Welcome to the Wild Wild Podcast #5
Join co-host Erika “Spunky Destructor” and I as we discuss our Transformers cartoon & movie marathon, including Michael Bay’s latest offering of Autobots vs Decepticons with Transformers: Age of Extinction.
I’m biased. So shoot me. Honestly though, minus a few fascinating individuals that eat a daily regimen of dirt while aimlessly wandering the earth with aluminum foil on their heads waiting to hear from a higher being to instruct them on what their next pair of underwear should be made out of, who isn’t? If you think you are completely free of partialities, then take a long hard look in the mirror. Unless of course you have a tendency to do that that too much already and in that case, please step away from the reflective surface and try to get some fresh air.
I bring up the biases in conjunction with the release of Michael Bay’s latest chapter of rock’em sock’em robots, Transformers: Age of Extinction. Ever since the release of the first film in 2007, there has been some pretty heavy debate as to how Bay has handled the beloved toy line turned cartoon from the 1980’s. There are those who feel he turns whatever he touches into piles of dog feces larger than the explosions that grace most of his films.
I’m not going to get too deep into the pros and cons of a guy whose ultimate goal is to blow up every man-made structure in 3D. I touch a bit on it in the podcast, but that’s generally where my biases come into play. From someone who has religiously watched all of the cartoon incarnations of the robot shape-shifters, the key is to recognize the overarching theme of what Hasbro’s golden property has always been. Transformers is about ginormous alien robots that change into machines and kick the ever-loving Energon snot out of each other. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s good versus evil in the most basic of forms.
While I’m somewhat conflicted internally to say this, if you attempt to take in these films with any expectations outside of seeing robot-on-robot demolition porn, you’re going to the theater to watch these flicks for the wrong reasons and ultimately setting yourself up for the kind of disappointment that has you mass producing Michael Bay voodoo dolls. Love him or hate him, the guy understands the Transformers property to the extent to which he realizes how to plant butts in the seats.
Does that mean the movies are perfect and I’m a member of the Bayformer fan club? Not in the least. The movies have flaws and I harbor my own set of grievances that still plaque the Bay-verse (some of which I mention below and air on the podcast.) However, if you are a Transformer fan and you are willing to let go of the fact the first generation is 30 years old and would have been revised no matter who made it (G1’ers are you listening?) then you may just enjoy these flicks for what they are; movies that transform into roller-coaster rides; Age of Extinction being the wildest one yet. (Side note, Steve Jablonsky yet again rises to the occasion in delivering another memorable score.)
There’s a reason these movies account for about 94% of this country’s GDP. Transformer style movies are the popcorn flicks you go to view on 70’ tall theater screens. On a related aside, if you do plan on seeing TF4 at the multiplex, do yourself a favor and try to find it in IMAX 3D seeing as over half the film is presented in the larger format thanks to the new IMAX camera tech used for the first time specifically in conjunction with this film.
With my Bay dissertation out of the way, keeping in step with the fourth film, I will reveal the following two top 4 lists (NOTE: Only very minor spoilers lie below):
Top 4 reasons Age of Extinction has transformed into the second best Transformers movie thus far:
1) The Dinobots:
How do I put this subtly? I like dinosaurs. Always have, always will. Being that at the age of six my world revolved around the Transformers universe, you can understand the unhealthy obsession I’ve had with the dumb galoots known as the Dinobots ever since they were introduced back in 1984. Thus, seeing Grimlock transform and throw deceptions around with their mouths like a dog with a chew toy in a live-action movie instantly transported me to the awestruck days of my youth. It was akin to seeing Optimus Prime transform on screen for the first time during Bay’s original Transformers flick. It was that awesome.
One of the biggest complaints of the Bayformer films thus far has been the lack of distinguishing personalities the robots themselves have, with the exception of Optimus Prime of course who is voiced by the iconic Peter Cullen (whom has provided the voice for Prime since the very beginning… minus a few series breaks.) This time around, the robots are less in quantity but have a higher level of distinct dispositions thanks to John Goodman (Hound), Ken Watanabe (Drift), Mark Ryan (Lockdown) and voice-over vet John DiMaggio (Crosshairs). If that wasn’t enough, Bay and co. finally did right by Frank Welker by bringing him in to play Megatron 2.0 (aka Galvatron). For those unaware, Welker is to Megatron what Cullen is to Prime and voiced the Deception leader during the original cartoon series alongside Cullen.
