The Transformers series has gotten some pretty negative reactions over the years, but I would argue that they have never been as unrelentingly harsh as the assault has been on this fourth installment, a reboot of sorts featuring a new human cast and re-designed robot protagonists. As such, I am about to ostracize myself from pretty much anybody who writes on the internet with the review you are about to read. If at any point you want to throw something at me, my door is always open.
I enjoyed this movie very much, and I’m only a little sorry to admit it.
We pick up five years after the events of Dark of the Moon. The battle of Chicago has turned the government completely against the Transformers, Autobot and Decepticon alike. As such, our metallic friends have gone into hiding as they hunted down one at a time by a strike force lead by Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammar). Meanwhile, we are introduced to Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), a struggling inventor with a serious overprotectiveness problem, and his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz). When Cade and his partner Lucas (T.J Miller) stumble across a beat up pickup truck in an abandoned theater, he takes it off their hands and strips it for parts. What he does not realize, is that the truck is actually Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), throwing himself, Tessa, Lucas, and much to Cade’s dismay, Tessa’s boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) on a wild goose chase as the autobots re-band to face off against an evil robot bounty hunter by the name of Lockdown.
Also, there’s a ruthless industrialist named Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) who has managed to synthesize the transformer’s metal, or as he calls it, Transformium (no…I’m not kidding about that), to create a robot army, and consumer products. But really, I’m getting too deep into this silly movie.
I’ve said it three times, and I’ll say it again, Who cares? Robots!!!
Don’t make any mistake. This is a dumb, dumb, dumb movie. There are flaws for days in this thing (literally, as I will come to explain). However, what this also happens to be, is by far the most well rounded and enjoyable film in the franchise so far. By starting with a mostly clean slate, Michael Bay has actually laid down a very nice foundation here for whoever decides to brave this series next. Maybe they’ll be able to reach beyond mere dumb fun into something deeper. But for now…WHEEEEEE.
The characters both human and robot alike are infinitely more tolerable here. Mark Wahlberg is a absolute blessing of a leading man here. It’s certainly a challenge, as he has to brave some pretty god awful writing, but he really steps up to the plate. Cade is so ridiculously stern to his daughter that he almost seems like a father out of a 1950s romantic comedy. However, as he explains his rather silly motivations, Wahlberg’s endlessly earnest performance wrings out the maximum amount of sympathy we can have for this guy. He also brings a great amount of humor to the proceedings with the loveably ‘take no prisoners’ snarky personality that we’ve come to expect from him, and unlike Shia Labeouf, these little quirks never get annoying. Peltz and Reynor are not nearly as strong in the acting department, but never do they reach the level of annoyance that previous characters in the series have. This is not a movie where the characters just talk over each other. They actually interact and have a certain degree of banter even if it is really on the nose at times, especially Wahlberg and Reynor, who seem to be in a contest the entire time to see who can be the bigger prick to the other. The supporting players are also a lot more manageable here. Stanley Tucci brings his typical quirky energy to what is a pretty generic villain role, and Kelsey Grammar provides some stoically intimidating evil monologues. The humor is a little more manageable here. There’s still a lot of stupid, pandering jokes, mostly curtesy of T.J. Miller, but there’s also a lot of fun humor that comes from the character interactions, and that’s awesome.
More importantly though, the Transformers are actually the stars of their own movie this time around. After we establish all of the human characters, they spend the majority of the movie with a rag-tag group of autobots that actually get to do something. These include Prime, Bumblebee, Drift (Ken Watanabe), and Hound (John Goodman). We actually get to see a bit of a team dynamic here, as opposed to the previous films, where they pretty much just said they were a team. These guys banter, formulate plans, argue, and ultimately, work together in bad-ass fashion. We also get a pretty interesting antagonist in Lockdown, a being who only seems to care about what’s best for him, even at the expense of his own species. Unlike Megatron, we actually get to spend a few scenes with him and get to learn a little about what makes him tick. It’s not Shakespeare, but it’s something.
The action here is spectacular. Somehow, Michael Bay managed to top Dark of the Moon. Not only is this more evenly paced with action throughout, but we get all verities of robot fights. There’s shootouts, there’s fistfights, there’s rooftop chases, there’s Star Wars esque arial pursuits, and even a couple car chases to boot. Also, as you may have noticed, there’s Dinobots in the climax. Yes, that is as stupid as it sounds, but it’s also glorious. Those things tear it up, and although they’re not on screen for long, they make the most of it. Everything masterfully utilizes the 3D to full effect. Things pop like frames from a big, goofy graphic novel. Speaking of goofy, there’s a much more loose feeling to all the action then previous entries, giving everything a campy feeling. Very welcome in a movie like this.
Despite all that fun, there’s definitely more then a few problems. The writing here, as I touched on before, is absolutely atrocious. Ehren Kruger has crafted some of the most ridiculously on the nose, flat out 3rd grade level dialogue I’ve ever heard. Some of it is just pure stereotyping (at one point, Peltz proclaims to her friends, “only two more weeks, then we all can be done with classes and get wasted!,” and other parts are just weak sci fi (Transformium….really?). This does hold the movie back, especially when it starts getting fun. Every time you’ve almost let your brain go, a line comes that is so bad that it snaps all that thinking right back.
Also, this thing is way too cluttered. There is no reason for almost any movie to be three hours long, especially a silly robot movie, but I’ll be damned if this isn’t the most relentlessly long string of dumb I’ve ever seen. There are plot elements I didn’t even mention that clutter this thing in an attempt to set up future movies, that could have been completely left on the cutting room floor.
I can’t really fault anyone for hating this. It’s loud, dumb, terribly written, and far too damn long. However, it definitely clicked with me. Perhaps I’m just so fresh off some of the atrocious parts of the other films that I was so thankful for something even slightly better, but I definitely was thankful. It’s a fun, silly summer blockbuster despite it’s flaws and if you go in without the aching cynicism that seems to run rampant in Transformers fans, I think you’ll have a good time. If Bay really does decide to exit the franchise on this note, he managed to do it with a bang.
And with that…I don’t need to see another movie with a robot in it for a very long time (sorry Earth to Echo)