The title Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) could be seen by pessimists as an unfortunate choice for the latest instalment in the Transformers film franchise. This new superhero – of which the Autobots (the central anti-heroes at its core) are merely another variation – film, by wham-bam director Michael Bay, and starring Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz and Stanley Tucci, is fun on a superscale. However, as with much in this genre, it is sadly an example of style over substance.
Throughout history things have become extinct due in main to their inability to adapt to change. Though this dictum is generally associated with living things, it could also be related to numerous art forms including film. It’s not hard to see that certain types of film or technological advances in filmmaking, reach a plateau after which they have little else place to go. These limitations are particularly relevant in the genre of sci-fi / fantasy films that have come to swamp mainstream cinema in recent years – of which Transformers: Age of Extinction is a perfect example. This film may deliver plenty of bang for your buck – and it cost 210 million of these if rumours are to be believed – but, once the fireworks and pyrotechnics have fizzled out, is it not really just more of what we’ve seen countless times before?
As is often the case with this kind of film, the story-line takes a back seat to what’s happening onscreen. However, as you require some semblance of plot around which to hang the effects, here’s a brief synopsis. Cade Yeager (Whalberg) is a Texan electronics inventor, whose life revolves around his business and his teenage daughter Tessa (played by the zesty Peltz). Following the acquisition of an old truck – which he buys when clearing out a disused local cinema – Cade finds out that it is actually Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) leader of the outlawed Autobots. Suddenly Cade and his daughter find themselves the target of a group of shadowy government agents, who have their own reasons for routing out the renegade Prime and his remaining fellow ‘Transformers’.
It’s that time of the year again – the season of the blockbuster. Though these monumental film productions are not solely restricted to the summer months, the period between late June and the end of August has in recent years become the favourite time for the big studios to release their latest epic. So what one asks is the point, if any, of the modern blockbuster: is it, as Cynics would have you believe, purely an attempt by the monolithic studios to cash in on its core audience of children and teenagers during the extended school break?
During the early decades of the twentieth century, when Hollywood was in its infancy, millions regularly flocked to cinemas mainly because it was one of the few forms of mass entertainment. Now though, with so many alternative methods available to access film – from televisions in your home, to tablets and smart phones on-the-go – filmmakers are having to up-the-ante in order to attract audiences back to cinemas. Hence with each successive release film running times get longer, effects more spectacular and plots frequently more over-the-top.
Such is the case with Transformers: Age of Extinction. Everything about this film is big, from the breathtaking settings – in the wide open spaces of Texas to the claustrophobic high-rise cities of the Far East – and larger-than-life characters, to its bum-numbing running time which comes in at just under three hours. All these factors however would be forgivable, if you felt there was real substance to what plays out onscreen. But there isn’t – let’s be honest once you’ve seen one of these films, you’ve seen them all, and any attempt at sophistication or depth is lost in the overwhelming vision which saturates the screen. That’s not to say what takes place isn’t great – though brain melting – fun and, if you’re a) a teenager or b) a sci-fi geek, or if you’ve simply a spare few hours and nothing better to do, you could do worse than to check the film out.
The truth is that you should approach films like Transformers: Age of Extinction for what they are – throwaway popcorn fodder to enjoy when they last, but forget equally quickly once the final credits roll. There will always be someone to take it all way to seriously, or debate endlessly on the damage this kind of film does to the industry as a whole. For the rest of us simply watch, enjoy and move on.
* * * 1/2 (out of 5)
Sci-fi, Action, Thriller
5th July (UK Previews)10th July 2014 (UK Cinema official)
Mark Whalberg, Nicola Peltz Jack Reynor, Kelsey Grammer, Stanley Tucci