About half-way through the press screening for Transformers: Age of Extinction, babelicious Nicola Peltz was running from an alien that wanted to do inappropriate things to her, Mark Wahlberg had just figured out a nifty new way to blast bad robots to smithereens, and misfit transformers were quipping madly as they shifted in and out of the shape of mindblowingly cool vehicles, when my cell buzzed.
Lighting has struck the house, my teen daughter said.
Smoke is billowing from the basement, she said.
911 ensued. A frantic drive home happened. About 176 firefighters streamed through my home (I say fireFIGHTERS because I glimpsed one lady FF in the mix. You go girl!).
Thank God, and I say that 100% sincerity, no one was hurt and the blast that scorched a basement wall did not catch into a serious fire. My beloved 70 foot tulip poplar gave its life to protect us and ours.
Much like a Transformer, but, you know, organic and non-transforming and stuff.
I may never know if Wahlberg’s character Cade Yeager and his daughter Tessa (Peltz) made it out of angry giant robot peril and back to their All-American farm home.
Who am I kidding?
Of course I know even without seeing the end.
So I shall fragrantly review this film without having seen the last hour or so.
Yeager is a single father trying to make a living for his teen daughter on the old farmstead in Texas. He tinkers and invents and repairs electronics. She studies, stresses about his future, and frets about his strict no-boys rules while wearing supermicromini shorts.
Needless to say, since this is a Michael Bay film, Tessa is hot. She continues to be hot as she rides various sentient vehicles, traipses around alien spaceships, and alternately flees and feebly fights. Presumably, she remains hot until the end of the movie.
Tessa’s hotness is more innocent than Megan Fox’s was in earlier movies, even when it’s revealed she has a secret boyfriend who just happens to be an Australian rally-car racer. Shane (Jack Reynor) comes along for the adventure and, although there’s some slight references to making-out, there’s not the underlying thread of kind of gross sexuality that wove through earlier installments, at least not in the first half. The tone is different.
Rated PG-13, mostly for intense action and violence, including a poor bro who gets burned to a cripsy nugget, there’s only one incidence of an expletive in the first half. Judging by the first half, at least, this is a film I feel a lot more comfortable taking a kid to than previous versions.
And that’s a good thing because the machines are still awesome. Bumblebee is back, along with a motley crew of autobots that includes a Buggati Veyron. The autobots are being hunted by a power-hungry quasi-govermental operative (Kelsey Grammar) who sees all Transformers as bad, in alliance with some sort of matte black uber-Transformer from another place. They’re joined by an inventor (Stanley Tucci), who out-manaicals even Steve Jobs in his desire to control the technology.
But these plot elements come and go, falling by the wayside in lieu of robot battles and lots of explosions, with breaks for Wahlberg to exude his normal-American-guy-in-tough-circumstances-making-good charm.
And, of course, for Tessa to be hot, or in peril, or hot and in peril.
The themes in these movies are painted in broad strokes: The eternal nobility of Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullin), the decent goodness of Yeager.
One welcome theme making its way into blockbusters these days is the unease with government overreach. This film features an American government out of control, shadowy figures running the show in the name of fighting terrorism, crony businessmen taking away lives and rights for their bottom line, a mealy-mouthed and hilarious Presidential aide (Thomas Lennon) trying ineffectively to assert his authority.
“But I’m an American,” shouts one doomed bro as government thugs step on his neck and grind his face into the dirt.
The implication being, of course, that Yeager’s grit and decency is American and those slick agents, not so much. Let’s see more of that theme!
Overall, the movie is long, even at the half-way point, loud, and doesn’t make much sense. It’s well crafted in the sense of having good effects and fight scenes, but it’s not well-crafted in the sense of story or pacing or arc.
Sometimes, however, we all want to pass up the rich bouquet of a nice pinot noir for the froth of a Miller Light.
There’s no shame in that.
Now, go home and hug your trees and tell them you love them.