Age of Extinction is better than I thought and what a Transformers movie should be...
The first three live-action Transformers movies from 2007 to 2011 can easily divide the audience. There are people who dislike these movies from the start because of action that is heavy in explosions and special effects, material that you'd typically see in teen movies and sex comedies rather than sci-fi films, and other stuff like off-color humor and personality stereotypes mixed in with the Transformers. Then there are those who love those three Transformers movies because of the explosive action despite how the sci-fi content clashes with stuff that belongs in other kinds of movies. For me, I'm in the latter group, though I can totally understand the criticisms from the other side, because even I think some of the off-color humor is a bit weird.
The big question I had before seeing the fourth Transformers movie, Age of Extinction, was whether I would still feel the same way about this movie or finally get tired of seeing humor that doesn't perfectly fit into a Transformers movie. Shia LaBeouf is not in this one, because Mark Wahlberg now assumes the lead role, so I wasn't sure if the overall style would change as well. But as I watched the beginning of the movie, I noticed that Wahlberg plays a creative but financially strapped robotics engineer in rural Texas named Cade Yeager, who is protective of his 17-year-old daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) and suspicious of her 20-year-old Irish boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor). A bit of sexual innuendo is there, but (at least as far as I'm concerned) downplayed compared to the previous Transformers movies. Eventually, I could rest knowing that this movie focuses more on what it's supposed to be: science-fiction.
The later scenes did reassure me of that. Following the destructive climactic robot battle in Chicago in the last film, the human race is now distrustful of all Transformers, whether Autobot or Decepticon. There are people in the government, like Kelsey Grammer as CIA official Harold Attinger and Titus Welliver as CIA agent James Savoy, who want to hunt down all Transformers in hiding. Cade, Tess, and Shane unexpectedly become targets as well when they unknowingly provide sanctuary for Optimus Prime, the Autobot leader. The journey ultimately leads our heroes to KSI, a corporation run by Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) whose current research and development project is so fascinating and intriguing (not to mention integral to the plot) that I shall say nothing about it here.
So yes, I'm glad that Transformers: Age of Extinction isn't interrupted frequently by irreverent and sexual humor. But then, something else happened as I watched the movie: I liked it more than I thought. Never mind the action scenes, because they're as good as you'd expect them to be. What definitely got my attention were the human characters, both the protagonists and the antagonists. For once, I was seeing a Transformers movie where I paid as much attention to the humans as the robots. Instead of waiting for the next robot action scene, I enjoyed everything in between just as much. The best part about it was how the hero-villain conflict was just as important among the human characters as among the robots, and seeing human-robot alliances made it interesting.
The end result was a live-action Transformers movie that still felt as fresh as the first one. In some ways, it doesn't seem to repeat its predecessors. I already explained how the human characters contribute to this. On top of that, even the robot fight scenes didn't feel old, and I partly owe it to the location for the climactic action (another major city in the world) and the presence of another Transformer faction (the Dinobots). For a fourth movie in a series to still deliver excitement, that's something to notice for sure.
Overall, my 1-to-10 rating for Transformers: Age of Extinction is positive. From the beginning, the movie stayed at a 7, and it didn't go any lower since. In fact, the needle went higher a little, then a little more, to maybe about a 7.7 out of 10. So you know what? I am giving this movie an 8 out of 10, reflecting how I thought this movie was better than I had originally anticipated. At this point, I hope Transformers 5 is as good as Transformers 4. If producer/director Michael Bay and producer Steven Spielberg can achieve that (assuming they'll return), I will have no complaints.
Anthony's Rating: 8/10
(Review originally published at http://www.anthonysfilmreview.com/Film/T/Transformers_Age_of_Extinction.htm)