By Sam Adams | Criticwire June 22, 2014 at 12:23PM
"Transformers: Age of Extinction" had its world premiere in Hong Kong on Thursday night, and the very first reviews have hit the net, courtesy of the trades' foreign correspondents.
In Variety, Maggie Lee says it's as if Michael Bay & co. are "trying to find a literal new definition for the term 'blockbuster,'" and according to her, they largely succeed.
It's not just that the Autobots look more distinctive and easier to tell apart than ever in "Transformers: Age of Extinction" -- as Optimus Prime never tires of reminding us, these robots have actual souls. So who cares if the human characters are even more dispensable and the plot even more scattershot than usual?
Lee draws special attention to the extent to which "Age of Extinction" is tailored for the Chinese market, where "Dark of the Moon" is the fourth-highest grossing movie of all time. The movie shot extensively in China and Hong Kong, and though Bay plays fast and loose with local geography -- "Joyce is supposed to head to his branch operation in southern Guangzhou, but Chinese audiences will recognize random shots of Beijing mixed in with footage of the South China Karst, the much-touted Unesco World Heritage site in Chongqing" -- Lee praises the film for capturing the flavor of present-day Hong Kong.
Though "Pacific Rim" beat "Age of Extinction" to location shooting in the former British colony, the lurid images Guillermo del Toro served up made the ultra-modern city look like Chinatown. Kudos to Bay, then (despite the surreally ubiquitous lanterns), for capturing the city's gleaming high-rises and seedy alleyways with lively verisimilitude. In several scenes, the dull, rusty hues of the man-made Transformers blend especially well with the grimy tenements, which resemble stacks of matchboxes.
At the Hollywood Reporter, Clarence Tsui is less kindly disposed:
Despite boasting an entirely new human cast and many a new onscreen mechanical warrior, plus a half-hour grand finale set in very different Hong Kong locales, "Transformers: Age of Extinction" isn't the fresh breath of air vitally needed by an aging franchise. No matter that these films set the tills ringing -- all things come to an end, and if this is a reboot, Extinction promises the series will go out with more of a whimper than a bang farther down the line. Still, the current film is very well-placed to rake it in big time in China and could surpass "Dark of the Moon's" record takings.
Tsui points to a couple of "22 Jump Street"-esque moments in Ehren Kruger's script -- a generic diss of movie sequels, and a slag on Bay's "Armageddon" -- as evidence the franchise is running on fumes, as well as some unwise homages to "The Searchers" and "2001: A Space Odyssey," not movies to which Bay's oeuvre can really brook comparison. Still he admits, grudgingly, that "Age of Extinction" "does the job by reducing everything to a drone," and says the Chinese government, at least, is likely to be a big fan.
Though basically superfluous, the last 40 minutes of the film should please the Chinese co-financiers, including the state-owned China Movie Channel, as well as the authorities. For a change, there are no Chinese villains and the one significant local character, Joyce's English-speaking deputy Su Xueming (Li Bingbing, "Resident Evil: Retribution"), is presented as a swish executive and a dexterous fighter who saves her American boss. The fictional Chinese defense minister can also be heard proclaiming the country's ability to protect Hong Kong, as he promises to send fighter jets to the city in a show of Beijing's military might.