Men turn into machines in Transformers

Men turn into machines in Transformers

Transformers: Age of Extinction (July 10, 2014)

In the Transformer franchise, the cliché that men have turned into machines is interpreted as literally as possible. Giant robots, that transform themselves into motor vehicles in seconds, fight one another and humans.

The ‘good’ robots, the Autobots, forge an increasingly unstable relationship with human governments.

Transformer films are synonymous with loud, cartoon violent, CGI fests: great special effects, superficial stories, risible dialogue, and token acting.  Enticed by the Hasbro toy company, The Director of the trilogy, Michael Bay, and Scriptwriter Ehren Kruger (writing alone this time), have re-emerged like a few Autobots to shake that image and transform the franchise in Transformers: Age of Extinction.

This fourth installment shares all the dubious attributes of its predecessors but with three main differences. The first is that with Age of Extinction, the video-game like franchise aimed at ADD teeny-boppers and college kids has aged-up.

College student Shia LaBeouf has been replaced by 43-year-old Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeager, an idealistic, struggling inventor and harried single father; while 53-year-old Stanley Tucci co-stars as arrogant industrialist Joshua Joyce.

When his plans to make his own Transformer, Galvatron, backfire, Joyce himself transforms into an unlikely hero, and is rewarded with a romantic interest late in life.

Bay also wants to draw parallels between the fictitious government’s misguided policy toward Autobots, born of ignorance, and the disastrous misreading of foreign policy situations associated with the decisions of actual Western governments.

The third key difference is expressed in the opening of the film, set in a disused cinema palace. Bay wants to be taken seriously, asserting the franchise’s right to a place in cinema history.

But first a recap: Intergalactic robots called Autobots from the planet of Cyberton arrives when their planet is destroyed and its life-source, a cube called AllSpark, falls to the earth. They speak English, are generally loyal to humans and transform themselves into cars and trucks.

The Decepticons (no subtly there) led by the evil Megatron (Hugo Weaving) are their enemies who plot to capture the Allspark and rule the universe.

When, following the battle of Chicago between the two warring robot factions, a rogue Autobot betrays humanity and his own, humans seek to expel all robots from the Earth.

The few Autobots that did not escape have, as Transformers: Age of Extinction opens, gone into hiding.  As well they should: Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) is a zealous CIA agent on a crusade to eliminate all Transformers.

He is not above killing humans, as Yeager, his teenage daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz), and her Irish driver boyfriend (Jack Reynor), discover when they are suspected of harbouring the fugitive Autobot leader, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen’s voice).

The film that is to become as destructive, noisy and chaotic as the Big Bang begins in the serenity of small town Texas.  Inventor Yeager (Wahlberg) wanders through a derelict cinema searching for scrap metal that he can repair and sell to finance Tessa’s college education.

On the front of the Main Street cinema, is an old marquee, ‘Thanks for 79 Great Years’.  This ironic statement on the state of cinema and nod to cinema nostalgia is supported by the theatre’s septuagenarian owner dismissing ‘sequels and remakes’ as ‘a bunch of crap.’

But Yeager, a bit like Michael Bay, perhaps, argues that everything can be salvaged and we should find value in junk, even, perhaps the sequels such as this film that is set make several hundred million dollars.

This quest for classic status continues when a dusty truck Yeager finds in the cinema turns out to be Optimus Prime in hiding.  When the truck proudly speeds through the Monument Valley of John Ford and Howard Hawkes to a majestic bit of score, it signals that only the transport and the weapons have changed.

The wonderful actors Mark Wahlberg and Stanley Tucci do almost enough acting to make up for everyone else.  The 3D effects are truly impressive, even if you cannot always figure out what is fighting what.  The over-protective-father-to-a-hot-teenage-daughter routine is a cliché by now, one middle-aged actors from Mel Gibson to Liam Neeson have done before.

Still, it affords some chuckles and a human element to a story that has more human moments than the previous installments.  But the film is far too long, noisy and destructive (this time, it’s half of Texas and much of Hong Kong) to attract new audiences.

by Joyce Glasser, Mature Times film reviewer