UNFAIR COMPARE: Transformers: The Movie vs. Transformers: Age of Extinction
I’ve had Transformers on my mind for the last week or so.
To be fair, I’ve had Transformers on my mind ever since I could walk. I mean, it’s a pretty ingenious concept: cars are cool, robots are cool, therefore cars that turn into robots are extra cool. I’d say it’s a hard concept to screw up, but, well, history has proven otherwise. I’ll get to that in a second.
But yeah! Transformers! In particular, BotCon (the big Transformer fan convention) was this past weekend, which started things off. I didn’t get to go to the convention, sadly, but I did follow some of the reveals for upcoming toys, which has gotten me all kinds of excited. Chromia! Roadbuster! Brainstorm! All shall be worthy additions to my Classics Shelf. (If someone asks nicely and/or I start running low on blog material, I’ll post a picture of it sometime).
Then, last Sunday, Alamo Drafthouse and 8th Dimension Comics did a screening of the original Transformers: The Movie. And at said screening, there was a Transformers trivia contest, which I handily won (seriously, I browse tfwiki for fun. There’s no way I could lose. I am inordinately proud of this fact), which got me a free pass to Transformers: Age of Extinction.
Which brings us to a new feature on Dial H for Houston: UNFAIR COMPARE.
Typically, whenever I’m in the mood to review a movie, I’d just go over to my buddy’s super-rad blog, A Brew To Kill. But, seeing as of how I couldn’t think of a good beer to pair with a Michael Bay movie, I’ve come up with a new feature instead.
Basically, it’s like this- I’ll look at an old version of a thing, then a new version, and weigh in on why one of them sucks and the other one doesn’t. Hopefully, this won’t entirely be me being old-man crotchety and saying how things were better back in my day, but I make no promises.
’cause seriously, Transformers 4 is pretty bad. Let’s just do a breakdown, shall we?
Transformers: The Movie has two humans in it. This is just enough humans for matters of scale, but other than that, well…it says Transformers: The Movie right there in the title. And damn if it doesn’t deliver.
Meanwhile, Age of Extinction has considerably more humans in it, much to the movie’s detriment. As one would expect from a Michael Bay flick, there’s entirely too much time spent on puny human stuff. Though I guess it’s a step up, because where the last three movies wasted tons of time chronicling Shia LaBouf’s efforts to get laid, Age of Extinction changes it up a bit in it’s obsessed with Mark Whalberg’s efforts to make sure his jailbait daughter doesn’t get laid. Thankfully, the purity ball scene must’ve been cut. The daughter character, Tessa, doesn’t really contribute anything to the movie- she just runs around with a spray tan and a look of Dull Surprise on her face.
Whalberg’s character is introduced as an inventor…but he never really invents anything. He never uses his brain to solve problems- he just gets a conveniently human-scaled sword-gun-thingie about halfway through the movie, and then actions it up.
And then you have the bad guy humans, in which Kelsey Grammer runs a squad of dudes from the last Call of Duty game who hunt down Transformers, no matter what side they’re on, because they hate robots that damn much. They hate them so much, in fact, that they team up with a completely different space robot so they can kill all the space robots.
Hey, wait a sec.
Also, there’s a billionaire entrepreneur dude who’s melting down Transformer corpses so he can make his own robots, which is a pretty fair evil scheme…except that he suffers no consequences at the end of the movie for being essentially a mad scientist. Hm.
Y’know what’s great about the old Transformers cartoon? There’s a BAJILLION characters. Admittedly, some of them are sketched out more than others, but there’s enough of them with enough variety that there’s always going to be room for obscure favorites in there. (Cosmos is the best, by the way). This variety of characters has served the franchise well, as there’s enough of a variety to play various personalities against each other in various combinations.
In comparison, Age of Extinction only has five Autobots in it. The breakdown, as follows:
Optimus Prime, a violent asshole.
Bumblebee, a mute violent asshole.
Crosshairs, a mercenary asshole.
Drift, a samurai asshole
And Hound, who is triggerhappy robot John Goodman.
