Kruger, Wahlberg Give New Life To Paramount’s Transformers Franchise

Courtesy:  Paramount Studios

Courtesy: Paramount Studios

Paramount’s big screen Transformers franchise has been the center of a lot of discussion ever since the series kicked off seven years ago.  Ever since the series’ first installment was released in 2007, the reactions from fans and critics alike have been either hate or great.  There has been no gray area at all from audiences.  The reason for that clear division is that unlike other action flicks past and present, the Michael Bay-led series has ignored up to this point any real story and substance in favor of an overload of the action genre’s other standard elements.  Where those works fell, Transformers: Age of Extinction actually makes up for its predecessors if only slightly.  The reason that it works is the same reason that those movies didn’t work.  It doesn’t sacrifice story for standard action fare.  And perhaps the biggest reason of all for that is that writer Ehren Kruger had sole control of the movie’s script.  Kruger actually included some interesting elements to the story to balance out the standard action sequences and elements.   On the other hand, while Kruger’s writing actually made Transformers: Age of Extinction work better than the previous movies in the Transformers franchise, it also did just as much damage to the end product, too.  Making up for that is the surprisingly enjoyable acting on the part of lead actors Mark Wahlberg and Jack Reynor.  The duo’s back and forth makes for its own share of laughs as an occasional break from the more brainless elements of this flick.  If not for those more lighthearted moments Transformers: Age of Extinction might not have actually turned out to be as bearable as it did.  Thankfully though, that wasn’t the case.  It’s one more way in which Transformers: Age of Extinction outperforms its predecessors and proves to be worth at least one watch.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is an interesting work.  In comparison to both its own predecessors and all of the other prequels, sequels, and remakes that have been churned out this year, it surprises.  It actually proves to be a movie worth at least one watch.  The central reason for this is its writing.  Perhaps the biggest reason of all that the movie’s writing actually succeeds (even remotely) is the fact that only one person handled the movie’s script.  All three of the movies that came before this one in Paramount’s rather divisive franchise were developed by teams of writers, rather than one single person.  This time, Ehren Kruger, who also played a role in the franchise’s third film, was the sole individual handling the movie’s script.  The end result is a movie that has all of the trappings of the series’ previous installments, but also adds actual substance.  The story’s substance comes in the form of both Optimus’ and Cade’s own inner struggles.  Cade is struggling with having to let his daughter grow up and move on with life all while trying to keep from losing his family’s farm.  One the other side, Optimus must come to terms with his own feelings toward humans as a result of the events post Chicago (taken from the series’ third film).  While Yeager’s own personal struggles have no direct link to the movie’s central story, it serves as a nice diversion from all of the constant standard action flick elements.  The same can be said of Prime’s own struggles.  The only difference is that Prime’s personal struggles are directly linked to the story and do quite a bit to help him and the story evolve.

The addition of the inner struggles on the part of Cade and Optimus is one part of Kruger’s writing that makes this story work.  Another reason that the movie works as well as it does is that audiences aren’t made to feel like they have to have invested themselves in the series’ previous films.  Yes, it makes mention of the series’ third installment.  It also makes light reference to the events of the series’ first two films.  But thanks to Kruger’s writing, the movie actually standsjust as well on its own two proverbial feet as it does as part of the whole series.  This is something that every viewer will appreciate in this movie.  It also goes to show how right things can go when only one person has his or her hands in the pot.

Kruger did a lot right with the script for this latest installment in Paramount’s Transformers franchise.  For all of the positives to the movie’s script, there were also some blaring negatives, too.  the most obvious of the script’s negatives is the overt use of the standard action fare.  The nonstop chase scenes, fight scenes, and explosions are all there.  So is the standard damsel in distress figure.  This is the 21st Century.  America has come a long way since the days of women’s liberation.  So audiences should be offended (especially female viewers) that a female lead is once again shown as being helpless, cowering in fear, and in need of being saved while the men go out and save her and the universe.  Such writing does only a disservice to a story that otherwise is actually relatively enjoyable.  Hopefully if Micheal Bay and Paramount come to terms on another installment in the Transformers franchise, this is something that will be taken into account for said story.  If not, it would be no surprise if audiences take notice and start speaking up even more.

