUS!" shrieking. Also gone are Megan Fox and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley having been replaced by Nicola Peltz. Sure, she still suffers from the seemingly obligatory barely-there shorts, tandoori fake tan and butt shots aplenty, but she manages to offer more than the previous two leading ladies. The cast is further diversified by Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammer, the latter of which is delightfully menacing and clinical in his delivery while Tucci steals every scene he's in. Funny man T.J. Miller provides some fantastic comic relief which is delivered by a much more deft hand than you'd expect from the franchise but is sadly underutilised.

The Transformers cast also gets a little bit of a shake up with Optimus reverting to his classic cab-over form for a portion of the film, Hound being portrayed as a FMTV instead of a Jeep and Galvatron resembles Nemesis Prime more than his namesake. The design of the robots is a little less busy than in the previous films however the semi-flowing metal of Crosshairs' trench coat is a little odd to say the least. The voices are all perfect with Peter Cullen reprising his role as Optimus and delivering a little more anger than we're used to, John Goodman adding some comedic gravitas, Frank Welker back as the maniacal Galvatron and Ken Watanabe voicing Drift, a character first introduced in Transformers: Armada, who resembles a samurai albeit in the form of a French supercar. Yep, Drift is a little confused.

With an amount of the film's budget being supplied by Chinese backers, it should come as no surprise that the film features a number of well known Chinese actors including Bingbing Li in a prominent role as well as Geng Han and Michael Wong in fleeting scenes. I wouldn't be surprised if there roles were made more prominent with the potential for a Chinese localisation of the film, just as with Iron Man 3, to include more screen time for Chinese actors and also product placement. The cynic in me feels as though it was a conscious decision to set the last third of the film in Hong Kong, where the most damage is wrought, as opposed to Beijing. By destroying great chunks of Hong Kong and not mainland China, the People's Republic of China aren't losing face by acknowledging that they couldn't handle a robotic alien invasion.

If you thought the previous films were lousy with product placement, you're in for a treat. There is some truly horrific, jarring, tear-you-out-of-cinematic-immersion product placement throughout this film. It's almost to the point where the Transformers franchise is the worlds longest, most elaborate Superbowl commercial. There's advertising for Budweiser, Bud Light, Victoria's Secret, C'est Bon bottled water, Lenovo, Goodyear, GAC E-Jet and more. Every one of these products, when thrown in your face, takes you out of the moment and affects the pacing of the 2 and a half hour film severely while leaving you wondering just how much of the $165 million budget has already been recouped through marketing agreements.

If there's one thing Michael Bay does well it's practical effects. For a film about giant CGI robots, he certainly does love his Baysplosions. Flashes of fire, debris and rolling vehicles are a surefire way to please a cinema full of action movie fans and Bay is a master of the art. The second third of the film sees the Transformers destroy city blocks of Hong Kong to glorious effect. Even seeing the main protagonists running in slow motion through BOOM's and POW's is good fun, at least the first and second time you see it. Ominous slow-mo bad guys and gratuitous slow-mo pretty girls are to Michael Bay as doves are to John Woo. You come to expect it and when it arrives, your soul dies a little inside.

For any complaint about Transformers: Age of Extinction I have to concede that it's fun. It's big, brash, dumb fun. Expecting any more than that would be like expecting nutrition from a Big Mac meal. It's certainly a tasty morsel but those calories are empty and you'll likely hate yourself a little for enjoying it so much. I could bag this film out all day but when all is said and done, it will undoubtedly come very close to breaking 1 billion at the box office, spawn another 2 films (which Wahlberg and Peltz have already signed on for), and deliver exactly what the viewing public wants from the franchise: explosions, robots, Mark Wahlberg doing a great Mark Wahlberg impersonation and a pretty lass. Plus, Optimus Prime dresses up like a knight, rides a dinosaur and wields a sword. Nuff said.

- Ryan
Transformers: Age of Extinction is in cinemas from 26 June 2014.

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