Monday, June 30, 2014

Kotas Reviews Transformers: Age of Extinction

This weekend I decided to blow off some steam and go see the guiltiest of guilty pleasures, Transformers: Age of Extinction. Let me start off by saying I am a HUGE Transformers fan, and have been since I was 7. I almost religiously watched the Transformers after school, and going to see the movie in theaters is still one of the few incredibly strong memories of my childhood. I'm pretty sure I owned several dozen toys, possibly even close to 100 (and I still have some of them to this day), and I've followed the series from the Original Series, through the Beast Wars era, and some of the more modern incarnations such as Animated and Prime. I occasionally walk down the toy isle and wistfully gaze upon the new, updated models. You might say I enjoy the series.

The movies have been somewhat of a sore spot for me. The very first one, as cheesy as it is, is still one of the better "nostalgia revival" films ever made. Sure, it was a little weird, but it stuck to the spirit of the show and was a fun romp. Nothing as nice can be said about the two sequels. Revenge of the Fallen will go down as one of the worst films to ever have been produced by humans. Dark of the Moon does not fare much better, really, since the best thing I can say about it is that it isn't Revenge of the Fallen. How does Age of Extinction stack up?

So, I'm probably going to have a shit ton of spoilers in this, like all my previous movie reviews. Therefore, I will be enlisting the help of our old pal Ratchet to block off access. Skip past Ratchet for final thoughts and the FACE Rating. Spoilers between the images of Ratchet!

"I'm a fan favorite! Everyone loves Ratchet!"

Okay, so the movie opens up with a big impressive shot of several space ships hovering over what I believe is supposed to be Earth. I kept expecting a Peter Cullen voice over to help ease me into the jarring silliness of a Michael Bay movie, but nothing doing here. We then cut down to the surface of the planet, where a cute lizard thing is eating other, smaller cute lizard things and then sees a space ship. Said space ship starts dropping some sort of bomb, which causes lava-er-wait-molten-metal to shoot out and start murdering a bunch of leftover special effects from Jurassic Park. Don't worry folks, the little lizard thing survives. Then there is some bit in the Arctic with people we don't care about finding a metal dinosaur and it's apparently a big deal.

Cut to "Texas, U.S.A.", where we get the stereotypical American set piece of "dusty old Chevrolet rolling down a dusty old road." This is our introduction to Cade Yaeger, which would be a great name to have if I were opening a brewery. Marky Mark tries to play a good old Texas Lad who by the way is also a Robotics Inventor who is trying to make ends meet in these hard times. We are also introduced to Joel (Jeff? John? I don't even know), the Odious Plucky Comic Relief character that Michael Bay includes in all of these films. I'm sure he won't be excruciating to watch.  During all of these, we see a billboard advising us to "Remember Chicago! Report any Alien Activity!" How very Orwellian.

Anyway, these two are at an old broken down movie theater to do some sort of vague "job" that will, in theory, get them paid. While they poke around the trappings of a former era, a blink and you'll miss it appearance by Richard Riehle (of Office Space "Jump to Conclusions" fame) occurs, as he plays the crotchety Theater Landlord who rambles on about how "movies today are all sequels, remakes and spin offs. What a bunch of crap" Dur hur hur Self Deprecation! A better film could have gotten away with this joke. This is not that film, and why am I suddenly feeling like the butt of a joke? No matter, onward with the explosions! 

