Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Movie Review: Transformers 4 (The Quest for Dinobots)

I took Emma to see the new transformers movie Sunday night, Transformers 4: Age of Extinction, and we both really, really liked it.  I don’t love everything Michael Bay does, and in fact, I didn’t even like the last transformers movie, but this one was a big step up.  It’s been getting a ton of heat from critics.  Most have complained that the movie’s plot is nonsensical, but I don’t see it.  That was maybe a valid criticism of the second movie, and yeah, the third transformers movie was certainly mess in terms of its storyline, but this one?  This one made perfect sense.  It was silly, and there were at least two hole in the plot, one of which was gaping, but the story--why are we doing this, and who are these people?--that all tracked.

*spoilers below*

Age of Extinction

To understand this movie, you first have to understand that Michael Bay is a huge Dungeons & Dragons nerd.  You can see it in every facet of the film.  For example, the film has four factions, each with its own goals.  That’s the way most D&D campaigns start.  

  1. The CIA/KSI. These are the government guys, trying to reverse engineer the transformers and build their own as drone weapons systems.

  1. Lockdown & the aliens.  Lockdown works for the alien creators of the transformers.  He’s working with the CIA, but his employers are off-world.  In the original cartoon series, these guys were called Junkions.  However, Bay has already said that Unicron is slated for the fifth movie, so we don’t know what exactly to expect yet from this plotline.

  1. Megatron/Galvatron.  The government is trying to reverse engineer Megatron--again!--but this time, Megatron’s not fully frozen/dead.  He’s secretly using KSI’s assemblyline in Taiwan to fabricate a new army of Decepticons.  This is a classic D&D plotline.

  1. Autobots.  By the time this movie opens, they’ve been hunted to the brink of extinction.  There are now only five left.

To the extent that the movie has problems, it has problems because it’s hard to give each of these pieces enough screentime to shine in a mere 165 minutes.  Most critics complained that the movie was too long, but with this much material, Bay could’ve easily stretched it out further.  In fact, I’d argue that the movie would’ve been better if it was done Hobbit-style and stretched out to encompass two full movies.  But Bay didn’t want to do that because he’s telling a single story.  That’s fine, but most of the criticisms arise from the fact that it’s a story that does not easily lend itself to its running time.

It would be an interesting experiment to do something like this as a thirteen episode show on Netflix.

With all of that said, there were two giant holes in the plot.

1.  Lockdown.  The autobots all know who Lockdown is, but none of them know that there are extraterrestrial creators out there?

2.  The introduction of the Dinobots.  Prime needs a new army?  Well, it’s a good thing we’re in Taiwan then, because that’s apparently where the dinobots have been hiding for the past million years!

More random thoughts:

-- The beginning of the movie is kind of slow, but I still wish we could’ve seen Prime and Cade spend a scene bonding in his barn while Cade’s repairing him.  In the Netflix version of this story, that’d be a full episode.

-- The action sequences in this movie are glorious.  I loved the escape scene from Lockdown’s ship, and the scene where Lockdown’s ship is dropping buses and ships all over Taiwain as our heroes try to make their escape--in reverse!--is brilliant.  

Why do people keep giving Michael Bay $200 million for these kids of movies?  Because he builds scenes like this, and they’re incredible.

-- Emma asked me after the movie why Prime had to fight Grimlock after he awakened the dinobots.  I said, “Because you always have to subdue a dragon before you can ride him.”  Again, that’s pure D&D.

-- Emma was disappointed that the dinobots didn’t get to do more.  That’s a valid complaint.  This could have been a quest movie, with the autobots searching for the “ancient warriors” as their last, best hope to avoid extinction.  That would’ve been a better, more D&D version of this same plot point.  That was probably the plan, but it got scrapped because of run-time concerns.

The brilliance of The Avengers is that Joss Whedon gives each hero and each villain at least one moment to really shine.  This movie is not that well made.  The action set-pieces are more explosive, but some characters shine while others are almost completely forgotten.  Of the five autobots, only Prime and Hound get a chance to develop as characters, and the dinobots aren’t even given that.  Grimlock gets a some time with Prime, and Swoop gets some time with Bumblebee, but the other two are barely in the movie, and none of the dinobots fight in robot-mode.  That’s a shame.  They have cool-looking weapons and overall design.

-- Michael Bay had to make some concessions to the Chinese government to make this movie.  The most hilarious of these occurs when Lockdown’s ship comes back from space and heads for Taiwain.  A pair of guards on a lookout tower see the ship coming, and one says, “We need to call the central government for help!”  In response, Beijing immediately scrambles jets to intercept the spaceship and defend Taiwain.

Umm… what?  

Right now, there are Party leaders in Beijing no-doubt praying for this exact circumstance as a way to reunify Taiwain and mainland China.

-- Prime and Galvatron fight, and Prime notes that Galvatron has no spark.  “You’ve got no soul!”  Galvatron replies, “That’s why I’m not afraid!”  

Nice bit.

-- The Knights of Cybertron are apparently a thing in the comics.  In the version of this movie that’s a D&D-style quest to discover the dinobots, that would’ve been a nice piece of backstory to explain why and what the dinobots are.

-- Finally, Grimlock is designed a lot like a 4e Rage Drake.  +5 bonus to damage rolls when charging.  

I’m just sayin’...


  1. Bay gets some credit for me, but man, the guy needs a better editor. Good review Dan.

    1. Thanks. That's more than fair. That said, I can see why he doesn't give a shit what the critics say.