Transformers: Age Of Extinction | 2014
In present day Texas, penurious (aren’t they always?) inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) lives in a small farmhouse with buxom (aren’t they always?) daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), until their lives are changed when he comes across a decrepit old truck, which turns out to be – well, guess what?
The Yeagers’ farmhouse is 19818 Melber Lane, Manor on the eastern outskirts of Round Rock near Austin, Texas. You might remember Round Rock area as being the setting for much of Joel and Ethan Coen’s debut Blood Simple.
‘Remember Chicago’ reads the roadside billboard, referring to the cataclysmic battle of Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, but the Windy City is nearer than you might think.
Although the little Texas town, where Cade and pal Lucas (TJ Miller) arrive to salvage whatever they can from the local theatre, is Main Street of Taylor, on Hwy 79 northeast east of Round Rock, you may well feel the old theatre looks extraordinarily grand for such a small town.
Well, it is. In reality it’s the largest theatre in Chicago. Built in 1925, but closed since the 1980s, the Uptown Theatre, 4814-4816 North Broadway Avenue, Uptown, Chicago, has previously featured (though usually only its interior) in Backdraft and Home Alone II: Lost In New York.
It’s from the theatre that Cade salvages the abandoned truck which turns out to be Optimus Prime. The Yeagers soon find themselves on the radar of Cemetery Wind, a special ops group of Hollywood’s perennial bad guys, the CIA. Under the control of fanatical Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), the organisation has turned on its mechanical former allies, hunting both Autobots and Decepticons as outlaws.
The Cemetery Wind vehicles are seen barreling along San Antonio Street in Lockhart, about 50 miles south of Round Rock, but they nevertheless find their way to the Yeager farm.
The sudden appearance of Tessa’s cocky boyfriend, Shane (Jack Reynor), in his Rally Racer gets the Yeagers out of immediate danger.
The subsequent chase leads straight into Taylor via the Main Street Bridge, which crosses the rail lines south of town. This being a Michael Bay epic, cars are soon flying recklessly through the air.
Shane enters into the spirit, roaring through Lockhart and crashing his racer through a quiet bingo game being held in the old VFW Hall, 108 South Commerce Street (round the corner from San Antonio Street, where the specially ops team had just been seen).
The chase ends in that useful old standby, the abandoned factory, where Shane is able to demonstrate his rally-driving skills with a leap from the fifth floor to a remarkably convenient ramp. The location, which is also where Lucas gets gruesomely fried, is the old Packard Automotive Plant at Concord Avenue and East Grand Boulevard in northeast Detroit – which had already featured in Transformers: Dark Of The Moon.
Amid the mêlée, Cade has managed to get his hands on a mini-drone. From a desert hideout, he uses this in a valiant attempt to withdraw cash from an ATM at Hole ‘n the Rock, 11037 South Hwy 191, Moab, in Utah.
Yes, this is real – a 5,000 square foot home and trading post carved out of a huge rock in Utah’s Canyonlands Country.
Tipped off by this, the CIA raids the Hole, but Yeager and co are off to find the other Autobots, who are holed up in the incredibly photogenic Monument Valley, on the Arizona-Utah border, where their carefree frolics appear to be causing all sorts of irreparable ecological damage to the precious mesas and buttes.
Monument Valley, not a National Park as you might expect but a Tribal Park still belonging to the Navajo nation, is usually approached from Flagstaff, Arizona. Pay an entrance fee at the Visitor Center and follow the 17-mile dirt road lop drive. Some areas, such as Mystery Valley and Hunts Mesa, are accessible only by guided tour.
Back in the unfortunate city of Chicago, Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) – techno-whizz head of KSI (Kinetic Solutions Incorporated) – demonstrates the amazing properties of the metal Transformium to buxom (aren’t they all?) archaeologist Darcy Tirrel (Sophia Myles).
The exterior is Chicago’s vast Near South Side convention facility, McCormick Place, 2301 South Lake Shore Drive, which previously served as the warehouse of Wayne Enterprises’ ‘Applied Science Division’ in the Batman epic.
Its lobby, however, is that of Trump Tower, 401 North Wabash Avenue which while still under construction, provided the setting for the climactic hand-to-hand face-off between Batman (Christian Bale) and the Joker (Heath Ledger) in The Dark Knight. The completed Tower went on to become the home of villainous Dylan Gould (Patrick Dempsey) in Transformers: Dark Of The Moon.
