It’s been only a few years since the devilish Decepticons demolished Chicago and the awesome Autobots finally fought them off. But, quite frankly, human memories are short. And we generally just want to be done with all those giant shape-shifting robots. Both the good and the bad.
In fact, a prominent government official named Harold Attinger has already decreed that the “age of Transformers is over.” And so he sends out a special military black ops team to hunt all the surviving bots down and get rid of them permanently.
Well, at least that’s the official story.
Behind the scenes, there are some seriously unscrupulous things going on. Tech tycoon Joshua Joyce and his powerful military-tech company, KSI, have made some seven-figure promises to Attinger in exchange for the green light to start experimenting with transforming metals (dubbed transformium). Between that easily malleable stuff and leftover scraps of Decepticons and Autobots, Joyce has all manner of robot-building plans.
There’s even an alien bounty hunter bot in the new metal-morphing mix. Named Lockdown, he offers Attinger something called a “seed”—a bomb-like device that’s key to harvesting more transformium than Attinger and Joyce could use in a century.
And all this powerful pile of metal and madness wants in exchange is to get his mitts on a certain Autobot leader by the name of … what is it again? Oh, yeah. Optimus Prime.
Where that particular Transformer is, however, nobody knows. Nobody except Cade Yeagar, that is. Cade is a Texas scrap dealer/failed robotics engineer who just so happened to come into the possession of an old beat-up truck recently. It was his hope to fix the old junker up and sell it for enough cash to help his 17-year-old daughter, Tessa, get to college. But that plan changed a bit when Cade hooked the truck up to a car battery and it started to spark, move … and talk.
Could this result in a high-action adventure for Cade and his daughter? Or could it perhaps be the beginning of a rambunctious reboot for the Autobots? Or maybe it’s the first step for Attinger and Joyce to sew up loose ends and throw all their fiendish robot-building plans into action. Will this kinked and knotted fuse pull all of the Transformers players together for an enormous battlebot war that stretches from Texas to Hong Kong, demolishing anything and everything in its path?
Uh, sure. Why not “all of the above”? There’s certainly time in this nearly 3-hour smash-’em-bash-’em fantasy flick.
Cade regularly states that his daughter is the best thing that ever happened to him. And he repeatedly moves to do anything and everything necessary to protect her. She often unfairly gives credit for those rescues to her boyfriend, Shane, but Cade takes that in stride. And Tessa finally recognizes her pop’s efforts, saying that he was her hero throughout her life.
Optimus Prime makes some self-sacrificial choices as well. At first he’s totally fed up with human betrayals and ready to abandon us to our own collectively foolish choices. But Cade’s shining example, along with the man’s challenge to “have faith in what humanity can be,” spurs Optimus and his Autobot allies to step back up as the defenders they’re destined to be. And that makes Optimus Grade A Prime, you might say.
Early in the pic, Mr. Prime talks of the Transformers’ power source as a “spark” that holds their strength and their memories. Cade tells him, “We call it a soul.” Later, when Optimus battles a manmade robot called Galvatron, he tells the rampaging robot, “You have no soul.” It replies, “That is why I have no fear.”
Cade takes a moment to toss a comment skyward to his deceased wife, telling her that she would “be proud” of the young woman their daughter has become.
Cade makes the point that he forbade his daughter to date boys until after her high school graduation—his reason being that he and Tessa’s mom made the mistake of getting pregnant in high school, and he wants to help Tessa avoid that life-changing situation. That admirable concern for his daughter’s purity, however, soon becomes something of a running joke as we find out that 17-year-old Tessa and 20-year-old Shane have been hooking up behind Cade’s back for a while now.
The young lovers point out that even though she’s a minor and he’s an adult, their intimate relationship is legally covered by a Texas “Romeo and Juliet” law. Then, once the cat is out of the sleeping bag, the two young people continually rub their suggested sexual connection in Dad’s face. Shane steals a bottle of mouthwash, for instance, saying, “I like to be fresh when I’m making out with your daughter.” And when Cade recalls hearing noises in the house in the dead of night, Shane says it was him—implying a sexual rendezvous with Tessa. We see the couple kiss.
From the moment we first meet Tessa and her high school girlfriends—all dressed in curve-hugging T-shirts and shorts—the camera stays ready to ogle tanned and toned teen skin whenever possible. When Cade makes mention of his daughter’s skimpy attire, the camera’s eye swoops in to Tessa’s short shorts-clad backside to make sure we see the full view.
