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Grimlock and Optimus Prime in Transformers: Age Of Extinction, from Paramount Pictures.
Grimlock and Optimus Prime in Transformers: Age Of Extinction, from Paramount Pictures.

Film review | Transformers: Age of Extinction

Good robots versus bad robots (fourth round)

The fourth in the Transformers series (two more are on their way; there is no ruling out further movie, video and television spin-offs) has moments of self-referential humour, including a crib about endless remakes and sequels, but it misses the most obvious one—doesn’t “Age of Extinction" in the title refer to the running length?

At 2 hours and 45 minutes, Michael Bay’s latest good robots-versus-bad robots saga is the lengthiest in the franchise, pushing viewers towards a feeling of witnessing entire lives and selves disappear into a void. The hair might get greyer at the temples and the face might grow a few wrinkles as the noble Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) and the surviving Autobots battle a government that has now turned against them, a Megatron reboot (voiced by Mark Ryan), and the nefarious company Kinetic Solutions Incorporated (KSI), which is attempting to harness “transformium", the metal that powers the Autobots, for industrial use.

Running parallel to the possibility of the complete destruction of Optimus Prime (postponed, naturally, to parts five and six) is the saga of crack but broke inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg). A single parent with a shorts-wearing teenage daughter, Tessa, (Nicola Peltz), Cade gets his hands on a truck that is actually a wounded Optimus Prime in disguise. Together with Tessa and her autocar racing boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor), Cade is forced to go on the run when KSI’s goons come looking for Optimus Prime.

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Nicola Peltz (left) plays Tessa, and Mark Wahlberg plays Cade Yeager in the movie.

LaBeouf has since gone on to appear in a range of roles, including Jerome, the one true love of Nymphomaniac’s lead character Joe, and become a tabloid hero for indulging in bizarre public behaviour. Did having to run between the giant legs of smart-talking robots and witness the semi-destruction of cities and heritage sites for three consecutive movies prompt his recent inability to keep it together?

Bay arrives to beauty only to unleash terror on it. Transformers 4 has many superbly executed set pieces, but its showcase is a pre-climactic sequence that makes excellent use of Hong Kong’s architectural mix of tenements and high-rises. A Hong Kong Tourism Board hoarding gets tucked into one scene, but, as the saying goes, you need to let the right one in.

By the time Bay and his bots are done with Hong Kong, it’s just another ruin of mangled glass and steel, inseparable from Chicago, New York City or whichever international territory the film-makers will visit next.

It’s actually a strain to remember exactly how Cade and Co. achieve their victory. A chase involving Cade down a building block with some help from air-conditioning units is memorable, but it’s a rare standout scene in a movie that aims for erasure rather than retention. The trick behind the success of Hollywood franchises like Transformers is that they deliver the same watch-erase-and-repeat spectacle in film after film, with minor tweaks in the plot and characters, and manage to make it look like a new experience each time. It’s engineering as much as film-making, and Bay has a real feel for complex and fluid computer-generated effects and sound design. This movie is longer than previous ones, less effective than the first two parts, an improvement on the third, and forgettable enough to make a fourth one possible.

The repeated cliff-hanger moments of peril, which make the last hour particularly wearying, are as sincere as statements like “The age of the Autobots is over". Referring to some magical whatsit, Optimus Prime declares that when the Autobots are done defending the humans, he will take it to a place where it can never be found. What he means is the studio’s parking lot.

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