KSI is using the Transformium to produce a range of knock-off Autobots for military use, with their flagship product being Galvatron, intended to be a cut-price Optimus Prime but destined to end up closer to Megatron.
In their quest to discover ever more photogenic hideouts, the Yeagers and the Autobots too have reached Chicago, where they’ve installed themselves in the abandoned St Boniface Church, 1358 West Chestnut Street, at North Noble Street, overlooking Eckhart Park, northwest of the Loop. The future of the disused church is uncertain, though it’s most likely to be converted into family housing.
With Galvatron and Stinger (bootleg copies of Megatron and Bumblebee) activated, the natives collectively groan “Oh no, not again” as a huge alien craft appears hovering over the Chicago City Hall-County Building, Clark Street (remember it from the climax of The Blues Brothers?).
The craft is ingeniously reflected in the gleaming surface of Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate (affectionately dubbed The Bean), at AT&T Plaza in Millennium Park, alongside which Chief Attinger is on the phone, calmly reassuring the President’s aide (Thomas Lennon) that this is not an attack.
By the way, if the ‘White House’ interior looks a little more extravagant than you expected, that’s because it’s the huge glass Tiffany dome of Preston Bradley Hall in the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 East Washington Street. It’s lavish enough to have become the opera house for Brian de Palma’s 1987 epic The Untouchables.
The craft belongs to a giant bounty hunter called Lockdown, who’s captured Optimus Prime and intends to hand him over, along with a cyberforming Seed, to Cemetery Wind. It’s clear that OptiPri and Tessa need to be rescued before the Dark Matter drive can can power up and whisk them off to – wherever.
The vast craft is temporarily tethered to Chicago’s highest building, to the Willis Tower (better known by its former name, the Sears Tower). The Autobots – gaining access via a small breakaway craft at the West Roosevelt Road Bridge at Dearborn Park west of the Loop – contrive to anchor it securely to the nearby Franklin Center Building (previously the AT&T Center), 227 West Monroe Street at South Franklin Street, unfortunately alerting Lockdown in the process.
The smaller breakaway ship is chased along the Chicago River, to North Michigan Avenue, just missing the Wrigley Building, but making a mess of the Gothic embellishments of the poor Tribune Tower – which had been lucky enough to survive intact the mayhem of Transformers: Dark Of The Moon.
There’s the inevitable breakneck chase along the canyon of South LaSalle Street toward the Board of Trade Building (see Dark Of The Moon or The Dark Knight), though with a brief detour to zoom through the lower level of East Lower Wacker Drive alongside the Chicago River east of the Michigan Avenue Bridge.
Suddenly, back on South LaSalle, they crash to earth in front of the landmark Rookery Building, 202 South LaSalle Street (famous as Elliot Ness’s HQ in The Untouchables and as the ‘New York’ toyshop in Home Alone II: Lost In New York).
Bumblebee whizzes them out of the city to another hiding place. Once again, they put visual appeal above common sense to hide among the rolling stock of America’s largest railway museum, the Illinois Railway Museum, 7000 Olson Road, in Union, about 55 miles northwest of Chicago.
The museum was clearly a big hit with the Transformers boys – star Mark Wahlberg made a donation of $40,000, while Michael Bay purchased a 1930s crane embossed with ‘Bay City’ to put in his backyard in Montana. You’ll need to be patient if you want to visit for yourself – the museum is closed until April 2015.
While lurking among the period trains, they learn that the mind of Megatron has been downloaded into Galvatron, who intends to detonate the Seed in a major city (which would be a bad thing).
The Transformers franchise has a huge following in the Far East, so with an eye on the lucrative Chinese market, it’s off to Beijing, establishing the scene with a view of the Bird’s Nest Stadium, built for the 2012 Olympics.
Yeager and crew in the alien craft also head east, naturally taking the scenic route over the Great Wall of China (you can see more of the famous landmark onscreen in the 2010 update of The Karate Kid).
