Thursday, July 9, 2015

Transformers: Aged and Instinctive

Once more I’m incredibly late with a movie review of a Hasbro property.

Seriously, by this point I should know better by now and make sure to see these things in the theater.

I figure since Transformers: Age of Extinction made over a billion dollars, enough people have seen it that I don’t need to worry about some minor spoilers.

With a run time of two hours and forty-five minutes, I talked myself out of finding a block in my schedule to view it.  That goes to show how little I pay attention as the other Transformers films were only fifteen minutes shorter. I never noticed because they flew by once the insane, shape shifting, robotic destruction kicked into high gear; including the one they threw the script together over the weekend before a writers strike.

This fourth installment is the best since the first film.  The change of main actors has very little to do with that. Like any non-military combat people in a Bay film, their interactions tend to range from “entertaining if juvenile” to “annoyingly forced humor,” with occasional moments of combat awesome thrown in. 
On the positive side, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) is probably as close to Sparkplug as we’re ever going to get in these films.

There one exception to the standard formula:  Kelsey Grammer is surprisingly, and chillingly, effective as a completely heartless and soulless antagonist for all the heros of the film.
 Heck, CIA agent and Cemetery Wind founder Harold Attinger would make “Stinky Pete” smell like a rose.

Focusing solely on previous human stars, I forgot to remind myself: Michael Bay is just as consistent with the important parts of Transformers films as he is with the portrayals of people.  The man is an artist when it comes to explosions, car chases, massive scale battles, and practical effect laden, pulse pounding action.

Once it fiddles with the human element for a bit, this one goes off the charts in the areas of Bay’s expertise that make him the perfect choice for weapon laden vehicles that turn into giant battle robots. (Or vice versa.)

Yes, the action is eye poppingly glorious in all its fury.

For a mild example- there are several scenes where massive ocean vessels are used as projectile weapons!  

What sets this outing apart, though, is the number of Transformers that get personalities and featured acting scenes.

Like previous films, most of the Decepticons are animalistic monsters, but at least this time there’s a reason for it. They are sparkless Vehicon drones. It’s a shame they went with the Transformium “liquid metal” advancement for the switches between forms.  One thing these films excel at is making the mechanical transformations between states be believable.

Frank Welker finally is used to voice a Decepticon leader.
Galvatron is all he should be, crazed, remorseless, terrifying, intelligent, and power hungry 
Can’t wait to see him expanded in the sequel. (Remember, a billion dollars!)

The key robotic bad bot this time around isn’t the Decepticon though, it’s Lockdown.  He’s a bounty hunter working for the “creators” of the Transformers. (Bayverse Quintessons?  This I gotta see! Yes, they added to the mythology again, without referencing any other aspect they put in from other movies…I’m sure it will make sense eventually.)  He doesn’t care about the civil war we’ve watched for three movies, and also doesn’t care about Earth.  In fact he doesn’t care about anything in between him and his quarry in his single minded unquenchable focus.  This means we get to see a great deal of entertaining destruction from this generally soft spoken, if deadly adversary.  A bunch comes from his animalistic hench car and hench wolf bots, but even more comes from him.  Unlike the way the other films chickened out with Megatron’s and Shockwave’s transformations, either Lockdown turns into a big freakin’ gun, or just turns his head into a slightly less big freakin gun. 
Either way, it’s awesome, and massively destructive.

Oh, and his alternate Trans-Form is a Lamborghini, adding a Cannonball Run level of coolness on top of his already uber groovy face cannon and unflappable bounty hunter personality.

As fun as the villains are, the stand outs of this film are the Autobots.  The battle scenes for most of the franchise focused on the awesomeness of the amazing G. I Joe like N.E.S.T. team using the Transformers as sentient armored units.  Due to the treacherous nature of humanity (Boo Hiss!) the ‘bots battle mostly on their own this time, aided by only a few worthy allies. 

More importantly, the whole group of Autobots gets the time, dialogue and action scenes to develop as complete characters.

John DiMaggio added the same presence to the portrayal of Crosshairs as he did to Batman Brave and Bold’s Aquaman.  The magnetism comes not from “outrageous” bombast this time, but a British accented, snarky cynicism draped over an inner heroism.  The insane paratrooper combat skills didn’t hurt either.

