Monday, January 12, 2015

Hey, I watched that Transformers movie

OK, so in a previous post I went on and on about why I chose to tap out instead of watching Transformers: Age of Extinction.  Well, last week I decided to take a crack at it, finally.  And like I expected it wasn't terrible but was too long and a convoluted mess.  It wasn't as messy as the second or third installments, but that's not saying much.  There were some improvements over the last two films, and if Michael Bay can just trim some of the fat then the fifth chapter could actually be a good film.  I'm not holding my breath on that, though, since the box office returns will more than likely be seen as a sign that what they're doing is the right way to go.  It looks like the public is happy with the action, special effects, vehicle modes, and toy tie-ins to such a degree that they don't mind the running times and tangent-filled plots.  I am not one of those people, but my almost lifelong fandom of all things Transformers will always keep me interested.  Based on what I saw with chapter four, if by some miracle they bring us a shorter movie next time around I'll probably give in and go see it.  Yes, this installment gave me enough foolish hope to come back into the fold a little.  I probably should have just left it alone.  So what's my assessment of the fourth chapter?  Here's what I liked and didn't like.

The likes:

Better cast, better acting

Mark Wahlberg in the lead was a huge improvement over Shia Lebouf.   Wahlberg was way more believable as a human who could help the Autobots against both the Decepticons and corrupt humans. It also helped that they mostly kept the human action to realistic stuff; the skyscraper dive from Dark of the Moon and the trip to robot heaven from Revenge of the Fallen were a bridge tooo far and then some.  And the female lead was an improvement as well; going from a Victoria's Secret model to an actual actress in Nicola Peltz was a good idea.  Yes she mainly looked hot and ran from danger, but being able to deliver one's lines competently is good for something.  Lastly, they kept the number of big names to a minimum; besides Wahlberg, all you had were Kelsey Grammer and Stanley Tucci so you were able to give everyone the screen time they warranted without crowding everyone else out.

More Robot Personality

It wasn't much, but more than we've gotten since the first movie.  Again, limiting the number of characters helped here.  Before the big finale we had five Autobots to deal with: Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Drift, Crosshairs, and Hound.  And of the quintet we got to see some real personality traits from three of them.  It may sound trivial but considering that the previous chapters had a dozen or so Autobots and half as many Decepticons and didn't do anything on this front beyond Optimus' stoic John Wayne act it matters.  We got a fed up, angry Optimus who was fed up with humanity's BS and was ready to crack some human skulls for a change.  And Bumblebee getting pissed off at the suggestion that newer, human engineered transformers were an upgrade over him was more than he'd done in three movies combined.  The main bad guy, the robot bounty hunter Lockdown went beyond the banal villain stuff.  Having a mission besides generic world domination helps.

And now the dislikes:

The logic of humanity

So let me get this straight.  In a few years time there have been three major battles on our planet between two armies of robots.  One of these two armies was trying to take over the world and enslave all of humanity.  The other army was trying to stop them.  When the most recent battle ended, there were still some of the would-be conquerors at large.  So what do we do?  We declare the protectors persona non grata, force them into hiding with a false promise of asylum, and then go into cahoots with an alien bounty hunter to take them out.  And while we're doing this we give a major corporation scraps from previous battles to work on creating our own robots.  Why not just keep up our partnership with the guys who helped us?

Clearing the deck

An early scene in this chapter showed the death of two Autobots, Ratchet and Leadfoot, and mentioned the deaths of several other robots  from the previous films.  There was also the introduction of several new robots on both sides.  Combine that with the wipeout of pretty much every Decepticon in Dark of the Moon and it looks more and more like these movies are two and half hour toy/car commercials.  The real life Camaro that Bumblebee transforms into has been a big seller, so of course he's kept alive throughout the series.  Obviously given the nature of the story, two armies at war, there are going to be casualties.  But the deck clearing strategy both during and between movies becomes a chic and egg thing with the lack of robot character development.  We don't get any development because what's the point if they're just going to get killed anyway, but without any development the deaths don't mean anything.  It would be really nice if the new Autobots we got introduced to made it to and through the next movie, and if whoever emerges to serve Galvatron doesn't get chopped in half during the final battle.

The tangents (again)

They didn't come as early this time, but they still came.  The first was when Wahlberg's Cade Yeager and family escaped with a repaired Optimus Prime and hooked up with the other Autobots.  With Lockdown and the CIA on their backs, they opt for an industrial espionage attempt to expose the company that's working on new robots.  Then later on there's a whole chase sequence between Tucci's CEO character and the main goon working for Grammer's CIA director character.  And then there was Optimus getting captured by Lockdown before the other Autobots rescued him, Galvatron becoming sentient and bringing a new army to life, Lockdown coming back to reclaim Optimus after the Autobots rescued him, the freeing of he Dinobots and convincing them to join up with the Autobots, the big battle between the Autobots and Glavatron's new Decepticons, and the final battle between Optimus and Lockdown.  But wait there's more.  In addition to all of that there's another isubplot involving something called the seed and the Transformers' creators, who we will meet in chapter five or six. The end result was feeling like the movie should be wrapping up while realizing that there was still an hour to go.  This could have been real simple.  While the Autobot reunion happens, Galvatron wakes up, raises the army, and the Autobots go to stop him.  Needing reinforcements they go to the mythical hiding place of the Dinobots and recruit them to help.  The battle ensues, Lockdown comes for Optimus and they fight.  The other Autobots take out the new Decepticons save Galvatron and a few others who escape.  Prime beats Lockdown, movie over. 

In conclusion, despite being better than previous installments this chapter of the Transformers movie saga  still suffers from the same problems.  But until they change Optimus Prime to a pink and purple minivan we're at least going to check in on it and end up paying some amount to see it. 

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