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Transformers: Age of Extinction Trailer Deconstructed


The first full-length trailer for Transformers: Age of Extinction hit the web on Tuesday, presumably en-route to showing up in front of screenings of “300: Rise of An Empire,” and brought with it an utterly shocking, world-changing revelation:

This one doesn’t look half bad!

I’ll stop short of saying that it looks “good,” but they’re certainly selling something like an improvement on the first three: At least from what’s glimpsed in the trailer, Michael Bay seems to still be favoring broad-scope, fixed (or semi-fixed) shot compositions like in Pain & Gain as opposed to the unwatchable frenetic shooting from Revenge of The Fallen – I still wonder if I and others were correct that the technical challenges of shooting with 3D cameras has improved his technique? That wide shot of the villain (Galvatron, I’m assuming) emerging from the smoke with the big warship behind him? Stunning. There’s no trace of bad comedy… though that will almost certainly change, and while the much-ballyhooed overhauls of the robot designs aren’t quite as extreme a departure from the previous films as I’d hoped I can’t deny that they look better.

Finally, let’s just face it: Even without the automatic brownie points he gets just for not being Shia LaBeouf, Mark Wahlberg, the actor whose ability to exist in the forms of Tough-Guy Hero and Adult Child simultaneously borders on the supernatural, is remarkably perfect casting for a giant-scale ultra-macho action movie based on toy trucks that are also toy robots.

I mean, there’s a scene in here where Wahlberg’s character, Cade Yeager (CADE!!! YEAGER!!!!), is working alone on a broken-down truck – which he does not yet know is actually a dormant Optimus Prime – and talks to it with the same basic inflection and emotion you’d expect from an animal doctor giving a checkup to the world’s most nervous Saint Bernard. On discovering that this is indeed Prime, he delivers the line “…I think we just found a Transformer!!!” in such a way that the emotional subtext sounds less like “Oh! It’s one of those alien robots!” than it does “Aw, man! I had one a’ these when I was a kid, yo! Transformers were SICK!” and I kind of love that.

Transformers: Age of Extinction Stills

Also there are GIANT ROBOT DINOSAURS, which means that this movie is incapable of not being just a little bit good. That’s just science.

But beyond all that, the trailer provides very little information as to what actually might be going on here. The film’s plot has been kept a secret for reasons unknown, other than some character names and a vague assertion that this takes place sometimes after the previous three films but is otherwise the start of a wholly new story (and trilogy.) Instead, we’re left with a lot of questions. For example:

What happened to the Transformers?

When Cade Yeager (CADE!!! YEAGER!!!!) finds Optimus Prime, he’s dormant in the form of a rusted-out 1980s-style truck (reminiscent of his original toy/cartoon form, cute) that looks to have been shot to pieces with high-caliber rounds. A billboard glimpsed earlier reads “Remember Chicago,” and entreats us to “Report Alien Activity” while offering a phone number which, when called IRL, directs to a viral marketing site

No sooner does Cade activate Prime than Government Agents show up to harass him about it, leading to a shootout. Kelsey Grammer, whose sinister bureaucrat Harold Attinger is supposedly our main human antagonist, grumbles that “The age of The Transformers… is over.” as we see an Autobot(?) getting hunted down and blasted to bits by soldiers. The new Bumblebee transforms next to an unidentified red Transformer as a bespectacled Stanley Tucci smugly informs him “We don’t need YOU anymore!” Available character bios list Tucci as Joshua (no last name) a designer who “wants to build his own robots.”

Transformers: Age of Extinction Stills

So, what we’re meant to infer here is that someone decided to wipe out The Transformers after all that destruction from the previous films. If so, that’s pretty interesting, especially if it means The Autobots and the U.S. Military are now enemies (or at least no longer friends.) The idea of “Joshua” and his robots (is that what the red guy with BumbleBee is?) also intrigues me: Were The Autobots actually wiped out to make way for human-built replacements who could be more directly controlled – perhaps as some kind of commentary on the replacement of human soldiers by Drone Warfare? That… actually sounds like something that Bay (whose fondness for members of the armed forces is well noted) actually would have strong opinions on. Would he choose to address it in a “Transformers” sequel? I… perversely kind of hope so.

Who is the human hero?

Wahlberg’s Yeager (who, by the way, is supposed to be a “struggling inventor”) is the human focus of this first trailer in a “Look! Mark Wahlberg is in our movie!” way, but it’s not 100% clear that he’s the actual star. Yeager has a teenaged daughter (Nicola Peltz) whose boyfriend (Jack Reynor) is a race car driver named Shane Dyson (these NAMES!!!) – are we being faked out by the focus on Wahlberg, when in reality we’re just going to get another interminable teenage romance?

Who are the robot villains?

