Courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic / Paramount

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) Review

[dropcap size=big]L[/dropcap]imitation, by and large, is what gives anything meaning. Precious metals are only valuable because they are rare. The love from someone who gives their affections away freely is not worth having. And the actions in life only matter because life ends. This same line of reasoning can be applied to art. When no limitations are imposed on an artist, creativity is stifled since the artist is free to do anything. Inevitably, this leads to excess, because in a boundless environment the artist has no frame of reference. An object can only be considered big if something else can be compared to it as small. Limitless is a dangerous place for artists, because it is within this endless landscape that artists lose their sense of good taste, even as their readers, viewers, audiences and consumers maintain theirs. Limitless is where Michael Bay has lost himself, creating Transformers: Age of Extinction as big as his imagination will reach and as long as his endurance will last.

It’s a bad time for the Optimus Prime and the Autobots after the destructive battle in Chicago in the previous film. A xenophobic, rogue government official, Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) has created a clandestine task force to hunt the Autobots in the hopes of finding Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen). Attinger is working with a Transformer bounty hunter who is tasked with capturing Prime for unknown reasons. Through sheer luck, small town inventor and repairman, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), discovers Prime as a broken down old truck and takes him home for repairs. Unfortunately, this discovery triggers Attinger to mobilize his black ops team to investigate, sending Cade, his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) and her boyfriend Jack (Shane Dyson) on a perilous adventure that reunites Prime with old friends and introduces new enemies.

Michael Bay films have become more or less a parody in the eyes of the public consciousness. Ask anyone who is familiar with his recent work and they will accurately describe his films as overly long and full of gratuitous explosions. Transformers: Age of Extinction falls mostly in line with this stereotype, but obvious attempts are made to make this fourth installment a little more typical of what audiences are looking for in an action blockbuster.

Refreshingly, there are less weird characters. When all of humanity is at stake, the last thing audiences want distracting them are pointless characters behaving unbelievably. There are no annoying Witwicky parents or questionable Transformers to offend racial sensibilities. For the most part, the characters all fit expected archetypes, although, Stanley Tucci’s Joshua Joyce does transform strangely from a cool and calculated, unscrupulous inventor into a chattering and obnoxious pushover at the height of the climax. That choice notwithstanding, the rest of the cast plays it straight; the bad guys are unflinchingly bad and the good guys can do no wrong.

The cast is also better. The decision to make Mark Wahlberg the main protagonist works very well for Age of Extinction. Not only is he more physically suited for an action-hero role, but his character is more in line with Transformers canon since he’s a mechanic despite not being a Witwicky. Unfortunately, these are about the only efforts that were made to reign in the creativity before it got away from the filmmakers.

This movie is unnecessarily long. It’s as if all the time-saving storytelling conventions were eschewed because the filmmakers couldn’t trust the audience to make simple connections. For instance, Cade is in danger of losing his house to foreclosure, but rather than simply present a foreclosure notice and leave the audience to understand Cade’s financial situation, viewers are instead treated to a drawn out scene with a feisty realtor. Other moments include long chase sequences, interminable robot battles and humans who inexplicably keep throwing themselves into harm’s way. There’s also a small subplot that introduces the Dinobots, but it definitely feels tacked on and only fans of the original series will truly appreciate it even if there’s not much to appreciate.

This excess spills over into other aspects of the film. With no boundaries, some of the story elements don’t make sense and some of the dramatic moments are presented way over the top to the point of eliciting incredulous laughs. Nothing seems to be checked, and the filmmakers just started throwing things into the film that they thought were cool regardless of story impact. And when actors make questionable choices, rather than edit those moments out, they’re highlighted in glorious slow motion.

Any other complaints are really just legacy gripes that have existed throughout this film series. There’s too much human involvement during the Transformer fights. The rules of Transformer combat don’t make sense, like how Transformers can survive shots from another Transformer, yet those same shots are used to bring down spacecraft. Too many characters are given too much screentime. And so on. Since this is the fourth film and these issues still exist, it’s doubtful that they’ll ever be corrected. On the upside, Age of Extinction is one of the few films that deserve to be watched in 3-D. It looks fantastic. As an added bonus, the original actor who voiced Megatron in the cartoon series, Frank Welker, gets to say a line in this movie.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is Michael Bay’s latest big film, and it feels like one. It has everything audiences have come to expect from his work, which is good and bad, depending on if the viewer is a fan or not.And while at times it seems like Bay finds his bearings, acknowledging what audiences want and need, he is just as quick to disappear back into the limitless world of his imagination rather than leave audiences with something that mattered. But as long as his films remain popular, he has no reason to change.

And there’s no reason that Transformers: Age of Extinction shouldn’t be popular.