The illuminated exterior of the KSI ‘Hong Kong’ facility, where Attinger greets Joyce, is that of the shiny new (2012) Tianjin Grand Theatre, Pingjiang Road, Hexi in Tianjin (tel: +86.22.8388.2000), a good half hour train ride north of Hong Kong.
Housing a 1,600 seat opera house and concert hall, the theatre is part of a larger 220-acre complex of museums, art galleries and shopping mall surrounding a man-made lake, graced by that essential cultural must-have, a musical fountain imported from Las Vegas. Tianjin itself is a historic port, and the largest coastal city in northern China.
At KSI, as Galvatron becomes operational and activates the other rogue Transformers, it’s time to evacuate. Pushing everyone into a car, the CEO of KSI China, Su Yueming (Li Bingbing), heads into Hong Kong proper, where she claims to be able to lose them in the city.
Yueming and Joyce follow the time-honoured tradition of offering cash to a nonplussed stranger for the use of his motorbike, only to be chased through the packed market streets around Ki Lung Street in the Sham Shui Po district of Kowloon.
Also heading to Hong Kong, Galvatron and the Decepticons speed along the Tsing Sha Highway, across the Stonecutters Bridge, which spans the Rambler Channel between Tsing Yi and Stonecutters Island, northwest of Hong Kong.
The Autobots have arrived among the hi-rises of Quarry Bay, on the northeast side of Hong Kong Island beneath Mount Parker. The courtyard in which they fight is behind the Fook Cheong Building on King's Road at Quarry Bay Street.
Before the Seed can be rescued, a blast sends the Autobots bouncing over the rooftops into lush countryside. Before you traipse off to explore the slopes of Mount Parker to find this spectacular landscape, remember – this is a movie.
In fact the green gorge, where OptiPri decides it’s time for reinforcements and starts up the legendary warriors – who become Dinobots – is the Natural Three Bridges, a spectacular geological wonder at Wulong Karst, nearly 700 miles, or two and a half hours by air, from Hong Kong.
A karst landscape is formed when acidic water erodes a bedrock such as limestone, opening up cracks and sinkholes to carve out elaborate formations.
Tianlong Bridge, Qinglong Bridge and Heilong Bridge, the three rock bridges at Wulong Karst, with an average height of over 656 feet, constitute the largest natural bridge cluster in Asia. Wulong is accessible by bus tour from Chongqing, which has an international airport.
The battle proper continues to rage in the centre of Hong Kong, with the city’s famous elevated railway snaking through… hang on – Hong Kong doesn’t have an elevated railway.
In fact, the spectacular scenes of destruction were not filmed in China at all, but on a gigantic set constructed on Washington Boulevard at Clifford Street, in the heart of downtown Detroit.
Around the currently vacant area, crossed by Detroit’s sinuous Jetsons-style rail system, you can glimpse such Motor City landmarks as the old United Artists Theater Building (displaying the huge Vogue billboard) on Bagley Avenue, and the David Whitney Building on Park Avenue.
To complicate matters, the modern green square with its row of towers through which the Dinobots rampage, is McCormick Place, back in Chicago.
In the real Hong Kong, Bumblebee and an aerial dinobot fly over, and crash into, the top of the Bank of China Tower, while the magnetic beam of Galvatron’s craft rips the roof off the AsiaWorld Expo Centre.
The beleaguered authorities of Hong Kong call for help from the central government, which gives the film an opportunity to showcase the extraordinary wibbly-wobbly tower of Beijing’s Pangu 7 Star Hotel, 27 Central North 4th Ring Road, Chaoyang District, where crowds are watching the breaking news on giant screens.
Back in Hong Kong, Optimus and the Tricerobot are magnetically levitated by Galvatron’s beam, saved only when they’re caught in the hollow square of the postmodern 2011 Central Government Complex overlooking Tamar Park, into which the ‘bots plummet as the ship finally explodes.
Determined to get the Seed out of the city, Optimus and Yeager race across Ting Kau Bridge, the 1998 cable-stayed bridge spanning the northwest of Tsing Yi Island and Tuen Mun Road.
They’re headed for a confrontation in – erm – Chicago. The silos at which scores are finally settled are the Damen Silos, just off the Sanitary and Ship Canal at 2900 South Damen Avenue. Sure enough, the silos are covered with Chinese characters, but someone forgot to remove Willis Tower from the skyline behind.