3) Fresh Flesh:
Another well-voiced grievance of the Transformers series has been the abundance of screen time given to the human element of the film instead of focusing more on the robots. What’s more, with Shia Lebouf’s neurotic acting shtick getting a little long in the tooth (in addition to his sanity) the time for a new human cast couldn’t have come any sooner. Along with Lebouf, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson and the obnoxious John Turturro are all gone, replaced with Mark Wahlberg, Jack Reynor, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer and Titus Welliver. Wahlberg brings a more calm and grown-up demeanor that is a welcome change while Grammar and Welliver provide a much darker tone on the other end of the spectrum. I wasn’t originally going to mention Nicola Peltz seeing as her character is 17-year-old Tess Yeager because I didn’t want to come across like a creepy male horn-ball. However, now that I know she’s in reality already 19, I have no problems with everyone knowing I’m just your standard run-of-the-mill male horn-ball for bring up what a looker she is. Bay really does have a special gift for filling the lead female roles. (Good lord that sounded bad.)
4) Bye Bye Dopey Humor:
It took him four films, but Bay finally got the memo and decided to remove most of the goofy attempts at 7-year old humor present within the first three films that were never necessary in the first place. No more rambling Turturro, no more robots peeing on people, no more robotic genitalia and no more dimwitted Jar Jar Binks robots providing Excedrin inducing headaches. All of those elements take away from the excellent tone of these movies, and Age of Extinction succeeds in not jarring the ride with nonsense.
Top 4 issues Age of Extinction still couldn’t shake from its Transformer predecessors:
1) A Film and a Half:
With all of the money Bay is rolling in, you’d think he could at least afford a watch. For each element Bay fixes with this sequel, he continues to prove that he has zero sense of time. At a smidgeon over 2.5 hours, the film will test the patience of every bladder in the theater. With a silver lining in mind, I can appreciate the fact Bay is trying to give us the biggest bank for our buck length wise. Nevertheless, we are humans, not robots, and while we are indeed there for the ultimate in action, we also don’t want to be pummeled into unconsciousness for the sake of good intentions. All of the Transformers films could use a good 30 to 45 minutes off at the chop shop and still be fun flicks.
2) Hold the Camera Still:
I get it, I get it. The shaking camera is supposed to make the audience feel they are right there in the mix of things. Unfortunately, it also makes the audience feel like losing its $14 box of JuJubes. Thankfully, only bits and pieces of the movie were filmed in this style and not during scenes with actual Transformers in them. It was however noticeable during certain segments that I desperately wanted to look away, but didn’t dare turn my head in fear of missing something jaw-dropping on screen. I actually like how Bay uses the slow motion technique to give us better shots of robots transforming and fighting, but why he chooses to use the nausea cam for human centric moments is beyond me and my equilibrium.
3) Needs More G1:
As I noted above, I understand that seeing a live action facsimile of the 80’s cartoon is never going to happen, but it also probably wouldn’t have made a whole lot of sense at this point in time either. The cars and robot designs are outdated as are the stories themselves. Again, even if you think the plots are holier than the new Pope, they are miles ahead of the child friendly tales of 30 years ago. Granted, even though Bay does pay homage to a couple of elements from the original series (Cullen as Prime, etc) I among many others feel there is still plenty of room for the movies to be more faithful to the source material. For example, the toons were truly all about the robots and the humans were the sideshow. Thus we really got a sense of the individual Autobot and Decepticon personalities. Not to mention the fact Autobots never had a ruptured gasket in their body for humans like they seem to do in the movies (minus Prime). Lastly, the robot designs are a bit too weird for my liking. I like the aspect of knowing what vehicle the robot might turn into while he’s in robot form. If Bay doesn’t come back for a fifth movie – and he might not – then I say hit up IDW Comics for some great concept art of G1 Transformers updated properly.
4) Me Outlaw Want Dinobots to Speak:
This touches on the first thing I loved about this movie, but it also left me wanting more. What made the Dinobots great in the cartoon were their intelligence, or lack thereof. They would believe Elvis was still alive if you told them he was. Hell, if you told them you were Elvis they would hang on your every word. The most notable of the bunch was Grimlock, who started out every sentence with the venerable “Me Grimlock”. The fact the Dinos don’t talk in this film is a minor point, but of all the places Bay could have injected goofy – but much appreciate goofy – humor, I felt this would have been a perfect opportunity. I guess there’s always next time.
If this was Bay’s last foray at the helm of this franchise I’m not going to shed any tears, but I’m also not going to dance on his grave. Despite a few off-balance efforts, he finally provided a sequel worthy of the original with Age of Extinction and I thank him for bringing my childhood to life on screen in ways I could have never imagined. However, if a new director and production team do come in for a fifth movie, I would have zero complaints in seeing what new dynamic fresh blood could bring to the property because when it comes to the Transformers, there’s always “more than meets the eye.” (Come on now, like you didn’t see that coming.)
Don’t forget to check out the rest of my thoughts as well as those of Wild Wild Podcast co-host Spunky Destructor as we discuss Transformers Age of Extinction and our Transformers cartoon – movie watching marathon!