Except first we have to have more setup. So, they find an old truck in the theater (wait, what? Did NO ONE notice this? Eh, let's move on) that looks suspiciously like an old toy I own. GEE. I WONDER WHAT'S GONNA HAPPEN. Cade asks "How much for the truck?" Cut away to the CIA Anti-Alien Task Force, code named Cemetery Wind. A voice over helpfully informs us that they have a 100% kill ratio against aliens. Neat. They are clearly about to start a new mission. It is at this time we see our first robot, whose face turns into a camera so he can zoom in on what's happening. I thought this would be a nod to Perceptor (who turned into a camera) from the original series, but I was wrong. So, they are hunting Decepticons right? Well, turns out that the robot they are flushing out of...and old ferry ship maybe? is none other than our old pal Ratchet! He runs away, but is eventually surrounded and says "Wait guys, I'm totally an Autobot. I was like, your buddy that helped you out!" Cue Main CIA Asshole "So, if you are a good guy, why did you run?" About this time Camera Face turns into Gun Face and shoots the living shit out of poor Ratchet. There is some back and forth ("If you want to live, tell me where Prime is." "Nope.") and Ratchet joins the ranks of Ironhide in death, clearing out the last of the original movie characters who aren't Optimus Prime and Bumblebee. Then Lockdown (Gun/Camera Face) turns into an evil looking car after ripping Ratchet's spark out of his chest. We are also introduced to Main CIA Asshole's Evil Boss, Fraiser Crane. Turns out that after his show ended he joined the CIA and now has a serious hate on for all robots, even the "good" ones. He brands them "illegal alien enemy combatants". SYMBOLISM and POLITICAL COMMENTARY! Done by an IDIOT!

We cut back to the good puny humans. This time, it's Cade's daughter...uh...Tessa maybe? returning home from school and of course they establish her presence with a lingering shot of her legs. Then she picks up some junk from the "Repair for what you think is Fair" box that her dad is clearly using to Make Ends Meet and gets rejected for scholarship money, all in a 3 minute scene. It's totes sad, really, I guess. Blah blah more establishing shots. Cade rants on about how much his truck can be worth for scrap, Plucky Comic Relief mocks his robo-inventions, and we otherwise set up Cade as a "Good Man on Hard Times", with more long shots of the Texas sunset and blah blah blah let's get on with it, damn it.  

This move is forever in length, so lets get to the relevant bits. Cade figures out that this isn't any old truck, it's a Transformer, and after some wacky hijinks manages to get Optimus Prime (SURPRISE!) back online. There's some back and forth about how Optimus got so beat up ("Ambush, by humans working with a bounty hunter named Lockdown.") and Cade agrees to fix him. Of note is the line from Optimus: "I swore I would never harm a human, but when I find the one who is killing my people, they die." Optimus Prime said this. You know, in the old comics there was an issue where Optimus Prime and Megatron duke it out in a video game. Prime wins, but to win he had to squash some of the virtual blob-thing people in the video game. He is SO distraught by this that he concedes to Megatron and is exploded. Now tell me, is that the Optimus that would pop a giant transforming cap in someone's ass? I Think Not.

Plucky Comic Relief is sent off to get supplies. Stuff happens, yadda yadda, the CIA show up at da farm because Plucky Comic Relief called them to get the big reward or some shit. Cade has a Problem with them bein' on his property without a warrant to which Main CIA Asshole says "My face is my warrant." Like, played for serious and everything. They look around, don't find anything, so Evil Fraiser, using these nifty little drone things, orders them to threaten Tessa with a gun. There's more "tense" dialog, and the order is given to shoot the girl (of course they would say that. Holy Geez this film) when Optimus Busts out of the barn and starts shotgunning the ground in front of the agents, causing them to A-Team over all their cars without getting hurt. The good humans run away, and are rescued by...Tessa's Secret Older Rally Car Racing Boyfriend Who is Also Irish. Then their house is exploded by Lockdown trying to kill Optimus Prime. 

Did you follow all of that? Okay, so the escape sequence is actually pretty decent, except for one thing: They keep focusing on the human chase instead of the epic fight between Lockdown and Optimus that occurs in the background. I'm not sure why this is, because that fight looks like it was amazing, but you only see it in dribs and drabs while we are focusing on the car chase sequence between Evil CIA and Rally Car Racer, which is Standard Action Movie Fare. Sure, the occasional one-liner is mildly amusing, but...I wanna see the Giant ROBOT FIGHT! Anycrap, at the end of all of this they have to leave the rally car which is about to be blown to shit by Lockdown, who drops the crazy metal bomb thing on it. Plucky Comic Relief gets hilariously stuck in the seatbelts, but manages to free himself and run...about 30 seconds too late. The other three escape with Optimus, but Poor Comic Relief dude turns into a flaming metal statue and is forever excised from the picture. I will raise a White Russian in your honor. Optimus is very sorry for everyone's loss.

