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Transformers: Age of Extinction Review

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Optimus Prime and his allies return to the big screen to face an all-new enemy: Lockdown.

The Transformers are back and this latest installment attempts to revamp the franchise. The Autobots are given a whole new look and the story follows the aftermath of Transformers: Dark of the Moon's ginormous battle in Chicago -- an incident which resulted in a lot of civilian casualties. Needless to say, many humans aren't happy about it and there's now a CIA black ops team targeting any and all aliens. Mark Wahlberg's character, Cade Yeager, is a struggling inventor who finds himself stuck in the middle of all this madness after finding Optimus Prime. Oh, and that CIA black ops team? They're temporarily aligned with an alien bounty hunter called Lockdown. The villain has one simple mission: capture Optimus Prime. Meanwhile, humanity is making major technological advancements that will apparently allow them to create their very own transformers. That's guaranteed to go well, right?

As expected, the visual ride is impressive. Director Michael Bay uses many of the shots you've come to expect from him (low-angles, swooping establishing shots, etc.), and, for the most part, does a good job making sure we're always thrown right into all of the chaos -- and trust me, there's a lot of it. There's a couple of moments where slow motion really shines, too. There's a ridiculous yet joyous bit early on involving a man's head and a tire and watching Autobots destroy their enemies in slo-mo doesn't get old. That said, there is a scene or two where this is used ineffectively (e.g. generic running from an explosion or a goon reaching for his ear piece). And yes, the special effects are terrific. The robots and vehicles all look stellar and there's only a few moments where the effects didn't really feel up to par with the rest of the movie. However, those bits are pretty brief and vastly outweighed by the raw amount of spectacle the movie offers. If you're paying for a ticket just to see an overwhelming amount of action and CGI goodness, you'll certainly get your money's worth.

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Thankfully, the Autobots and Lockdown get a decent amount of focus. Every Autobot receives at least one moment to shine, as well. Aside from Optimus and Bumblebee -- they obviously receive the most love -- it felt like Hound (John Goodman) had the most time with action scenes. It's a good one, but I would have loved to see more of Drift (Ken Watanabe). When you have a character that badass, you seriously need to give them more of the spotlight in battle scenes.

The story isn't going to blow anyone's mind and honestly, it's not that good, but it does manage to introduce some pretty big changes to the Transformers Cinematic Universe. While this movie basically feels like a lot more of the same, steps are taken which seems to promise a pretty big change for the next movie (which apparently isn't confirmed but obviously seems very likely to happen). There's major potential to go very sci-fi heavy in the next one and that would help give the franchise a little more variety. Only time will tell how they'll handle it, though.

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As for the cast, there's quite a few humans, but only Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), and Lucas Flannery (T.J. Miller) left an impression. Sure, Wahlberg has some very silly remarks about being an inventor and making him just an engineer would have been so much simpler, but he's the kind of guy who can pull off both the levity and action scenes well. He never comes off as a brilliant inventor, but he feels like a fitting lead for this franchise since he can leap into the action and offer some bits of humor when things aren't exploding or being punched in the face. Oh, and speaking of punches in the face, Wahlberg has a pretty visceral fight with another human and it's surprisingly good (minus a cliche shot in the end). There's a handful of human enemies, but Tucci is easily the most entertaining one and that's thanks to his often immature and short-tempered nature. It's a shame T.J. Miller doesn't get all that much time on the screen, but when he's there, he's able to provide some funny banter. Kelsey Grammer does a perfectly fine acting stern and intimidating as the xenophobic Harold Attinger, but when you have a bounty hunter that can turn his face into a giant gun (Lockdown) and the amusing Joyce, there isn't much room for him to develop or impress.

This movie really should be called Transformers: Age of Explosions. It almost feels like Michael Bay looked at all of the explosions in his other movies and said to himself, "Yeah, I can top that." There's an insane amount of action in this one. We have multiple chase scenes with a constant onslaught of explosives going off all around the vehicles, various shootouts, an aerial battle, and even a few melee sequences. A complaint some people have is that it can be tough to follow who's who when the big robots begin to battle, but it's not really an issue here. As stated above, the special effects are great and there's even a couple pretty neat hand-to-hand moments between the huge beings. I'm sure this will be too much action for some, but if you're cool with simply shutting off your mind and enjoying popcorn fun, you should have a good amount of fun when the action begins.