Paramount Studios and director Michael Bay giving full creative control of Transformers; Age of Extinction’s script was the best thing that could have happened for this movie and the franchise in whole.  Sure, the standard elements that weighed down the series’ previous movies are still present here.  But Kruger actually injects some real substance into this movie with the personal stories centering on Cade and Optimus.  Those stories add at least some depth to the movie.  Adding even more enjoyment to the movie’s enjoyment is the constant back and forth bickering between Cade and his daughter’s boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor).  It adds a little bit of a buddy comedy element to the story to help lighten the story’s otherwise rather tense mood.  Those that have seen Wahlberg’s work alongside Will Ferrell in The Other Guys will see a little bit of that same chemistry with Reynor here.  Taking into consideration Wahlberg’s other overly serious roles, this rare comedic take is a welcome breath of fresh air from Wahlberg.  Even in the movie’s big fight scenes, the pair still find time to bicker between one another.  Those moments make for some rather interesting moments that believe it or not are entertaining in their own right.  Their acting along with Ehren Kruger’s writing more than make up for this movie’s biggest downfalls.  The end result is a movie that will leave audiences agreeing that should Paramount not take another chance on the Transformers, Age of Extinction makes up for the series’ previous films and is a good way for the franchise to go out.  If Paramount should take another chance on the franchise one can only hope that Paramount and Michael Bay will bring back Kruger and Wahlberg once more as the pair has given hope that there is still life left in this franchise.

Transformers: Age of Extinction is available now in stores and online.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Lionsgate’s “Wings” Sequel Holds Its Own Against Disney’s “Planes” Sequel

Courtesy:  Lionsgate

Courtesy: Lionsgate

Lionsgate will release the latest installment in its family friendly Wings franchise next Tuesday, July 8thWings: Sky Force Heroes is the follow-up to Lionsgate’s 2012 CG-film Wings.  Ace and Colonel are both back in this latest installment.  But unlike the franchise’s first flick, neither is a fighter jet.  Colonel (voiced once again by Tom Skerritt) is a high performance biplane while Ace (voiced again by Josh Duhamel) is just as high tech as a double prop plane this time out.  The return of the entire voice cast from the first film in the series is only one of the positives to this high flying, family friendly flick.  Anyone that is familiar with Disney’s Planes franchise will appreciate that as with the previous Wings this latest installment bears its own story despite its close similarities to Disney’s franchise.  That is the primary plus to this story.  And last worth noting in this movie is its CG-based “animation” style.  While the story is similar to that of Disney’s new Planes sequel, its look is more closely akin to Fox Searchlight’s 2005 movie Robots than any more recent CG-based movies.  This includes Disney’s properties.  All three of these factors together make Wings: Sky Force Heroes a good family friendly flick that’s worth at least one watch.

There’s no denying that Wings: Sky Force Heroes bears a distinct similarity in its script to that of Disney’s recently premiered Planes sequel Planes: Fire & Rescue.  Despite the similarity in question, Wings: Sky Force Heroes does manage to establish its own identity separate from that of the previously noted movie.  Rather than trying to make this movie into a sequel, the movie’s writing team—Harry Glennon, Mychal Simka, and Jordan Winsen—made it its own movie, complete with its own world.  It just so happens that in this story’s case the two leads go by the same name as the leads in the first of the Wings franchise.  Accepting that, it makes suspension of disbelief much easier in a case such as this.  The ability of viewers to suspend their disbelief makes taking in the story much easier and more enjoyable.

The ability of the writers behind Wings: Sky Force Heroes to craft a story similar to yet dissimilar to Disney’s Planes: Fire & Rescue is central to the overall enjoyment of the story.  Just as worth noting in the presentation’s success is the return of the entire lead voice cast from the original installment in the Wings franchise.  This is one area in which Lionsgate has truly scored.  Lionsgate has scored in this aspect in that Disney’s animated sequels (and sequels in general) rarely re-unite the cast from their predecessors.  This means potentially entirely new casts must get to know one another.  And that can hinder said sequels greatly.   The chemistry developed between Duhamel (Transformers 1 3), Skerritt (Alien, Ted, Top Gun) and the rest of the Wings cast obviously carried over into this latest high-flying family friendly flick from Lionsgate. And because it did, the cast had no trouble interpreting the story’s script and working together.  The end result was a movie loaded with plenty of family friendly content worth at least one watch.

The return of the complete voice cast from Wings and the ability of the writers behind Wings: Sky Force Heroes to craft a story that established the movie’s own identity both play integral parts in the success of this latest movie from Lionsgate’s Wings franchise. Last but not least of all worth noting about this direct-to-DVD feature is its animation. The movie’s animation sets it apart from anything that Disney, 20th Century Fox, and any other studio has churned out in recent years. It’s tough to tell one studio from another nowadays because it is all so cookie cutter. The closest comparison that can be noted with Wings: Sky Force Heroes is perhaps to Fox Searchlight’s Robots. As forgettable as Robots proved to be, few other studios if any have attempted a movie with a similar look since then. That serves to make the look of this piece stand out even more. That mostly original look to the movie combined with its cast and script come together to make Wings: Sky Force Heroes a truly fun, high-flying, family friendly film worth at least one watch. One thing is for sure, one watch will have spirits soaring just as high as the planes in the movie, given that chance.

Wings: Sky Force Heroes will be available exclusively in Wal-Mart stores and online on DVD/VUDU combo pack next Tuesday, July 8th. More information on this and other titles from Lionsgate is available online at http://www.facebook.com/lionsgate, http://www.lionsgate.com, and http://twitter.com/lionsgatemovies. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.