Transformers: Age of Extinction–Big, Noisy Bay’s Actioner

transformers_age_of_extinction_posterBoth physically and emotionally, the robots are far more interesting as screen characters than the human beings in the new Michael Bay’s opus, “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” the fourth chapter of the Paramount franchise.

By now, it must be clear that we don’t go to a Bay movie for a complex plot, multi-layered characters or emotional stimulation.  As always, size is the crucial variable in his pictures: Big Creatures, Big Explosions, Big Noise, Big Special Effects, Big Destructions—and of course, Big Expectations for Boffo Box-Office (to use the terminology of my former affiliation, Variety).

Over the past seven years, the Transformers trilogy has amassed 2.6 billion, and no matter what the critical response is, the fourth segment likely will register strong at the global marketplace, big enough to guarantee another chapter. (In fact, this chapter is considered the first in a new trilogy).

 

Based on his work thus far, Bay is not so much a skillful director or craftsman but sort of a traffic execuitve-manager of set-pieces in which automatons and humans are equally disposable. No doubt, a lot of creative energy has gone into making this picture’s shape-shifting metallic robots, which are even more striking than in those dominating the previous films.  Rapid technological changes in the Hollywood industry are definitely on Bay’s side.

transformers_age_of_extinction_1_wahlberg_bayAdditionally, “Age of Extinction” benefits from extensive location shooting in Hong Kong and China, adding new sites for the ferocious battlefields, and also contributing other desirable elements to the global appeal of series.  The latest installment world premiered in Hong Kong and played at the increasingly visible Shanghai Film Fest.

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is the fourth highest-grossing film of all time in China, Hollywood’s New Frontier, with nearly $180 million. “Age of Extinction” received solid mainland production assistance, which should also elevate the film’s stature in China and other Asian territories.

transformers_age_of_extinction_4_reynor_bayReleased in every mode possible–2D, 3D and Imax 3D worldwide–the $165 million mega-production is set to launch a new trilogy with a complete change of cast. Bay and his team should be commended for choosing the gifted Mark Wahlberg as the heroic protagonist, a replacement for Shia LaBeouf (It’s doubtful whether LaBeouf will ever make another American movie). They have also introduced a new species, the Dinobots, which vaguely recall the creatures in “Jurassic Park.”

Written again by Ehren Kruger (who penned the last two “Transformers” movies), the tale centers on the Autobots, who, after siding with humans in an apocalyptic clash against the evil Decepticons, are being targeted for elimination by a second generation of human-designed Transformers.

transformers_age_of_extinction_3_wahlberg_reynor_bayKelsey Grammer is well cast as Harold Attinger, the FBI agent who commissioned tech corp KSI, founded by Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) to do the R&D, using the severed head of Decepticon leader Megatron as a blueprint.

At a movie theater marked about to be demolished, the A.I. hobbyist Cade Yeager (Wahlberg) discovers a rusty old truck among film cans and brings it home. A widower, he lives with his 17-year-old daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz), who gets annoyed by the unexpected guest.

The vehicle reveals its identity as Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), forcing Yeager to fix up his injuries and encouraging Yeager’s assistant Lucas to report him for a reward. However, when Attinger dispatches his henchmen, Yeager, Tessa and Optimus Prime have no alternative but to go on the run.

transformers_age_of_extinction_5_peltz_bayThere are some tensions and comic-relief segments, when the overprotective Yeager meets race-car driver Shane (Jack Reynor), the boyfriend of daughter Tessa, who is just as shot-headed and independent as she is.

Plot gears into action, when Optimus Prime summons the surviving Autobots, Bumblebee, Ratchet (Robert Foxworth), Hound (John Goodman), Drift (Ken Watanabe), Crosshairs (John DiMaggio), and Brains (Reno Wilson), to form his wild bunch of fighters. The Autobots, helped by their human allies, the break into KSI Headquarters in Chicago and wreak havoc.

transformers_age_of_extinction_6_wahlberg_peltz_bayJoyce and his regional manager Su Yueming (Li Bingbing) beam down to Hong Kong, the setting of at least one reel, ending up in an impressive elevator sequence. After all the characters converge in Hong Kong, the time is ripe for a mega showdown.

Bay and his ace cinematographer Amir Mokri (“Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” “Man of Steel”) have captured effectively Hong Kong’s unique visuals, the city’s gleaming high-rises, the seedy alleyways, the shabby tenements, and so on. And Mokri’s mobile camera is especially impressive in the escape, chase, and battle sequences.

As noted, from the get-go, it’s the robots that get the filmmakers’ utmost attention by way of physical look, movement, and even feelings. While Optimus Prime’s leadership and human compassion elevates its moral stature, it’s the mischievous and charming Bumblebee that young viewers will root for.