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While Transformers: Age of Extinction does have a more serious tone than the previous three movies, it's still packed with banter and the occasional dose of slapstick comedy. It isn't as silly or goofy as before, but there's still moments scattered throughout. So if you enjoyed the type of comedy in the first and third (let's just forget the second, okay?), you'll be happy to know some of that still exists and does so without overshadowing the tone all that much.

Honestly, the Dinobots don't get much time and I would have loved to see more of them. You have to wait awhile before Grimlock shows up and the robot's role is limited. However, the little time the character does get is truly awesome. Optimus Prime riding Grimlock and attacking a wave of enemies is every bit as ridiculous and fun as it should be. It may not last long, but it's so over the top and a real joy. It's easily the most crowd-pleasing scene in the movie.

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Transformers: Age of Exctinction is 2 hours and 45 minutes long and the lengthy runtime is absolutely felt. I know what some of you are thinking right about now. "Nearly 3 hours of robots fighting and action? That sounds pretty awesome to me. Why can't you just shut off your brain and enjoy some fun, reviewer?" If it was almost 3 hours of some of the best action this franchise has seen, then yes, I would have had a way better experience. Unfortunately, that isn't the case.

So much time is spent trying to build an emotional connection to the Yeager family and much of it just doesn't add anything to the movie or make you truly care about them. So many of these scenes could have been trimmed a lot or even totally cut. The robots receive a lot of focus, but there's a lot of time spent with this family, too, and it's definitely noticed. I mean, aside from a few of them, many of the humans don't really bring anything interesting or enjoyable to the table. Wahlberg's daughter and her boyfriend primarily exist to produce reactions from him. The boyfriend races for a living -- so he's the driver in the action scenes -- and it's an ongoing gag that Wahlberg isn't happy about the way his daughter dresses or that she's with someone older than she is. Look, I get the movie needs to at least make an attempt with the human characters, but it really drags and begins to add up. Additionally, when you have so much action, a bit of it tends to feel like more of the same and you're left waiting for something to spice it up.

Yes, you can expect some blatant stereotypes and models appearing for no reason whatsoever. I'm sure some of you think the former is just for laughs and the latter is just eye candy, but it gets pretty shameless a few times.

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Many of us go into a Transformers movie with the same expectations. We expect a story that isn't compelling and human characters that we likely won't care about, but we can tolerate that because of the raw spectacle the movie has to offer. We're talking about mindless 'splosions and robot fights, right? Here's the thing: I really enjoy the first movie, but this one has some painfully bad dialogue at times and, even though the plot establishes some cool potential for the future, it's all over the place. I mean, we're talking about non-comedic bits that made much of the theater burst into laughter. There's some lines that are just that cheesy and unfortunately, it happens a handful of times. There's also several moments where I found myself asking several questions about the narrative and how characters were responding. Yes, it's not like anyone can say they expected a brilliant plot that's devoid of holes or silliness, but it definitely has quite a few of them.

Then there's the beyond noticeable product placement. And no, I'm not even talking about the car brands. You expect nice cars and their logos to flash across the screen with this franchise, but man, there's some totally obvious scenes of product placement. One moment practically feels like a commercial for Bud Light. If you thought there was a lot of this in Man of Steel ("the 'S' stands for Sears!"), prepare to witness an onslaught of products!

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Transformers: Age of Extinction delivers exactly what you should expect from it and gives you a lot of it. It's the longest movie in the franchise and that runtime is definitely felt as the movie drags in more than a few spots. On top of that, there's a strong focus on generic characters and, I'll be blunt, some of the the plot and dialogue is pretty bad. However, that extended runtime also means there's way more popcorn entertainment. There's a ton of action and it's a visually impressive ride. It's not the best Transformers movie, but it's easily the most action-packed one yet. If you simply want to turn off your brain and enjoy what's basically a blockbuster on steroids, then you may as well go all out and check it out in 3D and IMAX. Your mind may not be thrilled with the experience, but your eyes will have a total blast.