The movie then veers off into "really creepy" territory when Optimus leaves the worthless meat sacks humans to make sure they weren't followed. There is some "banter" between Lucky Charms (Rally Car Dude) and Cade, wherein Cade accuses him of having an "illegal relationship" since he's 20 years old and Tessa is 17. Lucky Charms then whips out some little card thing that talks about something called the Romeo and Juliet law (is this a thing in Texas?) and spouts off bits about paragraph A and section B and so forth. Maybe it is just me, but isn't this a really fucking creepy segue from "Our family member just got fucking killed"? Tessa even points this out and says something along the lines of "and that's why Joel is dead".  Bad form, Bay. Bad. Form. Did I mention we aren't even halfway through the movie yet? Augh. 

I'll skip some of the rest of this. Optimus gets a minor visual upgrade that also fixes all his battle damage, and they meet up with the remaining members of the Autobots: Bumblebee (who's voice box is still broken), Hound, a rough and tumble old soldier bot who is voiced by John Goodman and honestly steals a lot of the scenes he's in, Vaguely British Gangster Autobot (I learned later his name was Crosshairs) who, I must admit, looks really freakin' cool, and our racial-stereotyped-but-not-as-bad-as-Skidz-and-Mudflap bot Drift, who is a helicopter that turns into a car and also a samurai-bot and says haiku. No, really. They Autobots hate on humans for a while because of the whole "being hunted down" thing, but eventually they all agree to try and figure out what is going on. Using a drone they captured during the last chase sequence, they figure out that the robot corpses are being shipped to Not-Apple-We-Promise, er, KSI Industries and we are introduced to Evil Steve Jobs. 

To sum up a very long and stupid section of the film, Cade and Lucky Charms infiltrate KSI to discover what the hell is going on. Turns out, there's this element called Transformium which is programmable metal and is what Transformers are made out of. Evil Steve Jobs has figured out how to control it, and with that technology can make things that turn into other things. For example, a small brick of the stuff suddenly turns into a Beats By Dre Beats Pill for that perfect audio sound! Aaaaand here is where the product placement starts to be REALLY obnoxious. I expected a lot of car placement, with careful camera shots of logos and whatnot, but the product placement in this film is seriously out of control. There is an Oreo logo'ed up Transformer (don't worry, it does nothing and gets shot in a completely stupid sequence), a pause in a huge battle for Cade to have a refreshing Bud Light, a Victoria Secret ad on a bus that gets lovingly exploded, and on and on. It's really detracting, but makes for a great drinking game. The Hasbro thing is there too, as there is a "hilarious" sequence where some of the KSI dudes are goofing around with some Transformium and turn a plastic Rainbow Dash pony figurine into a gun. Hilarious I tell you. LAUGH DAMN IT.

Anyway, they have run out of the stuff to mine and are forced to take dead Transformers and harvest all the Transformium. While finding this out, Lucky Charms and Cade see that KSI is essentially building their own Transformers, including a really bad ass looking Bumblebee variant named "Stinger". I will give the movie this: The robot designs are all super bad ass looking. Hell, during a sequence where Evil Steve Jobs is showing off his military prototype Galvatron, one of the bit players says as much. Oh Galvatron, I'm sure nothing bad could come from your existence. So, the whole "harvesting Transformers for their bits" thing really pisses off Optimus Prime and the Autobots show up to wreck the joint, rescuing one of the mini-bots from the previous movie who is being held captive. 

