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Eye on Film: Transformers: Age of Extinction

The blockbuster season is upon us.

The blockbuster season is upon us. And everyone has been waiting patiently for the fourth installment of the Transformers film franchise.  As far as blockbusters go, Transformers 4: Age of Extinction has all the prerequisites to be a summer blockbuster.  It has an A-list star in Mark Wahlberg, a pretty female heroine in Nicola Peltz, a sinister antagonist in Kelsey Grammar, and a plot where human greed is the impetus for the coming of Armageddon. Cutting edge special effects and giant robots aside, you have a syrupy sweet and slightly inappropriate love interest for Peltz’s character Tessa Yeager in Jack Reynor.  To top it off, with director Michael Bay and his signature slow-motion explosions at sunset, you have everything needed for American audiences to swallow it all whole, right? Well, maybe. 

Though there were things included in Transformers 4 that make us all wet our pants at the myriad of eye-candy that is inherent with films of this type, there are also a ton of heavy-handed American cinematic clichés contained therein as well.  In fact, there are so many clichés that rolling one’s eyes was almost a prerequisite for getting to the end of the film. 

Where shall we start?  Let’s begin with the primary protagonist: Cade Yeager, played by Mark Wahlberg. He’s an inventor and tinkerer who finds a battered Optimus Prime still in truck mode. Because Prime’s power source has been severely damaged, Yeager thinks the dilapidated truck is just a beat-down vehicle. He hooks up a few jumper cables and, boom, Yeager realizes he’s in possession of a Transformer.  The problem is that Wahlberg is not believable as a scientist. Not for one minute. Also, his character is supposed to be from Texas. But Wahlberg never attempted a southern drawl. Perhaps he was a transplant. Either way, it is imperative that suspension of disbelief is exercised with impunity in all science fiction ventures. 

We don’t have to be taken to the edge of realism with every aspect, but there were times when Transformers 4: Age of Extinction didn’t even try to be believable. It’s not like alien robots from outer space are realistic at all.  But the humans were rather unrealistic in their behavior.  The Tessa Yeager character was unnecessary, making it hard to see what she added to the film other than eye candy. 


And in the past, Director Michael Bay has been taken to task for the manner in which he humanized several Transformers along racially stereotypical lines.  Bay continues along those lines with Drift, an Autobot who is stylized in the manner of a Japanese samurai.  Outfitted in traditional head rest and fighting in a pseudo martial arts manner, there’s nothing wrong with this racial robot take. But he didn’t have to speak in broken English accented by a face that’s golden yellow. Hasn’t Bay learned anything from the firestorm that ensued last time after Revenge of the Fallen. Remember the ghetto speaking Autobots that transformed into ice cream trucks from Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen? Negative internet chatter grew from this past film, with concerns over Transformer twins Skids and Mudflap whose nuances seemed stereotypically black and ghetto. Although Drift is voiced by Japanese actor Ken Watanabe, is it any less racist because an Asian brother was involved?


The typical American worldview was on display throughout the film.  For example, there was the lovely Su Yueming, played by Bingbing Li.  She’s a beautiful Asian woman dressed in all black throughout the movie. From the very first moment that she interacts with Stanley Tucci, who played inventor Joshua Joyce, she speaks Chinese.  Joyce, in turn, reminds her that he doesn’t speak the language. Later in the film, we find out that she just happens to be a martial arts expert. While in another scene at a Beijing factory, a random elevator passenger of Chinese descent also happens to be a martial arts expert as well.  Enormous sighs could be heard throughout the theater.  It would not be responsible of The Shadow League to call anyone racist for these things.  This is, after all, a film made for an American audience. And this type of racial stereotyping tendency is typically American. 

As if those seemingly innocent instances of American racism weren’t enough, the dialogue of this film was sophomoric as well. And at nearly 3 hours long, every time the audience seemed satisfied that the film was about to come to climax and end, it was as if the writers were like, “And then what happened was…”  They seemed to force themselves to add an extra scene whenever possible. Sure, everyone wants more bang for their movie buck, but this film is way too long. There are no children on the face of the Earth that will be able to sit still for this stretch. Bathroom breaks and concession stand runs will be impending, multiple times.

However, most people go to summer blockbuster films to see lots of explosions and jaw-dropping computer graphics. And, on a positive note, that’s exactly what they will get with Transformers 4: Age of Extinction. The fight scenes between Optimus Prime and new antagonist Lockdown are seamless and as close to life-like as possible.  The Dino Bots were truly epic to behold.  Standing taller than Optimus Prime, who is the largest of the Autobots, the Dino Bots were as terrifying and destructive as any gleeful fan could possibly dream.  However, they appeared in only 10 minutes of the film.  I would have liked to have seen more of them in all their fire-belching glory. And like the Dino Bots, there just wasn’t enough of Galvatron, the rebirth of Megatron. Although his new form is, as the kids say, "Bad ass."  


I can’t honestly sit here and say Transformers 4: Age of Extinction was a completely good film. But it is the least horrible of the entire franchise. And surprisingly, the least stupid.  

All-in-all, Hasbro needs to wrestle control of this franchise from Michael Bay and give it to someone who actually cares about characters and doesn’t rely so much on slow motion action scenes.  Despite our concerns, we predict that this movie will still be a $100 million film, no matter how long and silly it is. No matter how much better we feel it could have been.


 The Shadow League gives Transformers: Age of Extinction a C-. 

Ricardo A Hazell has served as Senior Contributor with The Shadow League since coming to the company in 2013. His byline has appeared in the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the South China Sea Post, the Root and many other publications. At TSL he is charged with exploring re black cultural angles of where they intersect with the mainstream.