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For some reason, I had a thought that if the story of this film was made as a montage (without dialogue) along the lines of the montage sequence that can be seen in Pixar’s Up, which in my opinion, is one of the best montages ever, this film might be better as an overall experience, with a story that means something. Now, you might be asking as you read this, ‘didn’t you know that you weren’t going to get a meaningful, thoughtful viewing experience going in?’ My answer to that question would be ‘yes’, but I guess I wanted this one to be a little different as it is the first in a new trilogy of films. I had to remind myself that this was Michael Bay’s playpen after all, and if I was going to glean any enjoyment from the act of watching him play with his Transformer toys, then I was going to have to turn off the brain.
Turning off the brain is something that you must do yourself upon entering this film, or else Michael Bay will do it for you. The movie is just like an action ride at a theme park in every sense. Whatever semblance of a story that is present is there only to string huge action sequences together. It felt very much like the action sequences were thoroughly planned out before the actual story of this film was written. Instead of the action being driven by the story, it works the other way around here.
The characters are for the most part cardboard cutouts with no real depth. Only a handful standout. Mark Wahlberg for instance, is solid enough as Cade Yeager and is a great addition to the Transformers universe. He isn’t as over-the-top as Shia LeBeouf was at times (though I did enjoy LeBeouf in the first trilogy of films), but Walhberg brings a different kind of vitality to his role as the youthful father and struggling inventor trying to provide for his daughter, Tessa, played by Nicola Peltz, who is criminally underutilized, criminally with a capitol ‘C’. Like Megan Fox and Rosie Huntington-Whitely before her, Peltz is the standard damsel in distress, which is a real shame because she can do much more. Sure, she does a bit of fighting, but she serves a primary purpose, which is to be saved.
Jack Reynor, who some might know from last year’s Vince Vaughn film Delivery Man, was annoying as Tessa’s boyfriend Shane Dyson. He felt unnecessary to the story and in fact, it might have been better that the focus was solely on the relationship between Cade and Tessa. Shane is essentially there to introduce new conflict between Cade and his daughter, but there was enough conflict between them with Cade being an overbearing single father struggling to make ends meet and find a way to put his daughter through college.
The true gems of this film though, were easily Kelsey Grammer and Stanley Tucci who play Harold Attinger and Joshua Joyce respectively. The two bring a mix of gravitas and a different humor, especially Tucci. They elevate the situations in this film, similar to what Frances McDormand did for Dark of the Moon. The two seem to be having a great deal of fun and if nothing else in this movie makes any sense, they do. They are the anchors of this film. Titus Welliver gets the honorable mention here as the Cemetery Wind (awesome name) field operative James Savoy, who lost a sister in the final events of Dark of the Moon. He is truly menacing and very physical in this role, which he plays with great conviction.
From a technical standpoint, this movie is as good as it gets. Michael Bay proves nothing new here. We all know what a master he is at staging ridiculously complex, beefy action sequences and executing them like the pro he is. It all looks so easy. Some of the sequences run on a bit long, but they are quite entertaining. The shortest action sequence funnily enough, has nothing to do with robots or explosions, but rather, is a paired down human versus human confrontation and it is probably the best action sequence of the film, I dare say. Visually, this film also does a number on you. Hong Kong and other parts of China specifically are artfully shot. Michael Bay’s particular choice of camera movements and angles do a great deal of work in making the locations pop out at you.
Straight entertaining popcorn fare is basically what this film is. Nothing more. I feel like the further we go along with these movies, the further away we get from anything meaningful in the way of how humans can intimately relate in large scale situations like the ones depicted in these films. That was what made Bay’s original Transformers so strong. The central focus was about “a boy and his car”, as Steven Spielberg once said. This one would have been great if the focus was about a father and his daughter. No dice this time around, but there’s always the next one. At the bottom of the cereal box, I know it’s Michael Bay and I know what I’m going to get, but for at least one of the next couple films, shouldn’t the Transformers experience actually live up to the tagline and be, you know, more than meets the eye?