Transformers: Age of Extinction review


The tagline for Transformers: Age of Extinction tells us that “The rules have changed.” Yet the formula here remains largely the same, which must mean that the rulebook only has one page.

If you’ve seen at least one of director Michael Bay’s Transformers films then you can probably predict how this plays out. The intent is to deliver the most glorious destruction and explosions your eyes will ever see, enhanced by IMAX 3D no less. This involves having lead human characters travelling across different locations with Autobots in tow. Cue Transformers doing battle, shooting things, which results in other things going boom (sometimes in slow motion) while humans do a lot of running, screaming and hiding, occasionally shouting things like, “Come on, we gotta move.” It’s a formula that has resulted in three films earning a combined total of over $2.6 billion worldwide.

It’s been seven years since Transformers first wowed that initial audience of teens, some of whom are now young adults. Age of Extinction recognises this and as the start of a new trilogy, this Transformers film is no longer told from the perspective of Sam Witwicky. Michael Bay and screenwriter Ehren Kruger instead introduce us to Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), a struggling inventor who is looking out for his daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz). They have arguments that result in us knowing that he braided his daughter’s hair and she taught him to stop using sauce in everything he cooks. Cade has picked up an old truck, which turns out to be a Transformer, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen). However, with Prime being wanted by the US government and Lockdown (Mark Ryan), a Transformer bounty hunter, tasked with bringing him back, it’s not long before Cade, Tessa and her ‘comes-out-of-nowhere’ secret boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) find themselves on the run with the Autobot.

Following the events of Dark of the Moon, in order to hunt down and destroy all Transformers (we even see a set of playing cards with the most wanted Transformers), the government have enlisted the help of the CIA, led by Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), along with his best agent Captain Savoy (Titus Welliver). Having already wiped out many Transformers, Attinger believes that this will “keep America safe.” The parts are taken to Kinetic Solutions Incorporated (KSI), headed by billionaire Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), where the alien metal is crafted into ‘Transformium’ so he can create his own Transformers.

Curiously, when we first see Cade he is buying scrap from a rundown movie theatre, where the owner slams how movies today are remakes and crap sequels. One wonders if Bay is winking at the audience here, as if to say that he has learnt from his past films. He has certainly become more skilled at using the technology at his disposal to make the explosions bigger. The usual Bay trademarks are here: slow-motion shots, orange skies (during which we hear the film’s theme song, ‘Battle Cry’ by Imagine Dragons), CIA helicopters, inaudible dialogue during a loud car chase where the camera can’t stay still and scenes of product placement so brazen you just have to accept them as a staple of the summer blockbuster.

For example, with Shane being a racecar driver, he mentions how Red Bull has sponsored him. After walking away from a crashed spacecraft that collided with a truck carrying Bud Light, a surprisingly unscathed Cade decides to drink a bottle while arguing with someone about insurance. The most audacious involves Tucci’s Joshua, who finds the time to drink Shuhua Milk while trying to avoid CIA agents and Transformers. Also, Hasbro being the owners of another popular franchise means that Rainbow Dash has a cameo in here too.


As Optimus Prime replicates the look of a passing truck, clearing away all his rust in the process, Shane bellows out that what just happened is insane yet awesome. It’s almost as if he’s reminding the audience that, even though this franchise is now four films in, it cannot be denied that the effect of a Transformer transforming does still indeed look pretty awesome. Transformers: Age of Extinction is a multi-million dollar technical exercise in looking insanely awesome, assaulting the senses with special effects and an all-out action finale that takes place in China.

The IMAX 3D camera swoops along skylines and plunges down the sides of buildings. At one point it looks up at CIA agent Captain Savoy, who appears effortlessly cool with China’s high-rise residential buildings behind him. ILM prove why their effects are so special, with a stand-out sequence involving Lockdown’s spaceship sucking up metal objects and dropping them back down, as well as Lockdown leaping out of his own ship (in slow motion, obviously) before battling Prime.

Fanboys can rejoice at how the action looks fap-inducingly incredible, but it’s not long before déjà vu sets in. We’ve experienced this in three films already and with Age of Extinction’s near three hour running time, the overload of special effects, fights and explosions in the finale does blend into a numbing, clunky mess. Besides the scenery, the other motive behind shooting the finale in Hong Kong and China stems from the fact that outside of the US, the largest chunk of change from Dark of the Moon’s $1 billion worldwide gross came from China.

It works to Age of Extinction’s benefit that Optimus Prime has been around for four films, during which the Autobot has managed quite the character arc. Having spent years fighting alongside humans defending the planet, he is going through some inner turmoil now that humans are hunting him down. “How many more of my kind must be sacrificed to atone for your mistakes?” he asks Cade. Also, Lockdown appears to know more about Prime than Prime knows about himself.

The new Autobots include Hound (voiced by John Goodman), Drift (voiced by Ken Watanabe) and Crosshairs (voiced by John DiMaggio). Each one is made up of brash stereotypes that lack any unique personality. And while there’s been a bit of commotion about Dinobots in the film, their appearance seems to be more out of reverence than anything else. Any opportunity to develop them is wasted by restricting them to the final 20 minutes.


Wahlberg’s Cade is limited to just the standard, alien gun-toting action hero. The oddity here is that there are a few moments where he can just walk away from the mess he’s found himself in, but he doesn’t and risks his life to save Prime’s. Plus, he has to stay, because Reynor’s Shane and Peltz’s Tessa just come across as an inferior Sam and Mikaela. That Kruger has written Tessa with no real skills means that she spends most of the film running, hiding and getting captured, merely serving as motivation for Cade and Shane to save her. She is a considerable step down from Megan Fox’s Mikaela.

Tucci’s Joshua Joyce is a minor highlight, delivering a memorable turn as he initially comes across as an egocentric tycoon who is partially responsible for the mess that the humans and Autobots find themselves in (“Now we know everything about Transformers…and we can build them better,” he remarks). While Grammer’s Attinger is a single-minded antagonist, forcing his belief upon everyone that the world is not safe till all the Transformers are gone, Joshua unexpectedly listens and acts upon the advice offered to him when he receives a sudden phone call from Cade (how Cade even manages to acquire Joshua’s mobile phone number is anyone’s guess).

Bay has delivered the usual Bayhem that audiences routinely expect from a Transformers film. Following a now predictable pattern, Transformers: Age of Extinction is an expensive, overlong and overblown special effects ride that simply fails to excite. With the news of a fifth film on the way, you have to wonder where this franchise could potentially go if a different director took the helm.

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