The one that got much darker and much longer
The Good: Flawless special effects, focused narrative, decent character development, darker tone, memorable cast, epic action sequences, embraces more outlandish elements of Transformers comics, beautiful use of 3D
The Bad: Underdeveloped supporting cast, too much fan service, disappointing soundtrack and score
No mere trilogy could contain the hulking money making juggernaut of the Transformers franchise. Determined to strike while the iron is hot, Paramount and Michael Bay return for the start of Not just a new series of films, but an entire cinematic universe based on the transformers franchise. Enter TRANSFORMERS AGE OF EXTINCTION, a darker entry that seeks to expand the scope of the story beyond earthly conflicts. The crass jokes, dirty humour, borderline offensive stereotypes and other flaws of past movies have been swept clean. Unfortunately, any sense of continuity has also been swept clean. Other than vague references and the fact that Optimus Prime is being played by Peter Cullen, there is little else to tie this to the previous trilogy.
Two factions of transformable sentient robotic Aliens, the autobots and deceptions, brought their war to earth and laid waste to Chicago. Though victorious, the benevolent Autobots are now fugitives wanted by the government black ops force "cemetery wind". With the assistance of an intergalactic transformer bounty hunter Lockdown, transformers are hunted and and mercilessly executed. Humans suspected of harbouring a transformer are also severely dealt with.
Into this world of fear and suspicion comes Cade Yeager, single Father of a hot rebellious teenage daughter and struggling inventor. He discovers a wrecked truck which turns out to be Optimus Prime, former leader of the autobots. In no time, Cemetery Wind comes after Cade and his family, forcing Optimus Prime out of hiding. Now on the run with new human allies, Optimus must once again gather what is left of the Autobots to foil a sinister plot orchestrated by a higher power.
What is immediately apparent is the much more serious tone of this sequel. No more toilet humour, no quirky antics, no Shia le beouf stammering. This is a Witch hunt going on here and it is portrayed with all the weight of one. We see our characters taken to he brink of despair and the once upright and pure Optimus is forced to take on a more violent approach to protect those he cares for. Not many may take to this darker portrayal of Prime but I for one saw it as a very natural development of his character, affected by events of the past movies, continually betrayed by former friends, mentors and allies.
Speaking of development, AGE OF EXTINCTION is both an Optimus Prime story and Yeager's story. While Prime faces enemies and is forced into actions that challenge his moral beliefs, Yeager's is a tale of that any parent can relate to: hold on or let go. Mark Wahlberg's character is over protective of his only daughter. Like the typical rebellious teen, she had gotten a Boyfriend, and basically done everything daddy told her not to, all while Yeager was too busy chasing his own aspirations of being an inventor. Now with everyone's lives at stake, Yeager would have to step up and be the parent he should have been from the start.
Wahlberg brings an earnestness to the role of Yeager, perfectly embodying the "deadbeat dad" stereotype who has to rise to the occasion and give up his initially selfish attitude. Sadly, everyone else is reduced to either comic relief or eye candy. The same goes for the Transformers themselves. Other than Optimus Prime and his teetering at the edge of darkness, everyone else seems to be little more than obvious symbols of male machismo. One has a giant sword, one dual wields guns, another has an endless arsenal strapped to his body. How do you get more macho than that? At very least, they are memorable and do exhibit a little more distinct personality in one movie than the supporting Autobots did in the first 3 movies. Our robot heroes are pit against mindless drones now called Vehicons; man made transform to who do not transform and instead melt into pixels to transit from vehicle to robot mode.
This new transformation gimmick comes courtesy of a never before referenced in-story excuse and looks cheap in comparison to the otherwise spectacular special effects. ILM really pushed the envelope yet again. Every scene with the titular robots is beautifully done with a careful attention to detail. Michael Bay's typical style of frantic close ups and quick cuts seem to have given way to a more relaxed style of wide lingering shots and slow motion sequences; it is a style that presents the special effects in their full glory and contributed to a near perfect 3D experience.
If there was ever a movie that can be considered "big", AGE OF EXTINCTION fits the bill. At a whopping 2 hour and 45 minutes, this film will test even the strongest bladders. Even so, it never feels bloated or draggy with its multiple sub plots that anyone can follow. The snappy dialogue and intriguing story was enough to hold my attention for the extended duration of the movie. It's grand scale and epic feel is only let down by some generic music in the score. Composer Steve Jablonsky seems to have taken a step backwards, replacing many the dynamic orchestral sounds of his past movies with noisy digital droning.
With a closer focus on the transformers, a well developed arc for our protagonists and a better (or at least less irritating) main human character, AGE OF EXTINCTION does manage to bring back the thrills of the first transformers movie and improve on the nadir that was REVENGE OF THE FALLEN and its follow up. It is unafraid to embrace the franchise's more outlandish elements and feels more true to the comic books than ever. Definitely a step up in quality and with a very welcome sequel hook that opens the franchise up to cosmic level adventures.
Replay value: A-