The 'Transformers' films really are the indestructible franchise. Apart from the unexpectedly brilliant first instalment, the rest of the series has survived overwhelmingly damning reviews, internal politics and accusations of racism and sexism, consistently standing as box-office giants. For their fourth outing, Michael Bay and his team have tried to rewrite the rules with a kind of reboot - new cast, new bots, new visual style. But is it new life or much of the same?
Texan farmer and inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) finds himself in one hell of a situation when an derelict truck he buys and attempts to strip for parts turns out to be Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots. Things have changed since the Battle of Chicago, and the alien robots are essentially outlaws, hunted by the government and, to the horror of the surviving 'bots, broken down for their precious metals and morphed into a human-controlled army. But nothing is as it seems, and they suddenly find themselves in combat with an old foe, supported by Cade, his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) and her Irish boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor).
The trailers for ‘Age of Extinction’ certainly suggested that the series was headed in a new darker direction, and there has been a stylistic shift in the look of the 'Transformers' films here. Shots are more angular, colours and textures are sharper and more exposed, and the cinematography is even more daring, returning to something akin to the classic spectacle of the first. The problem is, the story supporting it isn’t as fresh as it should be. It is a nice change to have the human drama be about a father-daughter relationship, and there are some moments of sharp humour littered throughout, but more than anything, the biggest problem with ‘Age of Extinction’ is that its just too damn long. At nearly three hours, you quickly suffer from fatigue and the already tricky narrative gets even more convoluted. There’s actually a good film hidden somewhere within this mess, but rather than crafting a lean, mean action film like we thought we were getting, the film ends up being nothing more than a furious blending of overt sexism (not as bad as previous films, but seriously, what Texan farm girl wears the costumes poor Nicola Peltz is forced to wear), fast sexy cars (we see the ‘bots as cars far more than we do in their full form) and so much product placement it makes you sick (there isn’t even any attempt whatsoever to hide it anymore).
SWITCH: 'TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION' TEASER TRAILER
Michael Bay has always been an indulgent, petulant director, but sometimes these shortcomings work in his favour, like the first film. Not here by any stretch. Just the overwhelming length of the film is enough to show how much this film is driven by excess. The cast shift is a nice change though, and the dynamic between Wahlberg, Peltz and Reynor works. No one is taking this film seriously, which is a relief against the over-gesticulating sombre robots who don’t seem to have been told that they aren’t actually in a Shakespearean drama.
I’m happy to admit without shame that I absolutely love the first 'Transformers' film. I revel in its spectacle, its cheesy-ness and its preposterous action set pieces. ‘Age of Extinction’ had the chance to bring us back to that, but instead we get pretty much the same, albeit less socially offensive. It also happens to be one of the biggest box-office hits of the year, so who cares what I think? These films make buckets of money and aren’t going away anytime soon. Who knows, maybe another great 'Transformers' film is waiting down the track? Unfortunately, even with some genuine potential hidden inside it, this one isn’t it.
Maybe another great 'Transformers' film is waiting down the track?
PICTURE & SOUND
The 1080p 2.35:1 transfer for ‘Age of Extinction’ is certainly as shiny as you would expect from a movie designed like an elite sports car. It suffers occasionally from some of the artistic decisions in the film, some scenes not as sharp as others, but on the whole, the film looks great in high definition. What’s really exciting about this release though is that it’s the first to utilise the Dolby Atmos, one of the most advanced forms of cinema sound in the world. Essentially this translates to Dolby TruHD 7.1 for systems without Atmos capability, but even so, there is a notable difference, a bit more punch and guts to the sound, which is necessary for something as busy sonically as this film. I can’t speak for the full effect of Atmos, but for those interested, for the moment this is the disc to look at.
A vast collection of featurettes combine to around three hours of material on the second disc in this set, the main feature of which is ‘Evolution within Extinction’, which collects a selection of them to make a two-hour documentary. It covers all areas of production, from the decision to reboot the franchise, through story and design to the staggering practical and visual effects in the film. It’s all very much like the film it’s talking about - snappy and bombastic - especially when maniacal Michael Bay is on screen. Nothing is overly memorable and mostly pretty impersonal, but for those interested in how a production of this scale comes about, you’ll probably find a lot to enjoy here.