Transformers: Age of Extinction delivers pretty much exactly what you’d expect from the fourth installment of a Michael Bay-helmed franchise based on a toy line. There are explosions galore, an attractive, yet underwritten ensemble cast of characters and segments that are not so much plot holes as plot wormholes.
It’s also very, very long.
The film opens several years after the devastating decepticon attack that demolished Chicago in Dark of the Moon. Under the leadership of shady government agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), a specialized segment of the CIA are hunting down all remaining autobots with the assistance of Lockdown, a Transformer mercenary.
Meanwhile, in rural Texas, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), the most Bostonian Texan ever, discovers a rundown, if familiar-looking semi-truck. A struggling inventor by trade, he plans on dismantling the vehicle in order to sell the parts and pay for the college education of his daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz). Of course, Cade soon discovers that the trashed car is none other than a greatly weakened Optimus Prime. When Attinger and his drones come looking for the autobot, Cade, Tessa and Shane are forced to go on the run. They then team up with the surviving autobots and work to uncover the bigger picture behind Attinger’s obsession. This includes his deal with billionaire tech tycoon Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), who has been using Transformer technology to create an army of transforming robots. The much-hyped prototype of this experiment is none other than Galvatron, a reconstructed version of Megatron.
Like the first three films in the series, Age of Extinction takes a storyline that, at most, would have been an economical two-parter in the original animated TV show and stretches it out to a nearly three hour behemoth of a summer popcorn flick. The vibrant action is all there, of course, but it’s padded by additional hours of crass gags and what can only generously be called “character development.”
At this point, recounting any more of the film’s numerous faults would be akin to copying-and-pasting criticisms of the previous three films. All that could potentially be forgiven if the battle sequences, however brilliantly rendered, weren’t so insanely tedious. Even the dinobots, a popular fixture from the film’s advertisement, do not come into play until a bit past the two-hour mark. That being said, yes, the image of Optimus Prime riding a robot dinosaur does feed my wanton boyish desire to see robots and dinosaurs battle. Touché, Bay.
As the franchise’s new lead character, Mark Wahlberg goes full-on “earnest Wahlberg” here, spending the majority of the film either shouting his lines in the most staccato fashion possible or looking perpetually befuddled at the CGI creations around him. On the scale of Boogie Nights to The Happening, his performance is definitely leaning more towards the latter than the former. As his daughter, Petz—who has done decent work in Bates Motel—is left with little to do except cower and look pretty. Meanwhile, her love interest, Shane (Jack Reynor), oscillates awkwardly between badass racecar driver and jumpy comic relief. The film also takes time to point out why he’s an Irish boy living in Texas because, well, maybe because teaching him an American accent would require some measure of attention actually be paid to the human characters. Can’t have that.
Perhaps predicting how little audiences would care for this gang of everymen and everywoman—who all happen to be insanely attractive—their interactions often comes across as either super repetitive (Tessa and Shane flirt and Cade gets mad—rinse and repeat) or super rushed. A few moments are so heavily edited that they feel more like montages than legitimate scenes.
The lone actor to get even the smallest bit of mileage out of his part is Stanley Tucci as the eccentric Joyce. Even when the film eventually turns him into some kind of strange amalgamation of the characters of Shia LaBeouf and John Turturro from the initial trilogy (one moment has him crying, “not safe! Not safe!” in such a way that greatly recalls LeBeouf’s infamous, “no, no, no, no, no!” catchphrase), Tucci jumps in full-force and manages to keep the proceedings light in the way his more serious co-stars are not allowed to do.
At a certain point, it’s hard to fault Age of Extinction for being the testosterone-drenched mess that it is. With the billion-dollar reinforcement that is the previous three films, why should we expect anything different at this point? Still, in a summer that has gifted us with several authentically great blockbusters (Edge of Tomorrow, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) in addition to hilarious send-ups of the model (The Lego Movie, 22 Jump Street), Transformers: Age of Extinction’s “dumb fun” excuse has grown dangerously thin.
Director: Michael Bay
Writer: Ehren Kruger
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Kelsey Grammer
Release Date: June 27, 2014