Friday, June 27, 2014

Fourth ‘Transformers’ visually impresses, should have been much better

By Steve Crum
All should have been well and good with the newest chapter (movie #4) of the Transformers franchise, Transformers: Age of Extinction, since this episode marks a major makeover in casting, locations, and story development. Unfortunately, there are production problems, mainly the movie’s bladder-busting, 165-minute running time. 
Farewell, actor Shia LaBeouf. Hello, Mark Wahlberg and prehistoric-looking Dinobots. Ehren Kruger’s screenplay introduces central characters Cade and Tessa Yeager, an everyman single-parent and his teen daughter, who struggle to pay off the mortgage in rural Texas. That Cade is a really an amateur inventor, specializing in robotics, is apropos for a movie dealing with gigantic robots. 
Enter director Michael Bay, whose filmed excesses both dazzle and infuriate. (Reference his Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, and previous three Transformers.) Transformers: AE will definitely not disappoint diehard fans. Others should prepare for an onslaught to both eardrums and eyeballs. 
Wahlberg, Kelsay Grammer, and Stanley Tucci are competent in lead roles, while Nicola Perez is fine as Wahlberg’s daughter. Of course, the real stars in any Transformer flick are the Transformers themselves. Among returning Autobots are Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) as the leader; a personal fav of mine, Bumblebee; and Hound, a metallic-cigar “smoking” rough-houser who provides comedy relief. John Goodman’s voicing is apt. 
Then there are the five Dinobots, led by Grimlock, who transforms into a mechanical T-Rex. Violently opposing the Autobots and/or the Dinobots at various junctures are the take-no-prisoners, evil Decepticons. Cons they indeed are. Like we have repeatedly seen in giant monster movies over past decades, when the big guys slam and zap each other downtown, the city is virtually destroyed. That tradition continues here. And that segues into where and when Transformers: Age of Extinction begins. It is five years after the great Battle  of Chicago, and CIA-led soldiers are still rooting out Autobots that have gone into hiding. Now considered enemies of the state, our once heroic bots are incognito, and destroyed when found. 
The movie trailer makes it clear that Cade discovers Optimus in hiding, so without divulging specifics, let us say that the CIA is soon after both Cade and Optimus. Factor in Joshua Joyce (Tucci) as a rich and famous robot designer, and the story weaves from one explosive battle to another. The plot’s larger scope is something else altogether. In fact, it could be hyped in ads with “Torn From Today’s Headlines!” Attempting to be timely, there are drones galore, a corporation out of control, and government corruption personified by Grammer’s power-mongering, murderous CIA officer, Harold Attinger. Grammer plays it huge hammy. 
As good as this Transformers looks, and the visuals are the only reason to see this spectacle, the flawless effects become overbearing after nearly three hours. (I was checking my watch after 90 minutes.) Enough is too much. But I have to note one sequence involving Optimus Prime rescuing falling humans. Like 99 percent of the movie’s action sequences, Bay films it in slo-mo, and in this case the result is simply superb. Slowing down the motion here accentuates how far digitalized effects have come. 
Also, if you choose to see it in 3-D, be aware this is reprocessed 3-D, and it shows. Nothing really stands out as a result, and with 3-D there should be a whole bunch standing out. 
GRADE on A-F Scale: C-
Enjoy the trailer to Transformers: Age of Extinction: