Review – Oh, They Promise Extinction, But… (“Transformers: Age Of Extinction”)

I’ll be honest right up front. I’m not crazy about the Transformer franchise. I thought the first one was brilliant, exciting, funny, clever, and well worth my movie-going dollar. But now? Now you can’t tell a Decepticon from an Autobot until they’re fighting, and then it’s only a 50/50 chance you’re gonna be right. Plus it’s BIG and LOUD with the same old tired Michael Bay recycled direction year after year. But I’m a reviewer, so dang it, I had to go.

It’s been five years since the Transformers: Dark of the Moon fiasco left Chicago in ruins because the Autobots and the Decepticons battled each other… again… and frankly, the U.S. government didn’t like that and promptly banned them all. Fugitives, the Autobots went into hiding and are hunted down with the help of Lockdown (voiced by Mark Ryan), a Transformer bounty hunter. But doggone if he does have a secret agenda! He’s in cahoots with nasty, gung-ho CIA operative Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) who has made a devilish deal: find the missing Optimus Prime for Lockdown in exchange for “The Seed”, an intergalactic piece of space techno that he’ll give to super-geek and self-serving techo-wiz, Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) to make his own Transformers, but under Attinger’s control!

It seems that Joshua has downloaded all the intel from the late Megatron’s head into the mind of his newest creation, Galvatron, a shape-shifting, free-forming robot that is neither Autobot nor Decepticon and is made from a new metal called Transformium.

Got all that? Good. Now we move on to Story B.

Struggling and broke robotic inventor, widower, and single father Cade Yaeger (Mark Wahlberg) finds a rusty old truck heap that might help him and his super-hot teen daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz) out financially. Surprise! It’s Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) who’s been in a “coma” for years and wakes up with Cade’s help. The Feds find out, move in, and all hell breaks loose when Lockdown charges in, wanting his prize. But everyone escapes in an outrageous car-chase scene in rural downtown Texas where Cade accidentally meets Tessa’s secret Irish race car boyfriend (and model, I’m guessing), Shane Dyson (Jack Reynor). Awkward!

Optimus, getting his second wind, calls his band o’brothers back together, but there’s only four left: Bumblebee (with no Sam Wickwikki), Hound (voiced by John Goodman), Crosshairs (John DiMaggio), and Drift (Ken Watanabe). Once the Autobots learn of Joshua’s company making new ‘bots through reverse engineering of Transformer technology, they storm into the Chicago headquarters to destroy the laboratory, but Joshua tells them that HIS future is where it’s at. As the Autobots leave, Joshua launches his own Transformer prototype’s, Galvatron (Frank Welker) and Stinger. A huge battle ensues, naturally, and Optimus realizes that Galvatron IS Megatron reborn! Damn!!

Then Optimus is captured by Lockdown, along with Tessa and taken aboard his ginormous space ship, but they all escape thanks to dear ol’ dad, Shane, and the Autobots. The third act is set in Hong Kong where the battle between the bad guys (Galvatron and his forces, plus Lockdown) and the good guys (Optimus Prime, his Autobots, and the newly released prisoners from that huge spaceship that are very cool looking metal prehistoric dinosaurs!) It’s a cornucopia of multiple plots surrounding a mighty whirlwind of carnage, amazing stuntwork, and incredible explosions and robot fighting with copious amounts of strategically shown product placement (Budweiser, Victoria’s Secret, etc) and some dollops of humor thrown in.

An obvious set-up for part five due in 2016, we can say, “Yeah, it’s another Michael Bay film, alright!” It’s BIG! It’s LOUD! And it’s got incredibly hot chicks in it! My God, where does he find them? Too much isn’t enough for Bay, especially when it comes to his patented sweeping dolly shots and stark close-ups. Written by Ehren Kruger, who wrote the last two Transformer movies, it has the same silly story line (mercifully free of Shia LeBeouf) with the same ridiculous “fight-escape-fight again” routine that follows. And, of course, all laws of physics are thrown out as no human ever gets hurt in, what ordinarily would be life-ending circumstances. Riddled with giant plot holes you can drive an Optimus Prime truck through; I can’t even list them all here, there are SO many. And the ending was so bad I wanted to yell, “Are you kidding me? THAT’S how you’re ending it?”

Still, I must admit, it did have a better vibe to it than the last two films combined, despite its many flaws. The actors actually looked like they were having fun with their roles and didn’t phone them in. Incredible production values to be sure and the CGI effects are top-notch. Kudos to whoever picked out the autos in this movie; they’re a car lover’s dream.

RUNAWAY (1984)

Never heard of this movie? I’m not surprised. In a case of really, really, bad timing, Tri-Star Pictures decided to release this sci-fi “robots attacking people” pic against the powerhouse blockbusters of The Terminator, Star Trek III: The Search For Spock, and 2010: The Year We Made Contact. Hey, genius move there, guys!

Even though it was written and directed by Jurassic Park‘s Michael Crichton, and starred Tom Selleck (on hiatus from his hot run from TV’s Magnum P.I.), KISS rocker Gene Simmons in his first movie role, a young Kirstie Alley, and a multi-million dollar budget, this movie tanked at the box office.

Selleck plays Sgt. Jack R. Ramsay, a veteran police officer in the future where robotic everything is commonplace. But, with SO many robots doing SO many things, there are bound to be breakdowns and malfunctions, right? When robots go bonkers they’re called “runaways” and an elite police squad is sent to terminate this nasty little buggers. Sure, it’s not an exiting job, but it pays the rent. Jack’s new partner, Karen Thompson (Cynthia Rhodes), is enthusiastic about the job, but he assures her there’s not much to it… until there’s a robotic homicide!

Jack discovers the lethal robot had an integrated circuit that was not only designed to attack humans, but that they’ve been set to be mass produced! Uh-oh!! While his detective works yields dead bodies via these creepy little spider-like robots, Jack discovers the man behind the plan is crazed genius Dr. Charles Luther (Simmons). Why’s he doing it? Money, baby! There’s a helluva profit to be made with this technology on the black market. Luther has also invented “smart bullets” that follow people around corners and “smart bombs” that zero in on people’s personal heat signatures.

But Luther’s sneaky ex-lover (Alley) double-crosses Luther and gives Jack all his secret computer templates, but Luther plants one of those smart bombs in her purse and. . .well, you get the picture. With the vital templates in Jack’s possession, Luther kidnaps Jack’s young son (Joey Cramer) and wants an exchange at a skyscraper construction site. The exchange is done, but Luther unleashes his army of robotic spiders armed with acid hypodermic needles while a gunfight with smart bullets ensues!

It must’ve looked great on paper and more than likely looked even better in book form, because on film it left little to be desired. I suppose as both writer and director, Crichton thought his work was beyond reproach and therefore was the coolest thing ever. However in this case, it was an overused plot that proved to be quite boring and not all that interesting. True, the robotics were nice and all, but that didn’t help here. The acting was stiff and you can tell they were just in it for the paycheck.

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