Seriously, the ‘bots are pretty much introduced being at each other’s throats, which really galls me, especially since the original Autobots are a ragtag bunch…but they’re still soldiers, and Optimus Prime is still a proper leader, as opposed to a stabby psychopath who says “FOLLOW ME OR DIE.” Though to be fair to the movie, Drift was a terrible character in his G1 incarnation, so at least they got that much right. Drift is pretty much space robot Poochie.
I wound up liking Hound the best ’cause, y’know. John Goodman. And oh shit now I want to dub his lines over with Walter’s from The Big Lebowski.
Now, if you want some robots scheming against each other, the Decepticons are the ones to go to. I mean, that was Starscream’s whole schtick. Shame Starscream’s not in this movie. Really, I think having someone snidely going ‘I AM GOING TO BETRAY YOU MEGATRON’ would be entirely too subtle for Michael Bay.
Instead, we get Lockdown, who’s teamed up with Evil Frasier to capture Optimus Prime because…uh, reasons. Lockdown at least has a pretty cool spaceship that everyone goofs around on in the second act.
Later on, there’s an army of evil Decepticon-ish hatchbacks, but they’re mostly there to be evil mooks. That, and it kind of looks like they phoned it in on the CGI. Seriously, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen episodes of Power Rangers with better SFX in spots.
Now this? This is why I saw this movie. This is why I’ll see any movie, because there is no film that cannot be improved through the addition of goddamn robot dinosaurs. Even Gone With the Wind has room for a fire-breathing robot tyrannosaurus to burn down Georgia and you know it.
Using Transformers: The Movie as the baseline, the Dinobots are in a rather interesting niche. On the one hand, they’re kind of dumb (or at least childlike), which make them easily used as comic relief. On the other hand, they’re also goddamn robot dinosaurs, and thus are a force to be reckoned with. It’s a great contrast, having the comic relief characters also be some of the most dangerous.
And in Age of Extinction, the dinobots are just…there. They don’t get any dialogue- they’re just a plot device, shoehorned in for a big action scene, and then they just sort of wander off camera at the end. Because, you know, nobody’s going to notice a bunch of goddamn robot dinosaurs roaming around Hong Kong.
Transformers: The Movie uses the words “dammit” and “shit.”
Age of Extinction drops the one F-bomb you’re allowed to still stay PG-13, but it contributes little.
Jury’s still out on that, I guess.
INEXPLICABLE QUESTIONS I ASKED MYSELF DURING A MICHAEL BAY MOVIE DESPITE KNOWING BETTER
“What kind of sleepy west Texas town has an abandoned 3000+ seat movie theater? Seriously, that place looks like the Fox.”
“So you’re building a giant robot based on designs you found in Megatron’s brain. WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?”
“There are two Decepticons. There are five Autobots. Why are the Autobots running away? Why is Optimus Prime fighting by himself? Man, those Autobots are assholes.”
“Why is Tessa yelling for help? Why can’t she just run away from the robots who are ignoring her?”
“Wait. Lockdown’s secret weapon is picking things up and dropping them? That’s it? Doesn’t he have guns on his spaceship?”
Transformers: The Movie is hands-down superior to Age of Extinction in pretty much every way. I’m guessing you already knew that, though. Really, it’s not a matter of ‘it came first!’ or nostalgia, so much as the fact that the original Transformers movie was…fun. Sure, it’s a giant toy commercial, and it killed Optimus Prime (however temporarily), but it’s still a straightforward space opera adventure with a whole raft of fun characters. And that’s before you get into the stupidly fun power-rock soundtrack and celebrity voice actors.
In comparison, Age of Extinction is a sprawling mess of a movie, consisting of long stretches of boring human ‘drama’ punctuated occasionally by incomprehensible robot brawls. Really, the most telling thing was a shot about a third of the way through the movie, in which Lockdown and Optimus Prime are bashing each other on a warehouse rooftop…and yet the camera pans to follow Mark Whalberg & Co. driving away from the giant robot mayhem. Huh.
Really, the best thing I can say about the flick is that it wasn’t nearly as bad as Revenge of the Fallen, which is a pretty damn low bar to set.
Silver lining, at least I didn’t pay for my ticket. Optimism, people!
I need another beer.