An old movie theater owner talks of the days of movies with pretty female dancers and their “big cha-chas.” A number of other girls and women wear cleavage- and midriff-baring outfits, tight hot pants and short form-hugging dresses. A Chinese executive is paraded around as eye candy …
… when she’s not called upon to use her vicious martial arts skills to kick men in the face, that is.
That hints at one category of bam-boom in this explosive film. And in its up-close-and-personal vein we see Cade, his comrades and various others manhandled and pummeled by humans and robots alike. The black ops team throws Cade and his daughter around, slamming them both to the ground and putting a gun to her head with threats of blowing her brains out. Later, a CIA thug (so described because of how he acts) chases Cade down the outside wall of a multistory apartment complex—between bouts of the two pounding each other mercilessly in several living quarters. Eventually, Cade gets the upper hand and smashes the other guy through a window, sending him to his death, 20 stories down.
We see a man thumped on the head by a giant robot’s arm. Another is slammed in the face by a (ramp-jumping) car’s tire. A robot’s fire blast sears a man into a petrified statue of bone and gristle. And with slo-mo detail we see what’s happening to some of the human victims caught up in the massive robot battles. A few are grabbed and rescued, but many more go spiraling like tiny tattered ragdolls or smashing out of car windshields as they crash.
As for the grand-scale paroxysms, there are never any half-ways here. In fact, director Michael Bay likely spent as much on pyrotechnics and CGI whiz-bangery as many small countries have in their entire national budget. Every kind of disastrous blasting, erupting and demolishing you can imagine is packed into this too-long film.
And it’s not just giant car- and truckbot smackdowns either.
Huge roaring Dinobots tear into town with spiked tails and four-foot long teeth. Mechanical dogs snap and lunge at our heroes. An enormous alien space craft uses magnetic weaponry to suck buildings, vehicles, railroad cars and freight liners hundreds of feet up into the air and then send them smashing to the earth again. Guns, large and small, blaze away constantly. Explosions erupt with massive force. The city of Honk Kong is nearly leveled. And, of course, millions of human residents get caught in the crossfire of the ground-up city mulch. Transformers are brutally hacked in half, decapitated, blown to bits and chomped to metal mash.
Optimus Prime says he had made a vow not to kill humans, but he rescinds that in one particularly vile man’s case. He hits the dastardly dude with a powerful blast that leaves the relatively frail human dead, crumpled and singed.
One f-word (along with another “downgraded” use of “effing”) and at least a dozen s-words join “a‑‑” (nearly 20 times), “h‑‑‑” (10 times), “b‑‑ch” (seven), “d‑‑n” (two or three) and “b‑‑tard” (one). We also hear close to 10 exclamations of “oh my god” and one abuse of Jesus’ name.
Tessa talks to her high school friends about “getting wasted” after their upcoming graduation. We see Bud Light bottles littering a city street. Cade picks one up that’s still full, opens it and gulps the brew down. Maybe it’s no surprise, then, that one of Cade’s inventions is a robot that delivers cold beers from the fridge. A Transformer regularly puffs on a glowing shell casing as if it were a cigar.
The age of the Transformer is over? Hardly. But it sure has evolved. How twee and innocent those ’80s toys that folded and shifted on little plastic joints and inspired playtime imaginations seem now.
Thanks to Michael Bay’s steady stream of metal-shifting, -screeching and -pounding summer blockbuster pics—his own particular brand of cinematic excess—The Transformers franchise has become something altogether different. These days its shape-shifting robots are all about infinitely malleable CGI bombast. They offer a hard-driving movie roller-coaster ride of whirling warriors, stupendous explosions, ear-rending and brain-numbing cacophony, and world-ripping destruction.
Movies one, two and three (Transformers, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Transformers: Dark of the Moon) all set that larger-than-life stage. Transformers: Age of Extinction merely chews up whatever remains of the steel scenery.
Yes, there are a few minor changes in this edition. The robots get some next-gen tweaks and robo-dinosaurs make a short appearance. And not that most will notice or care, the human cast is, well, transformed, with Mark Wahlberg now serving as the out-of-his-depth hero and Nicola Peltz as his siren-in-short-shorts daughter.
Everything else, though, feels remarkably unaltered. As in: static, unable to bend or move, decrepit. That includes a contradiction-laden wisp of a script, a cavalcade of human deaths, a rat-a-tat-tat of foul words and enough bare teen skin to coax Victoria’s Secret into spending some of its product-placement dollars on this flick.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.