Bumblebee has become a far more experienced and competent warrior throughout the films.  He still maintains his guardian aspect towards the humans, and they’ve gotten much more clever (and entertaining) with his speaking only through satellite radio sound bites.  (Which somehow also contains TV and movie quotes, but it works so we’ll leave it.)

Drift brings the awesome from two directions.  First, he’s a triple changer, with the same forms (car, helicopter, and robot) as Springer from the old G1 Cartoon. However, the conservation of mass and parts rule that these movies have tried to follow from the beginning stays in full effect making all of his transformations extra wicked.  Second the Samurai Decepticon convert is voiced by Ken Watanabe.  The actor not only brings the dignity and gravitas that belongs with an ancient and honorable warrior, but also has the comedy chops to expertly poke fun at those same expectations on occasion.

My personal favorite of the newcomers is Hound, upsized from his G1 Jeep to a Medium Tactical Vehicle. (That’s an army truck for those of us who don’t speak military.)  John Goodman provided the voice and I’d expect inspired the mannerisms and attitude.  The potbellied, bearded, cigar chomping grizzled warrior was covered in oversized weapons that all looked like scaled up versions of standard guns and explosives.  Think the surgery scene in King Kong Escapes but with grenades.  His one liners and violent antics highlighted every moment he was on screen.


I think that about covers it for them, but to be clearer.


Giant freakin’ robots that turn into oversized metal dinosaurs and lay waste to the evil Decepticon army.

They only showed up for the final battle, but they brought the awesome by the boatload.  The only way they could have been better is by veering away from the franchise norm of having them only capable of growls and roars.  There is no film that could not be improved by dialogue like the classic:
“Me Grimlock say you wrong, and you ugly too!"

Or the erudite debate:

"Me Slag say you full of beryllium baloney!"
"Me Grimlock say you full of cesium salami.”

Off course, I’ve left someone off, but that’s because I’m saving the best for last.

Let me put it this way:

Grimlock is an enormous robotic Tyrannosaurus Rex that breathes fire, commands three similarly impressive associates and kicks the butt of (or just plain eats)
almost every foe he meets.

And Optimums Prime out awesomes him in every scene they share.

This is the Autobot commander as we’ve never seen him before.  Betrayed by humanity, and pushed too far by the villains, he’s at a level of pissed off unreached in over thirty years of toy, cartoon, comic book and movie appearances.

Much like Superman, or The Doctor, there’s a darn good reason Prime keeps that part of his personality in check most of the time.

Once he’s healed himself out of his battered, if G1 Inspired, initial appearance - he becomes virtually unstoppable.  He also makes the G1 Transformation sound when growing his new Autobot logo. 
YAY! The only times he’s on the losing end of a conflict is due to his inherent heroism, even at his most enraged, leading him to choose protecting others over himself.

The fact that most of the civilians he protected this time around were significantly less annoying helped a bit too.

Optimums Prime leads his troops from the front, inspiring them all the way, and facing the major opponents head on.

And he says, “ROLL OUT!”  SQUEEEEEE!!!
(Granted he says it to troops that don’t roll, but I don’t care.  SQUEEEEEE!)

There is little wonder why he has been called, “The greatest fictional leader in history.”
By…um…someone…award winning writer and artist Wendy Pini…I think.
Sadly the internet has failed me and I can’t remember which DVD extra it was on. 
Oh well.  I believe it, anyway, wherever it came from.
Moving on.

I seriously believe that once Peter Cullen retires, Optimums Prime should as well. Bring in Ultra Magnus, or Rodimus Prime, or something.  There are iconic voices that reach a level of unquestionable perfection for a character, and those should not and cannot be replaced.

Hopefully, this will teach me the “see the giant shape changing robot movie in the theater” lesson.  After all, watching this one caused me to marathon view the first three the next day (a convenient rainy Sunday), and then rewatch Age of Extinction the following night I showed a couple youtube clips to my daughter before heading Up the Lake for the weekend. She was so excited she: 

1) Made up six groups (thirty total) of her own Transformers.

2) Asked me to pull out my More than Meets the Eye comics - a who's who like index of Transformers.

3) Insisted we watch Age of Extinction as soon as we got home, then asked when the sequel comes out, and if we could watch the G1 cartoon when we finish one of the DVD series we're currently working through.

That's my girl!

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