Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: Transformers - Age of Extinction

So I should probably talk about Bayformers, huh? No use putting it off anymore.

In the mid-2000s toy company/barons Hasbro decided to start trying to make movies based on their various properties. Transformers was the first to make the transition and many TF fans were pretty worried from the get-go. Once production started there were two primary concerns: 1) Hasbro is notorious for not giving a shit about their properties so long as the can sell kids toys so there was no guarantee of quality of film from their involvement. 2) Michael Bay was hired to direct the film which was a red flag because Bay has previously proven to not be all that good when it comes to things like “character development” or “plot” and prefers EXPLOSIONS when making movies.

The film, called “Transformers”, was released in 2007 and despite being overly juvenile, oversexed, slightly racist, possessing an overreliance on the human cast, featuring Megan Fox in any capacity, Dull Surprise, and no Transformer having anything resembling a three dimensional personality or an character arc and having hard to distinguish character designs the film at least wasn’t awful. At the time this felt like a victory.

The film was a big success and thus a sequel hit theaters in 2009, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Now it would take me an entire blog to explain just how terrible this movie is so for now I will just say that it was truly one of the worst flicks I’ve ever seen in my entire life. Everything bad I mentioned about the first one returned in droves in the second one. It’s like when you meet a friend’s dog once and its fine then the next you see the thing it tries to rip your throat out. Still the film did even better than the first, despite being insanely awful, and thus Transformers: Dark of the Moon was released in 2011. This film was better than the second but ultimately it was still a very bad movie for all the same reasons the previous ones were bad movies. It’s biggest plus was that Megan Fox was fired but then she was replaced by English actor model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley who never acted before this and it showed (incidentally in the three years since this film came out the only gig I’ve seen her as having is in the upcoming Mad Max sequel, so I’m guessing Hollywood figured her out).

Also these movies introduced Transformer testicles
Never forget. Never forgive
By the way in Dark of the Moon there is totally a scene where Optimus Prime and the Autobots allow the Decepticons to blow up a big chunk of Chicago in order to teach humanity a lesson for trying to force them off Earth. This totally happened and I mention it now because this will be important later.

After three terrible but highly successful films Michael Bay decided to step down from the franchise following the third one, giving the series a possible chance to be helmed by a better director…until he changed his mind and signed up for a fourth film after all, Transformers: Age of Extinction. With a completely new human cast this appears to be the start of a second trilogy with several of the stars signed up for two more films. It’s also pretty much made ALL THE MONEY so there’s no way to avoid this terrible future. Anyway I did get around to seeing Age of Extinction and most of you likely know I’m a big Transformers fan. Thus my wrath will be swift. 

Full review after the jump.



Bayformer Optimus Prime thirsts for blood!
It’s been four years since the Autobots defeated Megatron and the Decepticons in Chicago. In that time the relationship between “heroic” aliens and the US government has greatly soured and the majority of Autobots are now in hiding. An elite CIA unit led by Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) has been tasked with finding and eliminating any lingering Decepticon forces but in truth they’ve been killing any Transformer they come across including Autobots. What’s worse is that they’ve been working with a Cybertronian bounty hunter called Lockdown who is on Earth hunting a specific target. Meanwhile failed scientist turned American picker Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) buys a truck he find during one of his outings. Upon further inspection he comes to the conclusion that it’s a deactivated Transformer. He manages to revive it and it actually turns out it’s a heavily damaged Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen). But this soon brings the attention of the CIA and of Lockdown...

Well this is awkward. So it would seem that Bay has made improvements to his Transformer movie formula. Most of the things that bugged the hell out of me or pissed me off from the previous films were either toned down or otherwise absent. So it wasn’t as racist, the acting wasn’t as bad, and most importantly the Transformers were much better portrayed. First of all they felt a lot closer to actual characters. Prior to this they were one-dimensional props/stereotypes. Here they are totally two-dimensional which sounds bad but is such an improvement that I’ll call it a win. Hound is a trigger happy robot redneck. Crosshairs is a pessimistic jerk who is not particularly loyal soldier. Drift is Japanese…and uses swords. Okay, these are still pretty lame but it now feels like the writers are at least putting thought into now as opposed to them being set pieces.