As the Autobots escape, Frasier tells Evil Steve Jobs to sic Galvatron and Stinger on them, and so they do. However, Galvatron goes a bit off script and blows up or wrecks stuff he's not supposed to, and ultimately Lockdown shows up. The fight scene here is pretty solid, but Optimus is defeated trying to save some fleshbags and is captured by Lockdown, which is all Lockdown really wanted in the first place. Along the way, Tessa gets caught up in the net and Cade has a "slow motion big No" moment. Optimus is put in a Space Holding Cell, along with "other robots that are renegades" or something that Prime is apparently the "last of"...maybe? Man, Prime sure ends up being the Last Of a lot of things. Lockdown then hands over to the CIA the "Seed", which is somehow important. The other Autobots are totes sad at Optimus being all kidnapped, and Cade has to go get his little girl back, so they mount a foolhardy rescue mission to board Lockdown's ship and stage a prison break. In short, they do, and manage to pop off a small sub-ship of Lockdown's that is carrying, not only Optimus, but the "legendary knights" of...something? I'm gonna go out on a limb here and say it's the Dinobots. After this rescue, a huge info dump occurs and we find out the Seed is actually a giant version of the "Turn to Metal" bomb that the Transformer Creators used to make Transformium with which to build the Transformers. Lockdown apparently works for whoever these folks are. Also, the mini-dude informs us that he was forced to help translate Cybertronian technology for humans, using Megatron's head as a reference piece. So yeah, Megatron's...uh...mind I guess? is a part of all the Earth Transformer Tech and Galvatron is his reincarnation. SURPRISE!

Then a totally different movie starts. Evil Steve Jobs has everything packed up and moved to Hong Kong, where his plan is to detonate the Seed in the middle of nowhere and harvest the Transformium. Cade calls him and informs him that "Dude, Megatron is totally all up ons with your tech, and will get the Seed, blow up a city (probably Hong Kong), and then make a shit ton of evil robots." This little speech somehow gets Evil Steve Jobs to have a change of heart and become Not Evil Steve Jobs. Of course, he then immediately tells Frasier, who goes apeshit on him and says "You're my golden parachute" then rattles on with what he is supposed to get. And here is where he treads into Dr. Evil levels of super villainy. So, let me get this straight, Dr. Crane. You joined forces with a robot bounty hunter to acquire Transformium from his unwanted corpses AND trade the Seed for Optimus Prime, killing hundreds, maybe thousands of humans in the process of doing all of these things, and  gave all this tech to KSI so that you could retire, join the company, and get a seven figure salary? Was it ONE MEEEEEEEEELLION Dollars? Worst Evil Nick Fury EVER. 

Blah blah blah, the Autobots decide not to give the middle finger to humanity just yet and agree to go to Hong Kong to get the Seed. Not Evil Steve Jobs manages to get the Seed out of his Hong Kong factory just as Galvatron self-activates and takes over the entire pre-production run of robots, including Stinger and "a bunch of unnamed drone bots you don't care about, but look cool.". WHO COULD HAVE PREDICTED THIS I ASK? There are lots of explosions, and it looks cool. So, Not Evil Steve Jobs and his Asian Girlfriend have a really cool car chase sequence through Hong Kong, and end up in one of those crazy dense high rise bits. Then there is a completely gratuitous martial arts sequence where Asian Girlfriend kicks some ass, along with a random guy who fights for no reason. Eventually they meet up with Cade and the skin tubes on the roof...when Stinger missiles the shit out of their ship, which causes Hound and Bumblebee to be left behind with the humans while Optimus, Drift, and Crosshairs crash in the forest outside of Hong Kong...I think.  

