The Coherence of TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION (Bay, 2014)

More of the summer movie round-up:

Transformers: Age of Extinction is not nearly as bad many (most) are saying. In fact, for what it’s worth, I’d say it’s the best of the bunch! There’s been a lot of chirping about its incoherence, its lack of plot control and its total neglect of character in favor of high-octane but pointless action. Hardly. The movie’s got a 5-act structure that follows the Wahlberg character arc:

Act I. His goal to invent something that works (which he achieves).
Act II. His goal to find out who came after his family (which he achieves during his meeting with Grammar’s CIA baddie character).
Act III. His goal to rescue his daughter from Lockdown’s ship (which he achieves).
Act IV. His goal to get the “seed” out of Hong Kong (which he achieves, to a point, with the aid of Optimus and the Dinobots). This is where the movie really starts to crack, with some good timing in the form of a rewarding save-the-day moment and some quite frankly amazing disaster-film f/x.
Act V. His goal to help Optimus (the only Wahlberg “invention” that ever worked) defeat Lockdown (which he achieves in a cracking way–through a bit of nice teamwork).

Sure, his goals shift radically every act, but the script remains perfectly clear. Still, what may make this a dense weave at points is that Optimus is given a story arc linked to these acts, too (the old, “should we save the humans” dilemma, and he comes around, obviously); and that Tucci’s character also undergoes a transformation. He’s introduced in act II and goes from arrogant and showy baddie who wants to use his inventions to bring stability to the world (in a silly imperialist sorta way) to an entertaining and sympathetic comic character who wants to destroy the seed and save Hong Kong. He also has some of the best moments of the movie (the closeup of him slurping a tetra pack with the alien ship in the background is my favorite).

So, to make sense of a movie like this, look at the overall structure. Does the script clarify character traits and goals? Yes. Does it do so in the first two acts? Yes. Do scenes “hook” into one another to create an easy-to-follow causal chain of events and lend sense to the protagonist’s pursuit of his goals? Yes. Do we have dangling causes that launch questions and are they then answered in the next scene or later in the movie? Yes. Are the protagonist’s goals resolved? Yes. Does the movie have closure (i.e., all the major causal lines run their course in a comprehensible way)? Yes. Etc., etc. The claim that Age of Extinction is incoherent itself turns out to be incoherent.

If we stand back and take it all in, the movie is nothing new; but it has its thrills. And I for one was into the last line of the movie when Prime promises to hunt down his creators. Would I mind a sequel? Not in the least.

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