Toys. Every generation has had their favourites, and each bemoans the simplicity of the generation before, scoff at how antiquated they were. Admittedly in the eighties children were rather spoilt for choice, their icons have gone on to become pop culture legends: My Little Pony, Teenage Mutant Ninja (or Hero) Turtles, Jem, Ghostbusters, Centurions, GI Joe, and of course Transformers. People all over social media bask in nostalgia, quoting theme songs and taglines, and dozens of sites cater to the favourites everyone remembers.
Hollywood knows this all too well, and the slew of remakes and reboots shows no signs of slowing down, with TMNT scheduled for release this summer and even Jem and the Holograms filming this year for a 2016 release, so whilst the robots that have morphed into a gigantic cash cow for Paramount Pictures show no signs of slowing down, whether that is a good or a bad thing remains to be seen.
Released at the at the peak of its toy and cartoon popularity in 1986, as well as having a compelling story, the much loved original animated movie The Transformers was voiced by a star cast. Come the live action versions directed by Michael Bay, any successor of Judd Nelson, Leonard Nimoy and Citizen Charles Foster Kane himself, Orson Welles, would have some way to go to match such lofty ambitions, especially with most of the budget devoted to computer animation and pyrotechnics.
To that end, and also having worn out of situations to place them, Bay’s fourth film loses previous stars Josh Duhamel and Shia LaBeouf (Lieutenant Colonel William Lennox and Sam Witwicky respectively) without so much as a nod, passing the mantle to Mark Wahlberg (Pain & Gain) in the form of mechanic and inventor Cade Yeager (the name possibly an in-joke given that the giant mechs of Pacific Rim were named Jaegers). In the role of daughter-who-is-mother Tessa, Nicola Peltz (Bates Motel) provides male teen demographic eye-candy (her performance could have been that of a mannequin and still outshine female lead of the previous instalments), dealing with the practicalities of whilst Cade follows his dreams, keeping secret from him her relationship with rally driver Shane Dyson (What Richard Did’s Jack Reynor).
In the aftermath of the Chicago incident, both the Autobots and Decepticons are equally distrusted, and despite the Autobots having been granted sanctuary they are being picked off one by one by an elite undercover CIA unit in a bid to capture Optimus Prime. When Cade comes across an abandoned truck when clearing out an old cinema he purchases the truck, looking to junk the rig and make enough money to ease some of his money woes which are threatening to bankrupt him but discovers it is in fact the concealed Optimus Prime.
In an age of robot fear and paranoia with rewards offered for any information, his business partner makes a call to the CIA which is intercepted by agent Harold Attinger (X-Men’s Kelsey Grammer) working with an alien bounty hunter called Lockdown. Inevitably, government show up and threaten Cade and his family who manage to escape and discover that Autobot parts are being used to create these new robots by a company called KSI, headed by Joshua Joyce (The Hunger Games’ Stanley Tucci) who has upgraded Decepticon leader Megatron into a new body named Galvatron.
As in all Michael Bay movies, the acting is functional at best; Grammer is apparently disinterested, a shame considering he at least seemed to be having fun in the equally bad X-Men 3: The Last Stand. To say Stanley Tucci steals the performance award is not to say it was a challenging task, though he at least attempts to have fun with his Tony Stark homage.
Predictably, the film is structured around hour long drawn out battles full of unnecessary explosions, property destruction, and a surfeit of slow motion which would make John Woo blush, laced with overly forced sentiment in lieu of character development, the few laughs to be had incidental to the plot, and therein lies the main problem. Age of Extinction tries so hard to start being the clever in-joke, the nod back to the origins, the continuation of a successful franchise, the technological better of similar films, that it never really chooses which genre it actually wants to be and sticks with it.
This abandonment of any attempt at cohesion is not helped by the exorbitant run time approaching three hours, forcing audiences to leave their seats during screenings for comfort breaks, a thoughtless indulgence of a director whose target audience is families with children.
With heavy CGI omnipresent, the 3D is lost in a mesh of explosions and debris onscreen at any time, and Steve Jablonsky’s score is less inspired than even previous that of the earlier Bay versions, let alone the original animated movie. Robots in disguise they may well be, but there is most certainly nothing more than meets the eye with this the hour toy advert.
Transformers: Age of Extinction is currently on release in 2D, 3D and 3D IMAX