Bear in mind that at this point the movie has gone on for over 2 hours, with only a few hints as to where the Dinobots might be. We come to the ever confusing climax of the film where all the protagonists have their respective fight scenes. Cade and Main CIA Asshole duke it out in a completely unnecessary fist fight held on the window sills and rooftops of the aforementioned dense Hong Kong high rise. This culminates in a scene where Cade, spying an American Football, throws it at his opponent, who has a knife, which distracts Main CIA Asshole long enough for Cade to push him out the window, after spouting off a one liner. How very 90s it all is! After this, Cade rejoins the rest of his merry band of organic wastes as they hide out in a glass shop while Hound and Bumblebee fend off wave after wave of killbots, with a bit of help from Cade and Not Evil Steve Jobs. Cade had picked up a human sized rifle from Lockdown's ship at some point you see, so he can totes fight giant robots now. Hound absolutely steals this scene and it's actually kind of fun to watch the non-human parts. 

Optimus Prime finally decides that desperate times call for desperate measures, and goes into the ship wreckage to free the "legendary knights". He pulls a sword out of a console thing, his arms change into gauntlets for...reasons....and he leads the titular legends out into the forest, asking them for aid. They promptly take a swing at him and turn into giant metal dinosaurs. Which I must admit is totally metal. The other Autobots decide that "Oh yeah, Prime's got this one" and "Well, I was expecting more of a giant car when they transformed".  There is a fight, Optimus socks Grimlock in the jaw, and suddenly the Autobots are riding three of the four Dinobots down a mountain, heading for Hong Kong, where they proceed to totally wreck Decepticon Shop. It's kind of amazing, and they of course show up just in time to save the day. Optimus Prime has a cool sword, and somehow got a shield that also is a gun, and there is all kinds of awesome robot on robot violence. Then Lockdown comes back and the third ending of the film begins. Jesus H. Christ, this movie just keeps going ON. I know it's only 3 hours, but it feels like seven years. There is just so much filler! 

Anyway, Lockdown uses a big ol' magnet to try and catch people, it eventually gets blowed up real good. Optimus and Lockdown square off in a knock down drag out, while Cade uses his gun to aid Optimus. During all of this, Fraiser Crane shows up to kill Cade, and Optimus sees it and pops a cap in his ass, totally killing him dead. BELIEVE IT OR NOT, this was foreshadowed stupidly through dialog. This proves to be a mistake, as Optimus somehow becomes impaled on his own sword while Lockdown taunts him about it. Bumblebee leaps into the fray to stall Lockdown long enough for Tessa and Lucky Charms to utilize a tow hook to a) knock down Lockdown and b) pull out the sword from Optimus' chest, JUST IN TIME for him to impale and slice in half Lockdown, who was about to murder Cade. THEN Optimus grabs the ugly bags of mostly water, sets Lockdown's "Grenade of Wrapping Up Loose Ends", and flies to safety on the rockets (!!!!!) in his legs. 

Everyone has one big reunion but the film isn't over. Not Evil Steve Jobs gets together with is Asian Girlfriend and offers Cade help with getting a house or something else I don't give a shit about. Lucky Charms and Cade have bonded over...all this crazy stuff. Tessa proved she was more useful than the Chick From Dark Of The Moon, if only just. The Dinobots are now "free" and in the wilds of China I guess? Then Optimus opines about how he's still got a price on his head, and how his Creators will come looking for him, and that he's a danger. So he tells the Autobots to "protect the humans that, you know, totally tried to kill us, because this one little group was nice" and shoots off into space (!!!!!) using his rocket legs, SOMEHOW able to fly INTO SPACE, holding his SHIELD in front of him like some crazy Superman/Captain America robot, all the while saying "Look to the stars, and think of one of them as my soul". Oh and "Hear me Creators, Imma come bust a Giant Transforming Robot Cap in your Mysterious Completely Off Screen Asses!" or something along those lines. The movie then finally ends.

Okay, the spoilers are over. Poor Ratchet. His only crime was being an older toy.

Not again! That's the second time those bastards did this to me in a movie!