"There's an energon deficiency at Iacon City?"
"Thanks, Obama-tron!"
Second of all the Transformer designs are waaaaaay better than they’ve ever been since the live action films started. They look distinct and streamlined and it’s so much easier to tell the difference between robots. This might be partially because supposedly Hasbro wanted redesigns in order to sell new toys and I totally believe that I because it’s the least artistic reasoning behind it and I’m a pessimist. On a similar note I dug Lockdown as a villain. He had a clear motivation and was portrayed as something different than just generic evil guy who wants to conquer/destroy the Earth. I appreciated that.

The human cast is fine. Mark Wahlberg is a much better lead than Shia the Beef Shia LaBeouf was and there are no Megan Fox-level awful performances that I could tell. Plus Stanley Tucci is in this and I love me some Stanley Tucci. All in all I think too much focus is placed on the humans. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I don’t want there to be humans (a lot TF fans are like this) but their roles in these movies have always been as the main characters as opposed to supporting the real stars in the Autobots. I just think that dynamic is the big evidence that the filmmakers don’t quite get the franchise and even now it’s still a problem.

Because it wouldn't be Bayformers without a human fighting evil robots on even terms
You won’t hear me complain about the action. Now that the Transformers look better the fights scenes make more sense to watch and thus there is more fun to be had. Fans of summer action films will likely be the most interested in these sequences but at the very least it won’t hurt those of us who are less invested. The special effects and CG also looked pretty good. As with The Amazing Spider-Man 2 it seems we’re getting to a point with technology where this type of stuff consistently looks pretty.

The film’s biggest problem is that it has too much plot. In keeping with the theme of “make this movie better than its predecessors” rather than barely having a plot that doesn’t make sense like the last three flicks this film overcompensate by throwing in as much plot as humanly possible. Between Lockdown and the CIA hunting down Autobots (and the mysterious creators of the Transformers involved somehow), the creation of human built Transformers that start running amok, and even the Dinobots running around it feels like they’ve squeezed material for two and a half movies into one long one and shit makes about as much sense you would have assumed. This movie is busy and it is not seamless. The fact that Lockdown and Galvatron and presented as villains yet have nothing to do with each other is indicative of how wrong this story went. Now the question is what’s better: too much plot or not enough plot? I think I’ll go with too much plot because at least when something happens there’s a reason for it. Not a good reason mind you but it’s better than nothing.

Meh. I prefer Lockdown from Transformers Animated
 As a result of the giant amount of plot the film is super long. By the time I was done watching I was exhausted. It’s too long and I don’t think there’s any sane person on the planet who would disagree with that regardless of their feelings about the film.

One pet peeve of mine that I think I’ll mention is the portrayal of the Autobots, especially Optimus Prime. At best they come off as assholes and at worst blood thirsty psychopaths who can’t go five minutes without pulling guns out on each other. I find this troubling more as a long term Transformers fan than anything else so I don’t want to get mad at the movie so much because Bayformer Prime has been ripping people’s faces off and threatening murder for seven years now. That said their major issue in this film was that they felt greatly betrayed by the humans for turning on them which I found odd seeing as in the last film THEY LET A BUNCH OF PEOPLE GET KILLED IN CHICAGO TO MAKE A GODDAMN POINT! If I was human (and I am) I would have wanted to payback too. No one in the flick mentions this at all nor sees the irony.

Aside from length and an abundance of plot Age of Extinction suffers from bad characters, bad pacing, unfunny comedy, casual racism, and far more action than storytelling much like all the past Bayformers films. BUT all those things are notably better than the previous ones. It implies that Bay is growing as a director, at least for this franchise, and it’d be wrong to not give credit for it. This is still a bad movie but it’s not a terrible one and may be the best Bayformers movie yet. The way I see it watching this film after the last three is like getting kicked in the balls three times in a row and just when you think you’re getting a fourth one you’re given a cold beer instead. I don’t like beer (I prefer whiskey) but a lot of people do and I appreciate that the guy is trying to be better when dealing with me even if he doesn’t quite get my tastes right.

They came to Earth with one simple dream: to kill all humans
And now that dream must end?
I give Bayformers 4 Transformers: Age of Extinction 2 Adorable Pandas out of 5.



Pros 

-Good action

-Many aspects are huge improvements over past Transformers films.

-Pretty good robot designs

-Decent acting

Cons 

-Squeezes too much plot into the film

-Also bad storytelling 

-Overreliance on human cast

-Characters aren’t very well written

-Waaaaaaay too long

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