I saw Transformers: Age of Extinction on Friday.
I've had kind of a weird history with the Transformers movies. Every time I've walked out of a Transformers movie, I've been happy with it.
Despite the stupidity of the first movie, getting to see actual photorealistic transformers on the big screen was too much of a dream come true for me to not be happy. Every time I've seen it since, I've liked it less and less. Last time I watched it (which was last week,) I realized that a good 70% of the movie does not matter. Literally, you could cut out most of the movie and the story would still work.
With the second movie, my expectations were so incredibly low (I'd read early reviews) that *anything* good in that movie would have pleasantly surprised me. Also, I walked in thinking, "all I want is to see giant robots smashing each other, and for Optimus Prime to have one awesome fight scene." And both of those things happened on an EXTREME level, so I was incredibly pleased. Then I saw the movie again and thought, "...is this the same movie I saw last week? This is seriously bad..."
The third movie I think is the only one that, on some level, actually succeeds as a Transformers movie. The action works, there's less stupidity, and it focuses primarily on the transformers themselves rather than the humans. Upon repeat viewings I've liked it far less, but I still don't hate the movie. It has some big problems, but I do still like it to a mild degree.
And then we have this new movie. Transformers: Age of Extinction. I'm really not sure why they didn't just title it Trans4mers, or Tr4nsformers, or Transformers: 4ge of Extinction, or T4: Judgment Day, but whatever.
After the gigantic battle in Chicago in the last movie, all transformers—including the Autobots—are now pariahs from humanity. A bounty hunter transformer, Lockdown, who is neither Autobot nor Decepticon, is aiding the CIA in hunting down the remaining transformers on Earth. When we find Optimus Prime, he's wounded, barely alive, and rightly pissed at humanity for betraying him. He's seen his allies slaughtered and their bodies used for scrap metal; he's completely done with his mantra of, "we must protect humanity at all costs." That storyline is incredibly cool. It's not dumb, it's done well, and it's a legitimately great new idea for Transformers. But that only goes so far.
At some point in the movie (really it's when the rest of the Autobots are introduced into the story), the story takes a nosedive back into the cartoony, ridiculous nonsense that plagued the first three movies. Now, this movie doesn't have any of the absolutely horrendous things from the old movies. There's nothing in Age of Extinction even approaching the level of racism and stupidity from the Twins in Revenge of the Fallen. There's no robot testicles like in Revenge of the Fallen. While there is a "hot girl" in the movie, she's nowhere near as molested-by-the-camera as Megan Fox or Rosie Huntington-Whitely were. What this movie does have in the negative category, though, is length. This movie is almost three hours long. And it honestly only needed to be maybe an hour and forty minutes. There's so much unnecessary fluff in T4 that it's sickening. It's like no one hired an editor. Toward the end of the movie, I was sitting there wanting to scream at the screen. I wanted all the robots to die, not for story reasons, but just because I wanted the movie to end. Ironically, the lack of goofiness in the movie only hurt it—without the campy nonsense to lighten the mood, a long Transformers movie is a complete chore to get through.
And then there was one last fight scene at the end—not over-the-top, well-choreographed, and all in all very well done. It actually made me a little bit bitter at the movie. It started off with a really great premise, worked well up to a point, then went sour for an hour and a half. And then it ended with a great fight scene that only seemed to remind us how good the movie could have been.
And that's the thing, really. I've seen tons of movies that let me down as a fan of the story: Superman Returns, The Last Airbender, Man of Steel... and this one. I don't put the other Transformers movies on that list primarily because they didn't exactly disappoint me. I've never been 100% certain that a live-action Transformers movie could work the way it does in animation and comics. But here, for the first time, we got a glimpse into a world where Transformers movies were good. And it was squashed in that same movie. Age of Extinction is the Icarus of Transformers movies.