2014 - 165 minutes
Directed by: Michael Bay
Written by: Ehren Kruger
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kelsey Grammer, Stanley Tucci, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Titus Welliver, T.J. Miller
There’s an old saying that reminds us the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. We’re now four movies deep into the Transformers series and it appears director/giant robot conductor Michael Bay, and audiences flocking to the theater, are happy with the resulting films. Expecting a shift in the filmmaking philosophy at this point would be insane.
We know what we’re going to get: detailed effects, magic hour shots, some forced uncomfortable comedy, a bottle-tanned beauty, American flags slowly swaying in the breeze, huge explosions, and giant bleepin’ robots shooting projectiles and beating the bolts out of each other. We also know none of it will make a lick of sense. It will probably be overlong, unnecessarily convoluted, ear-splitting in more ways than one, and a chore to sit through. Transformers: Age of Extinction definitely ticks all of those boxes.
Five years after the “Battle of Chicago” that concluded the previous chapter in this ongoing saga, shadowy government elements are hunting down the Transformers – bad ones and good ones alike. CIA figurehead Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) dispatches James Savoy (Titus Welliver) and his team – which includes mysterious and merciless alien bounty hunter Lockdown – to destroy all of the remaining robots.
Meanwhile, in Texas, tinkerer Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) is struggling to keep his expansive country estate and raise his teen daughter Tessa (Nicole Peltz). After coming across the rusted out carcass of Optimus Prime in an old theater – where the owner pointedly decries the overabundance of sequels and remakes – Cade works to “fix” the old semi-tractor, taking attention away from his fixing of Discmans and pointless inventions like a robot paint roller. After saving Cade, his daughter, and her racecar driving boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) from the unsavory Savoy, Optimus reteams with the remaining Autobots to do…something. Prove their good intentions? Take down an evil government plot? Stop a government-contracted technology company from producing new man-made Transformers out of the rare element Transformium? Defeat Lockdown and stop his plan that involves ancient warriors and “Creators?” Probably all of the above, I guess.
Not that Bay or screenwriter Ehren Kruger, who use arduous plotting to get to the next big boom, care about any of it. If they’ve punished you with overkill they’ve done their job, never mind making any of it entertaining. It’s about fitting as much in as possible – the new Transformers that break down into blocks, some more racial stereotype and one-note Autobot personalities, and even Dinobots. Yes, the Dinobots appear and are attached to more gobbledygook regarding The Creators and Lockdown – though they don’t appear to be connected to the actual Earthbound prehistoric dinosaurs we see eradicated by aliens in a prologue. I least I don’t think so – shame on me if I missed it.
Another way the filmmakers attempt to avoid franchise staleness (ha!) is by swapping out hero Sam Witwicky, played by Shia LaBeouf in the first three films, with Cade. Wahlberg is an upgrade, but isn’t given anything to do other than shout overbearing parental platitudes to his daughter and her boyfriend and then get really excited when he gets to shoot an alien gun. Peltz is basically a new version of Megan Fox, with an added plot point about her only being 17 and her boyfriend being 20 used to fit in some of that great uncomfortable non-comedy. The only character with anything of a real arc is industrialist Joshua, who goes from cold businessman to sympathetic hero’s aid, and he’s played with some actual effort by Stanley Tucci.
In the end, the abundance of filler just takes us from place to place to watch stuff get destroyed – mostly our eardrums and our patience. Chicago gets blown up a bit, though not as bad as last time. Hong Kong gets the brunt this time around – especially after Optimus charges bad guys atop a mechanical dinosaur. Like any giant robot movie, the fate of the world comes down to two giant robots punching each other until one is dead. And until we’re completely exhausted.