July 10, 2014 by Josh Weiss
Half sequel, half reboot, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” is one of those movies that never really justifies its existence. The latest entry in the filmography of Michael Bay—the one director whose finger is never too far from the explosives button—“Extinction” revisits Hasbro’s lovable, shape-shifting robots in disguise for the fourth time since 2007. In previous installments, the franchise has been uneven and criticized for racism and characters you couldn’t tell apart, but it also had a certain charm.
You’ll find none of that here.
Bay ratchets the dreaded sequel rule up to 11 in the only way he knows how: the explosions are bigger, the characters are thinner, the cuts are more erratic and the plot is incredibly inconceivable.
For this latest round of mindless action, we return to Michael Bay Land where the people are beautiful and death is really lazy at doing his job; where life is incredibly cool and stupid all at once. There’s a brand new cast of characters that don’t really matter one bit except to provide some sort of human presence amidst the badass metal-on-metal battles between alien robots.
Take, for instance, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), an inventor down on his luck with the kind of frat boy name you’d expect from a male protagonist in a Bay film. He’s a single father of an impossibly gorgeous daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz).
In their ragtag group of walking cliches are T.J. Miller as the token comedic relief, who is disposed of once it’s time for the wisecracking Transformers to come onscreen and relieve him of the title, and Jack Reynor as Tessa’s boyfriend, Shane. That’s all you need to know about them because their significance is reduced to zero after they’re introduced.
Wahlberg is the most captivating of them all and tries his best, but it’s just not enough to save his character from sinking into the mundane muck as Bay plays with his toys, racking up millions of dollars in CGI property damage.
Trying to put his daughter through college with his malfunctioning inventions, Yeager buys a broken down truck that turns out to be the weakened, exiled Optimus Prime. This sweeps the inventor and his sidekicks into a mess of a plot, which involves an intergalactic war, the CIA, and gratuitous product placement of Oreo, Bud Light, and Victoria’s Secret (as if Bay needs to remind us of his penchant for exploiting the female form in his movies).
Sadly, too many of the storylines and motivations are introduced with no backstory or are just plain dumb, clouding any coherence that the movie may have had, asking us to accept everything, no questions asked.
The world in which “Extinction” takes place is a fascinating one. Humanity is recovering from the battle in Chicago that took place in the last installment, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” Transformers are being hunted down, there’s a hotline to report alien activity and scientific corporations are secretly building their own brand of mercurial bots.
In the hands of a more competent director, this could be intriguing, providing commentary on personal and political life in the wake of such an event. Bay’s profound retort on the matter? Loud noises! Hot and semi-naked women! Poor musical choices at the wrong moments! And, surprisingly, the movie is still pretty boring despite its overstuffed narrative, continually picking up momentum and then, without warning, screeching to a halt.
Ehren Kruger’s screenplay could actually use a boost of energy from Shia LaBeouf’s twitchy, screaming Sam Witwicky.
The only thing more inexcusable than a dumb plot in a Michael Bay film is how respectable actors give ridiculous, unconvincing performances under his direction. We saw it with John Tuturro, Alan Tudyk, John Malkovich and Frances McDormand. Now, Stanley Tucci and Kelsey Grammer step up to make fools of themselves as a multibillionaire creating amazing scientific advancements and a CIA agent with shady intentions, respectively.
Mostly, they’re just after “The Seed,” another MacGuffin like the All Spark or Matrix of Leadership that can create “Transformium,” the morphing metal that the robots are made out of.
The movie’s only redeeming quality is the robot action, especially with the introduction of some shiny (pun intended) new faces along with the old ones. We’ve got Prime and Bumblebee, but there’s also the cigar-munching Hound (John Goodman having the time of his life) and the samurai sword-wielding Drift (Ken Watanabe). More importantly, the movie has the awesome Dinobots! Once you see Optimus Prime riding on the back of a giant fire-breathing metallic Tyrannosaurus rex, your ticket is paid in full (however fleetingly) with action figure nostalgia.
The fight scenes are amazing and the Imax cinematography is absolutely beautiful, from Texas farmlands to lush Chinese valleys. Perhaps Bay should have forgotten the robots and just made a documentary instead.
Almost three hours long, “Extinction” has no claim to its running time due to its eventual tediousness. Bay has said that he makes movies for teenage boys, and there’s nothing wrong with that. He’s even got some well-placed, self-aware jokes about the cinematic cavalcade of sequels, reboots and Imax that today’s kids are given, but this is somewhat of an insult to the hormonal and attention span-less demographic that he’s trying to appeal to.
If I didn’t know better, I’d say that an inexperienced adolescent was calling the shots behind the camera. A real shame, because I was super excited for this movie and prepared to love it like I did the first three. Alas, like a dead Transformer, it has no spark.