“You’ve got to have faith, Prime. In who we can be.”
It’s been five years since the Transformers laid waste to Chicago in a massive no-guns-barred battle. Mankind has since become very anti-Transformer. You can’t really blame them for that, but in the mess of the aftermath, they’ve become incapable of separating the good ones from the bad ones. As the CIA agent in charge of hunting the Transformers says, “There are no good aliens or bad aliens. There’s just us and them.”
Us and them mentalities are very dangerous. In many cases they’re flat-out evil, as our country saw in horrors like slavery and the KKK, and as the world saw through the Nazis. Jehovah really is the only one who knows how many innocents were killed in the wake of those kinds of horrors, but for a man like Harold Attinger, there’s no devil he wouldn’t make a deal with to rid his planet of those towering, murderous monsters.
Cade Yeager, on the other hand, is very different sort of man. He’s an inventor who’s hit an unlucky streak and is doing all he can to raise the money for his little girl to go to college. Of course, his little girl isn’t so little anymore, and is about to graduate from high school. While she loves her dad a lot, she’s getting tired of his old-fashioned strict rules, causing tension in the household. And there’s nothing quite like her father bringing an injured Transformer home to dramatize things even more.
At the most casual glance, Age of Extinction is a huge improvement from the first three films. The same problems of incoherent plot and a ridiculously long screenplay are still present, but a huge chunk of the previous films’ sexual content and innuendo has been cut out. The previous cast has been replaced by one with far better talent, with Michael Wahlberg, Kelsey Grammar, and Stanley Tucci bringing what the previous films never could – a compelling human cast.
Digging to a deeper level, however, I can’t help but notice a troubling theme emerging. The film’s primary theme is forgiveness, in a sense. Optimus is driven to desperation, and wants to give up on the humans, but Cade begs him to have hope, and to hold out for the ones who aren’t bad. It’s an extremely quiet theme, drowned out by all of the CGI gun-blazing battles, but it’s the primary one nonetheless. The more troubling theme comes when the bigger villain is revealed (some spoilers are contained in the following paragraphs).
It’s revealed later on in the movie that the Transformers weren’t “born,” they were created. And for some unknown reason, their creator wants Optimus Prime. The makers have less than virtuous motives, and the bad guy tells Optimus that they “just want you to do as you’re told!” So not only is the Transformers god-figure the bad guy, but he’s arrogant and domineering as well, which is why Optimus rises up in opposition.
There are two directions to go with this. The first is a very dark place where God is the bad guy and wants to limit his creations for his own malicious purposes. The second is one where we would compare the Transformers god-figure to a pagan god, and we can compare ours to theirs, and say that we’re blessed to have a merciful and loving God. Frankly, if it’s either of the two, I’d bet on the first one.
With that said, I really can’t bring myself to believe that Michael Bay’s robotic thriller, drowning in half-hour-long fight scenes, intended to make a theological statement. I find it even harder to believe that a significant percentage of the film’s viewers left the theater asking theological questions. But while that may be an aspect of the film that I can shrug off, there are other things in the film that I’m not so comfortable throwing a dismissive hand at.
Cade is, by my definition, a good father. He’s a single dad, making the most of what he has, and he does at times need his daughter to keep him grounded on planet Earth, but he still does the best he can. Part of doing the best he can means barring his daughter from dating until 18 (she’s 17 at the time the film is taking place). But any promise the film might have of espousing sexual purity is quickly dashed, as we learn that she’s been seeing the 20-year-old Shane behind her father’s back. Shane does come in useful for the film’s plot, saving them from a CIA hit squad and providing extra drama by butting heads with Cade. Ultimately, however, he’s used to justify a sexually active teenager, both through the exposition of a “Romeo and Juliet” law that makes their intercourse legal, and Cade’s ultimate acceptance of the boy, which has an effect similar to that of the infamous Little Mermaid: Arrogant, out-of-touch daddy should have listened to his little girl, because he doesn’t actually know best.
The film has much to offer by way of fanfare and sick action scenes . . . as long as you don’t count the dinobots in that, because they’re only in the movie for about five minutes. Looking beyond that, there’s plenty of action, including a cool cast of new Transformers, and a greater deal of comical relief, belly-laughs at times, which combines with the superior cast to make this a better movie than the last three, in terms of cinematic quality. It’s also a better film in terms of content, because while Tessa and Shane’s relationship makes light of fornication, the girl actually can act, which cuts out much of the would-be objectification. Still, even though I’m much more comfortable sitting through the content of this movie than the last three, I can’t help but wonder if that’s a testament to this film’s quality, or a realization of just how bad the first three were.