It’s already known that there are enemy Transformers identified as Decepticons in the film, but not where they came from: Are these Joshua’s “replacements?” Remaining post-Megatron Decepticon stragglers? Or something else…

Transformers: Age of Extinction Stills

See, Age of Extinction is another high-profile Chinese/American co-production like Iron Man 3, with a portion of the film shot and taking place in China and featuring both established Chinese movie stars (along with newbies picked by a reality TV show – the Transformers movies are enormously popular in China) in prominent roles. One of these is Li Binbing, whose character Su Yueming is cryptically described as “CEO of The Chinese Transformers.”

“Chinese Transformers?” Does Joshua outsource his production to Foxconn? Is there a U.S./China arms race for Replacement Transformers? Several of the new Autobots and Decepticons that have been revealed seem to have been designed with Feudal Chinese, Japanese Samurai, Anime Mecha and other Asian-influences obviously in mind – is this why?

Here’s what doesn’t make sense about that: The reason Hollywood productions like this are shooting/co-producing/casting in China is to help secure favor with the Chinese government’s Ministry of Culture, which controls movie distribution in the country. One surefire way to not be in their favor? Make ethnically Chinese characters (or Chinese institutions) the bad guys. Now, The Ministry of Culture really wants to be in the Transformers movie business… but I can’t imagine they want it bad enough to let Michael Bay – a filmmaker who has managed to turn the American Flag into his own personal directorial signature (Old Glory appears eight times in the first minute of this trailer) – even slightly “malign” China.

What’s the stuff in space?

The trailer features unexplained shots of a fleet (cluster?) of huge machines descending on Earth, and a single large “ship” that appears to be ripping up chunks of cities with a tractor-beam with the gun-faced robot widely assumed to be Galvatron acting as it’s herald.

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Amusingly, given that special swords appear to be a big part of the story (more on that in a bit), I imagine that fan-speculation would be heavy on this being Scorponok (G1/Headmasters Scorponok was a giant scorpion-shaped warship, I can never decide if he had the stupidest or greatest name ever) had that name not already been appropriated for the random bug Decepticon in the first film.

Obviously, anything massive and from space in a Transformers trailer is going to make fans think of Unicron, which makes sense… but unless all those pieces are eventually going to combine into a humanoid robot the size of a planet that (physically) eats other planets, I kind of hope it’s not him.

What’s up with the swords?

Optimus Prime now carries a sword, and it’s a hand-held weapon as opposed to something onboard like his bladed weapons in the earlier films. Cade Yeager (CADE!!! YEAGER!!!!) has been seen in official promo shots holding what looks like a Transformer-scale sword he’s rebuilt into (possibly) a rifle. There are a few important swords in the Transformer mythos, but only two feel relevant: The Star Saber and The Master Sword.

The Star Saber is essentially Cybertron’s answer to Excalibur, gifted (usually, Transformers has lots of different timelines) to Prima – the first-built of the original 13 Transformers – by their god Primus (in some continuities, Planet Cybertron is Primus’ alt-mode) to defeat Unicron. The Autobot Matrix of Leadership derives from it. I only had to look up one of those things. Somebody please help me.

Transformers: Age of Extinction Stills

The Master Sword is actually two swords, associated with The Headmasters, Transformers whose heads can detach and transform into smaller-scale robots and who were the focus of the first Japan-only spinoff from the original U.S. animated series. They also featured with a radically-different origin in the series-finale of the U.S. version.)The Master Sword is used as a key to transform the The Autobot Headmasters’ warship/headquarters, Fortress Maximus (Scorponok’s good opposite, basically), into its giant-humanoid form – where it wields a giant-scale Master Sword of its own.

Who are the Dinobots and where did they come from?

…I got nothin’. Autobots? Decepticons? Joshua’s robots? Chinese-built? Not a clue. Usually it goes like this, I imagine that won’t be the case here.

All the trailer can offer is that there are Dinobots (which once upon a time were Bay etc’s go-to reference for things that were just too bizarre to show up in the movies) and that, if Grimlock is anything to go by, they look even more ridiculous/awesome than you’d expect. What’s interesting to me is that it looks like Grimlock’s dinosaur-mode, at least, is proportionate in size to Optimus Prime as a regular T-Rex would be to a human… which means he (and presumably the other Dinobots) must be massive – easily the largest individual Transformers in the series so far.

That feels like a very “Michael Bay” approach to robot dinosaurs: “Yeah, those are pretty okay… but can we make `em even BIGGER? Maybe give `em some badass HORNS?? Ooh! Can the flying guy have two heads? Cause that’d be AWESOME!”

Transformers: Age Of Extinction opens in U.S. theaters on June 27, 2014.

About the author

Bob Chipman
Bob Chipman is a critic and author.