Let’s get this out of the way immediately: Transformers: Age of Extinction has, without a doubt, the worst dialogue I’ve ever heard in any movie I’ve ever seen – and that includes purposely campy B-movies. The dialogue is more a collection of phrases, a parody of what should actually be said in dramatic situations, or just the same one-liner (“I’m coming for you” is uttered by no less than four characters in this film) on repeat to the backdrop of a pseudo-rock soundtrack by Imagine Dragons and explosions as giant robots throw humans 200 ft into the air.
If you cannot get past the dialogue, just plain don’t see this movie. If you cut the action out, and watched this movie with nothing but the “dramatic tension,” you’d have about an hour of just painfully and laughably bad words.
So yeah, the script is bad, awful, other synonyms, but here’s the thing – this movie is without a doubt the closest translation of the 80s cartoon being brought to life yet, and that nostalgia, complete with (as they’re lovingly referred to in my household) Motherf***ing Dinobots! makes Transformers: Age of Extinction still watchable, and even enjoyable, if you can just turn off your brain and look at the pretty pictures.
It’s the most damning positive statement ever made about a movie, to be sure: “Yeah, this movie’s not so bad if not for every word spoken in it.” The actors in the film, despite the script they’re working from, commit so strongly it is nothing short of remarkable. From the action hero bravado of Mark Wahlberg (who plays Cade Yeager, the most generic action-star name humanly possible), who frequently seems like he can’t quite believe he’s sitting there talking to a giant CGI robot (and has the most ham-fisted over-protective father character ever), to the why-is-an-actor-this-good-in-so-many-bad-movies Stanley Tucci, who goes from scenery-chewing villain to comic relief with a snap of the fingers in a way few, if any, other actors would ever think possible. In fact, Tucci is largely responsible for the destruction and titular possible extinction in the first place, but winds up a hero in a twist everyone saw coming. Kelsey Grammer rounds out the human cast as the, um, other scenery-chewing villain (yes, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, and Titus Welliver are in this movie, as well as a handful of others, but let’s be honest, aside from Welliver they do nothing in this movie but get thrown around and read bad script lines). Grammer, like Tucci before him, does the best work he can with this script, and when he eventually gets what’s coming to him (because come on, you know he will), it is a satisfying and even comical moment.
Nay, the stars of this film are definitely not the humans, it’s the giant robots in disguise. Having only seen the first movie and part of the second, that was my #1 problem with the previous films in this franchise. They were called “Transformers,” but the humans were the stars. This movie treats the bots as the main characters, finally, and while the script doesn’t do much to support them, you do wind up actually caring for the Autobots and their plight. The wooden dialogue isn’t consequential here, as coming out of the mouths of two-story tall robots, it doesn’t have the same negative effect. Hearing John Goodman as inexplicably bearded robot Hound say, “I’m like a fat ballerina!” is probably worth the price of admission alone. In a world not unlike what’s been shown in TV shows like The 4400 or Heroes or in five decades of X-Men comics, the Autobots are hated and feared right alongside their Decepticon enemies, and being hunted down. Again, you will absolutely care more about random Autobots who are tortured or killed in 2 minutes of screen time than you will about any of the human characters on screen for the rest of the movie, and that’s exactly how I like it.
As for the action, well, there are a few utterly cheesy, and let’s say it – Michael Bay – moments. At this point, one of two things has happened with his films: either he is 100% aware of his ridiculous tropes, whether it be three people running in slow motion from an inconceivably large explosion (they’d have significant burns and/or blunt force trauma being that close – take it from this ex-military writer), or the 70s-style pop pyrotechnics appearing at regular intervals on either side of the action; or his special effects have been used so much they’ve actually gained their own awareness, becoming sentient and demanding screen time, holding the poor man hostage. Can’t you see what you’ve done to poor Michael Bay by giving his explosions so much attention?
I digress. Aside from the “if this doesn’t appear in a Michael Bay movie he gets your first born” explosions, the action in this movie is pitch perfect. Quick transformations (including the new liquid-metal style Transformers the humans create), awesome new cars, and fights that carry real weight to the punches make this look more like what you’d close your eyes and imagine a real-life Transformers fight would be, and less like the cartoony and weightless action of the first film. There’s not quite as much vehicle action as I’d like, aside from one decent chase sequence, but the robots beating up robots quotient is more than met. And then, about 2 hours into this long 2 hour 45 min film, enter finally: the Motherf***ing Dinobots! When Optimus Prime awakens the “Legendary Warriors” as he addresses them (more on that in a moment), and they come charging out , transforming from massive (about 3-5 times bigger than regular Transformers) robots into their dinosaur form, every ounce of enjoyment and nostalgia I had from watching the original cartoon and playing with the original toys rushed in, filling my soul. Grimlock, Slag, Snarl, and Swoop (though he looks more like a recent Predacon than his original incarnation) storming the big screen is just plain exciting. I don’t know if I’ll watch this full movie again, but you can bet when it hits Netflix I’ll watch every Dinobot scene about 100 more times. They don’t talk, not even in their primitive manner, but that’s okay. They’re super-powerful, loyal to Optimus, and just plain kick all sorts of ass on the screen. The only real complaint about the Dinobots is that they’re in comparably such a small portion of the movie.
About that loyalty to Optimus Prime. The movie introduces one of my favorite concepts from the comic books, the Knights of Cybertron. While they only lightly touch on the subject, they do denote Optimus Prime as one of the Knights, and imply that others are out there in the movie universe. It was a neat bit of nod to the work IDW’s writers have been doing, expanding the world. It’s one of my favorite modern concepts for the franchise, and again, it was exciting to see that concept come to life.
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the closest movie yet to bringing the cartoon to life, with all the good and bad that comes with that statement. That means there was some awful dialogue, a couple cool mythology-building story elements, awesome action, Autobots you cared about and humans who were utterly disposable. While it could’ve been shorter, had way more Dinobots action, and about 90 script rewrites, none of that takes away from the nostalgia and heart-warming childhood glee I felt from watching this movie. If I were 12 years old today, I would likely try to see this movie in the theaters twenty times. If you can get past the dialogue and just let go of your preconceptions, letting the child inside you roam free (especially if you’re an old-school Transformers fan), you’ll have fun with this movie despite yourself.