This sci-fi thriller is so visually stunning that it deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as The Matrix or Blade Runner, two films it resembles in various ways, even if it lacks their resonance. Director Rupert Sanders (Snow White and the Huntsman) pulls out all the stops, expertly deploying an eclectic cast and a continual stream of eye-popping visual effects. This helps make up for the surprisingly thin approach to the story's deeper themes.
It's set in near-future Japan, where Major (Scarlett Johansson) has her brain transplanted into a robotic body after an accident. Weaponised by the Hanka corporate boss Cutter (Peter Ferdinando), she is assigned to work undercover with local police chief Aramaki ('Beat' Takeshi Kitano) and a team that includes muscly sidekick Batou (Pilou Asbaek) and reparative Dr Ouelet (Juliette Binoche). Major's current case has her on a collision course with a mastermind terrorist named Kuze (Michael Carmen Pitt), who is attacking Hanka executives one by one. As she tracks him down, she is noticing strange glitches in her programming, little visions of what might be her past. But these are oddly unrelated to her memories, which makes her wonder who she really was before she became a machine.
The script makes it painfully clear that the title refers to Major's soul in her mechanical body, as if it needed explaining. And there are other elements of the dialog that seem dumbed down for the mainstream, including the way the film sidesteps the big questions it raises about free will, militarised culture and corporate greed. By neglecting these elements of the story, the film wows our eyes and tantalises our emotions, but never gets under our skin. Johansson is terrific at these sort of roles (see also Lucy), and her expressive eyes bring some moving subtext to her scenes with Binoche and Pitt. Meanwhile, Kitano nearly steals the show as the cool old-school master.
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With each film in the Transformer saga, Michael Bay makes it clear that all he's interested in are massive metallic special effects bashing into each other and usually exploding. Because otherwise this is a vacuous thriller without any characters to speak of, no sense of plot coherence and an appallingly simplistic sense of geography. There's plenty in this franchise to enjoy (just watch the original 2007 film again), but Bay takes everything so seriously that only die-hard fans will have any fun this time.
The story picks up five years after the cataclysmic Transformers' battle in Chicago, as Texas inventor and overprotective single dad Cade (Mark Wahlberg) builds gadgets in his rural barn, oblivious to the fact that his 17-year-old daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) is secretly seeing 20-year-old Shane (Jack Reynor). Luckily, Shane is a race driver, so he's handy to have around when black ops agents commanded by shadowy CIA director Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) raid Cade's farm looking for an old truck that turns out to actually be Optimus Prime in hiding. This sparks a return to Chicago for more mayhem, followed by a hop to Beijing and Hong Kong, where Optimus Prime and a handful of remaining good-guy Autobots take on the villainous Lockdown. Helped of course by Cade, Tessa and Shane, plus billionaire inventor Joshua (Stanley Tucci).
The new gimmick this time is dinosaurs, building on a prologue showing the real reason they went extinct. This comes back in the climactic battle in the form of Dinobots, ancient Transformers that will have fanboys squirming in their seats with joy while everyone else yawns and looks at their watches, astounded that Bay has somehow managed to stretch this paper-thin story out over nearly three hours of metal-on-metal chaos. As in the earlier films, the action is quite literally cartoonish, purely animated mayhem that's not easy to decipher. At least the humans help keep it vaguely approachable, as they provide running commentary in their dialogue and bounce through the air like plastic action figures who never get hurt.
Continue reading: Transformers: Age Of Extinction Review
Will (Craig) has just quit his job as a Manhattan editor to spend more time with his wife (Weisz) and young daughters (Geare and Geare) in their suburban home. But something isn't right. A suspicious man (Koteas) is lurking in the night, while the ex-husband (Csokas) of the neighbour (Watts) across the street oozes pure rage. Then Will starts to realise that nothing is what it seems to be. And he'll need to face reality if he hopes to sort things out.
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With his usual disregard for story logic, Bay plunges us into another deafening metal-against-metal smackdown. Fortunately, this film is a lot more entertaining than Part 2, because it has a more linear plot. And it looks absolutely amazing.
With everything back to normal, Sam (LaBeouf) needs a job to impress his impossibly hot new girlfriend Carly (Huntington-Whiteley). Then strange things start happening around him. Again. And soon he realises that the Decepticons are back to wage war against the Autobot-human alliance. But he has to convince an arrogant government official (McDormand) to let him get involved with his old team (Duhamel, Gibson, Turturro and their Autobot buddies). All of this has something to do with a secret weapon that crashed onto the dark side of the moon in 1961, sparking the space race.
McDormand is easily the best thing about this film, even if her character has a dramatic personality shift halfway through the film. Malkovich is also terrific (as Sam's offbeat new boss), and Dempsey has his moments as well (as Carly's boss and cause of Sam's inferiority complex). Fortunately, the narrative is straightforward enough to give all of the actors the chance to make their mark, distinguishing themselves above the chaos.
Sadly, the same can't be said about the battling robots. While the first-rate animation has a staggering attention to detail, the deafening battles are still impossible to follow. They amount to an eye-catching display of whizzy effects as clanking robots bash each other senseless and destroy everything around them (Chicago gets the full destructive force for a change). Although at least they fit vaguely into the plot this time.
Meanwhile, lapses in even the most twisted logic are plentiful, including the fact that Sam seems to have metallic Transformer bones to resist injury as he's flung into walls and dropped from high places (not to mention Carly's magical white suit and heels). In other words, it's deeply preposterous and almost painfully boyish, but it's nowhere near as muddled as the last chapter. And besides keeping our eyes entertained, there are some great moments throughout the mayhem.