This movie raises ever so many questions about everything. Why is the CIA working with a corporation to murder robots and harvest them? Why did this corporation get access to dead robots in the first place? Sure, I get the whole "black ops not telling people" stuff's the Apple Equivalent. It's not even a military contractor, though they do make nods in that direction. Why does the Transformium made by humans act in ways FAR superior to the transformations we see in the alien robots, and yet look that much dumber? Why is there an Oreo Car bot that gets shot to shit for no reason? Why does an alien bounty hunter's ship have a weapons locker with a human-sized greatsword that turns into a rifle that is also human sized? Who are the Dinobots and where did they come from? I get they are "Legendary" but come on, there HAS to be more story behind this. Why is Optimus the Last of them? Wasn't he also the Last Prime or something? Why did we have a 5 minute foray into edge case age of consent laws that was SUPER FUCKING CREEPY? So, the Dinobots now just live in China? Isn't anyone concerned about that? So, a well known member of a Texas community's home was destroyed by an alien robot who climbed a grain silo in BROAD DAYLIGHT in front of dozens of witnesses. Won't someone be even a BIT concerned about that? If Optimus had rocket legs all this while, why did he not use them to get to Hound and Bumblebee faster after enlisting the Dinobots? For that matter, Drift can turn into a helicopter, so why didn't he fly there instead of waiting around for Optimus to do his thing? Why is Optimus Prime weirdly violent in very specific circumstances? How did he FLY INTO SPACE IN ROBOT MODE WITH A SHIELD? Why did we suddenly have a Hong Kong Action Theater sequence for no reason? What was all the bits about the Chinese Government being all "We must help protect Hong Kong!" after the Hong Kong guys were all "We must contact the Mainland!"? Why was there so much completely blatant product placement? Who stops in the middle of a giant robot fight to have a freakin' Bud Light  of all things? Why did you set up Plucky Comic Relief dude as a main character, then murder him for what amounts to an "Oh my God, They Killed Kenny!" moment and then nonthing? That one I think I can answer actually. I'm pretty sure Michael Bay had written in this character and was all "Yes, everyone is going to LOVE this guy! Just like the OTHER ones I wrote!" and then someone told him "Hey Boss. No one likes these guys, ever." "Oh shit, well we've already shot some of the scenes with him...I know! I'll kill him off and it'll be totes sad!" I could go on, but I think the point is made. 

I did like some stuff about this movie. For one, the robot designs are freakin' amazing. I absolutely LOVE the design of Stinger, who is meant to invoke "Evil Bumblebee" and does a good job. It's also either a great coincidence or a very subtle nod to long time fans of the series that he is essentially Red Bumblebee. Back when the toys first came out there were several well known toy mistakes one of which was a toy labeled as Bumblebee and using his model sculpt, but in red instead of yellow. This seems to me to be a wink and nod callback to that old toy. Or maybe just a crazy coincidence. I still enjoyed it. It was nice to hear Frank Welker (the voice of Megatron and Galvatron from the original TV series) flexing the old voices and I thought Galvatron was a great, completely underutilized villain. I also enjoyed the "old truck" transformation for Optimus Prime, and he looked really cool in his Knight getup, even if it wasn't explained well. Most of the action scenes with the robots were pretty solid fun. Some of the car chase scenes are neat if ridiculous. Hound is just fun, I don't care if it's kind of stupid. That's...about it really.

This movie is a loving tribute to the idea of "...and then..." storytelling and all the excess that implies. Michael Bay is a master at creating these sorts of narratives and filling in the gaping plot holes with more explosions. Still, he managed to restrain the worst of his instincts (See: Transformers 2: Please Let Me Die for that) to produce a movie that is...better than 2 and 3 in the series. On the FACE Rating System, this gets 0 faces. I can't hate it too much since, well, Optimus Prime rides Grimlock as Robot T-Rex to beat the snot out of Decepticons, but it certainly isn't recommended for anyone who is not a huge fan of the series. It's a jumbled confusing mess that goes on for what seems like forever, but at least you see some neat things along the way.