Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction leaves unanswered questions

Optimus Prime brandishes his sword. (Paramount Pictures)
Optimus Prime brandishes his sword. (Paramount Pictures)

Marcus Goh is a former Singapore television scriptwriter. He's also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. Tweets at @Optimarcus and writes at The views expressed are his own.

Running time: 165 minutes (2.75 hours)

Secret ending? No.

"Transformers: Age of Extinction" is a science fiction movie, the fourth instalment in the "Transformers" film series. The plot revolves around a mysterious new enemy that is slowly hunting down the Autobots (the robot protagonists of the film), who have all been driven into hiding as a result of their circumstances. It stars Mark Wahlberg (Cade Yeager), Nicola Peltz (Tessa Yeager), Kelsey Grammar (Harold Attinger), Li Bingbing (Su Yueming), and Stanley Tucci (Joshua Joyce).

"Transformers: Age of Extinction" will inevitably be compared with its predecessors, and it fares decently in that it lacks the slapstick junk and over-the-top (human) performances of its predecessors. Much of the film is hit or miss, and you can certainly feel that it runs a tad longer than previous movies. However, the focus is much sharper, eschewing the sprawling reach of the first three films for a much tighter, concentrated spotlight on the core components of the film.

Cade (Mark Wahlberg) and Tessa Yeager (Nicola Peltz) run for their lives. (Paramount Pictures)
Cade (Mark Wahlberg) and Tessa Yeager (Nicola Peltz) run for their lives. (Paramount Pictures)

Where did "Transformers: Age of Extinction" hit the right notes?

Easily recognisable Transformers

The Transformers, this time round, are clearly defined by their colour schemes — it's almost as if they were colour coded. It's not too much of an issue if you're a dedicated fan, but if you're a casual moviegoer then it certainly helps to identify what's going on among the hundreds of explosions in the film. The small number of Autobots (just five this time), introduced fairly early on with memorable characteristics, also helps keep each of them distinct and fresh throughout the film.

Fun set pieces and explosive action

There are virtually no regular explosions in this film. Each explosion sets a whole swath of land ablaze, and each blast sends clouds of shrapnel into the air. Every time the Transformers fight, it's a riot of spectacular feats and daredevil action, culminating in the finale where Optimus Prime rides a giant robot dinosaur (Grimlock) into battle, brandishing his newly minted blade. Each fight is lovingly choreographed to insanely entertaining levels.

The Autobots are sympathetic protagonists

When we first meet the Autobots, they are in a very bad spot — and the plot further cements that as we see the protagonists struggle to cope with their circumstances. Their vulnerability this time is what makes us empathise and feel sorry for the Autobots, driving us to root them from the very beginning of the film.

Lockdown is awesome

The new villain of the film, Lockdown, exudes enough mystique and attitude to make all of his onscreen appearances a treat to watch. Add to the fact that he's physically a match for even the most powerful Transformers, and you have all the makings of a credible threat to the Autobots. Also, he's got a great car mode.

Tessa Yeager (Nicola Peltz). (Paramount Pictures)
Tessa Yeager (Nicola Peltz). (Paramount Pictures)

But what did the "Transformers: Age of Extinction" miss the mark in?

Cade Yaegar is irritating and obnoxious

Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), the main human character of the film, is glaringly annoying caricature. He repeatedly whines about his daughter (Nicola Peltz), bludgeoning the fact that he really, really, really loves her across our heads endlessly. Add that to the fact that he seems completely oblivious to the danger around him and insists on lecturing all and sundry in life threatening situations, and you sincerely wish that he'd be one of the casualties in the film. Spoiler: he's not.

Antagonists are not clearly defined

The flip side of having well defined protagonists is that not much attention is paid to the bad guys, leaving you wonder — just what is going on, and why are they fighting the Autobots? Don't get me wrong, the fights are fantastically fun romps, but what is happening with those Decepticons? Are they even Decepticons?

The plot makes you wonder if you missed something

The plot presents several questions to you, such as the origin of the Transformers, which look like they will be resolved by the end of the movie. They're not. In fact, by the end of the movie it's apparent that these are mysteries that will fuel future sequels. But until you reach the end, you'll get this lingering sense that you missed something in the movie.

Optimus Prime rides Grimlock into battle. (Paramount Pictures)
Optimus Prime rides Grimlock into battle. (Paramount Pictures)

"Transformers: Age of Extinction" had a lot going for it, but it's marred by several distinct flaws that prevent this from being one of the better instalments in the "Transformers" franchise. It felt more like a set up for the next few sequels, rather than a self-contained story by itself. However, there's no denying the sheer number of amazing visual spectacles in this movie, and if you can overlook its less polished areas, "Transformers: Age of Extinction" is worth watching.

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? Yes, if you're a Transformers fan.

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? Yes.

Transformers: Age of Extinction opens in cinemas 26 June, 2014 (Thursday).