Transformers: Age of Extinction Review: Second Opinion

When I reviewed the first Transformers, I said it was better than sex. That review is still online should you question my assessment. Fair warning, it’s NSFW as I fully explain the level of sex to which I compared it. By the time Revenge of the Fallen came out, it was no longer better than sex (for the record). However, after watching Dark of the Moon, Revenge of the Fallen at least seemed an amusing disaster compared to the joyless threequel. No, Transformers: Age of Extinction is not better than sex anymore, but it’s at least a good lap dance. At least it’s the sequel to Transformers I’ve been waiting three movies for.

That is to say, Age of Extinction is just so crazy it’s fun. Instead of a boy and his car, it’s now a man and his Autobot. This is a post-Dark of the Moon world in which even Autobots are on the CIA’s radar for the massive destruction of their battles. Farmer/inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg, an aeronautics reference anyone?) restores Optimus Prime to health. The story is all over the place, as is now franchise tradition, but it tracks. We go from small town farm with Cade and his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), to running from Black Ops goons with Autobots and Tessa’s secret boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor), onto a frigging Decepticon spaceship and to Hong Kong.

Related: Transformers: Age of Extinction Review: Pure Exhaust

This is Michael Bay being the most Michael Bay he can be, and it’s kind of magnificent. Of course every character gets the Michael Bay shot from below, looking up at the sky, even the robot characters. All the evil Black Ops guys walk around in black trenchcoats blowing in the wind. Even when the military is evil, they’re shown as the most awesome, efficient crew around. It’s like the physics of looking cool exist in a world more devoted to the rules of movies than the fake movie within Last Action Hero.

My favorite aspect of this is his portrayal of Tessa. Now, if you look at the heroines of Michael Bay movies, you can tell Michael Bay has a type. Nicola Peltz is his type, but not just Nicola Peltz as you saw her on “Bates Motel.” This is a Michael Bayed-up Nicola Peltz, bronzed and painted with makeup and lit with glamour lighting. And Cade complains that she dresses too provocatively and he tries to do the protective father thing. He’s in a Michael Bay movie complaining she looks too Michael Bay. 

The action still lacks the orgasmic quality of the first time you ever saw live action cars turn into live-action robots, but at least you can feel the CGI having to work to catch up with Bay’s cinema. He’s not slowing down to showcase the visual effects. There’s momentum to take the battle from set piece to set piece, and within set pieces themselves. There’s also a way better version of the “catching flying humans in mid-air” bit that was also done in Dark of the Moon. He perfected it. 

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And of course, the gratuitous destruction has a certain awesome disregard for property. You wonder, if these transformer battles happen every 2-3 years, how is it even feasible to rebuild? They’re like our Godzilla, although I guess they hit different cities each time. How’s Egypt doing, by the way? At a certain point, what can you do? Decepticons are dropping boats on Hong Kong, so you’ve got to throw something back at them. Yet when the Autobots leave the countryside to head for Hong Kong, they ride Dinobots crashing through old stone structures. They could have gone around that.

There’s a lot of plot, but the real reason this is the longest Transformers film yet is that Wahlberg has a much calmer cadence than Shia LaBeouf. He doesn’t rush the exposition like LaBeouf, so there are indeed many scenes that take longer than they should, especially the Black Ops takedown of the Yeager farm. We see five shots of a charred body when three would have been gratuitous enough. At one point, as characters explain things, Cade comments, “We’re wasting time.” Yeah, you are. Yet I felt more comfortable with the leisurely exposition than the pressured speech technobabble of previous sequels.

The cast has elevated the sprawling movie significantly. Wahlberg can handle himself in Bay World. Where the great John Turturro was reduced to punchlines in the original trilogy, Stanley Tucci is amazing as an evil technology developer. Kelsey Grammer earns his Expendable cred as the head of Black Ops, and Titus Welliver is at his most grizzled (and that’s pretty damn grizzled) as the Black Ops field agent.

There is still some unfortunate irresponsibility, and this is in a movie where I forgave the blatant exploitation of women and irresponsible destruction. The Autobots still randomly kill a prisoner on the Decepticon ship. Let’s assume it was an evil species? We’ll never know. Our “hero” just thought he was gross. And this is in a story where the CIA is persecuting Autobots because they don’t distinguish between good and evil robots. There’s still a racist ethnic stereotype robot. I mean, you spend a large portion of the movie in Asia. Could no one tell you not to make an Asian robot speaking in haikus with a thick accent and difficulty pronouncing R’s?

There are other great moments of absurd character beats where they are intended to be sincere, you can feel the contempt for screenplay structure rendering them impotent, yet you believe the characters in Michael Bay World might believe them. When one character tells another at the end, “I’m proud of you,” you have to ask, “Really? You are?” Nothing about her screen time and relevance to the plot would suggest pride as a character arc, but she expresses it and the recipient is moved!

What Bibbs says is true. The extent to which Bay pushes how much a movie can include is a bit of a marathon. Looking at it as a singular exercise of an auteur cramming as much of himself and his own aesthetic into a movie as possible, Age of Extinction is a magnificent portal into that world. It may be the most Michael Bay Michael Bay has ever unleashed. 

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Best Episode Ever and The Shelf Space Awards. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.