Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Transformers Age of Extinction: A good start with hits and misses

Transformers Age of Extinction: A good start with hits and misses
by rick olivares

This is definitely not your Saturday morning cartoon and it isn’t about fun and games anymore.

If the first Transformers film, I was held in awe as life was breathed into these Cybertonian warriors. It was made all the more memorable with snappy patter and humor among its lead human characters, the military hardware on display, and the resident hot chick who left some lasting images in one’s mind (and at the risk of dating me, the way Phoebe Cates did an entire generation of young men in Fast Times at Ridgemont High). The battles were obviously titanic and served as a precursor of what was to come.

Logically, the Transformer films depicted what life would be like if there were alien robots running around good old terra firma. After all, the subtitles did warn you of turn for a more serious if not darker tone – Revenge of the Fallen, The Dark Side of the Moon, and now, The Age of Extinction. These films are all about extinction events.

I grew up on the Transformers yet chafed at the cheesiness of the animated series. All these giant robots blasting the heck out of each other with Star Trek-like phasers set to stun did me no good. The fact that no Transformer was reduced into slag heap did not help any. Seriously! Gigantic robots and all they can think about is stunning one another? I know it’s a kids rating but still…

That is until Transformers The Movie, the 1986 animated film that wasn’t anything like the animated series. For one, the animation was much better. Furthermore, characters died, new ones took their place, and for the first time, the Transformers universe faced an extinction event in the form of Unicron.

And I loved it. I mean how can you ever watch the animated series again knowing that Optimus Prime was killed by Megatron and that Cyclonus was ten times better a design that Starscream’s F-15?

Transformers: Age of Extinction sends this film franchise in a whole new direction and is the start of a new trilogy. Gone are Shia LaBeouf and Josh Duhamel and there’s no explanation about their fate. Optimus Prime doesn’t even mention them at all.

In their place is Mark Wahlberg who has done some pretty cool films such as Rock Star, The Departed, and Lone Survivor and Stanley Tucci who for the first time in ages plays a prick but one who comes to his senses. Both Wahlberg and Tucci are reunited for the first time since 2009’s The Lovely Bones and while far from career performances they are characters you can latch on.

In the first two Transformers films, there were strong characters like Sam Witwicky, Mikaela Barnes, William Lennox, and Seymour Simmons to name a few. In this start of the second trilogy, there’s only Cade and Tessa Yaeger (Wahlberg and Nicole Peltz) and Joshua Joyce (Tucci). At least one of the renegade CIA agents who are behind the covert Cemetery Wind (that hunts down Autobots and Decepticons alike) Kelsey Grammer’s Harold Attinger and Titus Welliver’s James Savoy, should have lived to survive and fight another day. Chinese actress Li Bingbing’s Su Yueming was window dressing for much of the film until she is revealed to be a Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon herself.

Cade Yaeger isn’t the reluctant hero that Sam Witwicky was. The down on his luck inventor has this side to him that sees him spring into action joining one firefight after another. I really expect no less especially for Wahlberg who has made a name for himself portraying tough guys. Besides, he isn’t cast in another The Lovely Bones role. He imbues the character of Cade Yaeger with his aww-shucks attitude and derring-do.

While Nicole Petz isn’t the vivacious Megan Fox, she nevertheless has that All-American girl look. And you can feel her sensuality ooze into the camera.

Make no mistake Age of Extinction is an action film and despite the length of the film, I feel that director Michael Bay could have added some depth Attinger and Yueming.

While it stands to reason that the US government will want to create Transformers of their own and those that they can control, it is obvious when they tap into Decepticon technology, in particular, the malevolent mind of Megatron, it is the humans are being played. And in its best Terminator homage, Joyce’s Transformers are like Skynet, waiting for Megatron/Galvatron to tap into its collective consciousness.

Attinger, who has an axe to grind against the Transformers, strikes a bargain with Lockdown who in previous Transformers mythos is a bad ass Decepticon bounty hunter but for this film, is given a Unicron-like upgrade complete with a starship that dwarfs anything we’ve seen and is a floating prison for renegade Transformers. Attinger’s covert agency, the poorly-named Cemetery Wind (that would seem more in place for a Japanese anime title), hunts down Transformers with the aid of Lockdown (whose name also isn’t apt for the Transformers creators’ hunter-killer).

Of course, things aren’t that simple and matters get out of hand when there are three different forces fighting – the renegade KSI-Transformers, Cemetery Wind/Lockdown and the Autobots.

This time, these giant robots do not only make a mess of Chicago once more but also China and Hong Kong. When Hong Kong asks for help from mainland China, it would have been a welcome change to see China’s military might against Lockdown’s forces. But no. Why does a patriot like Bay want to make China look good?

I find it a bit laughable that critics pan the film. if they were looking for something cerebral then they watched the wrong movie. Transformers is a kiddie show come to life. It’s like Godzilla, a smash ‘em up action film with monsters going up against each other with humans caught in between.

As in any Transformers film, you cannot talk about the film without mentioning the Transformers. Of the previous cast, aside from Optimus Prime, the only returning Autobots are Ratchet (who is destroyed in the film), Bumblebee, and Leadfoot. The new Transformers include Hound, Crosshairs, and Drift. Hound and Drift are the hits here as voiced by the most excellent John Goodman and Ken Watanabe.

And there are the Dinobots who make their debut. Grimlock never looked better and none of that Tarzan-esque, “Me Grimlock” lines. There’s Strafe, Slug, and Scorn. None of them have speaking lines but their larger than life size makes up for it. It was a thrill seeing them crush the faux Decepticons. They don’t have much screen time but when they do, I wished they could stay on forever. What a thrill for a long time fan like me,

Transformers: Age of Extinction isn’t the best of the four films so far. It has its good points and shortcomings. Can I enjoy the film knowing it has its misses? Sure I can.

No way is this film franchise extinct.

It’s all about evolution.

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