At times physically nauseating to watch, particularly in 3D.
All these descriptions certainly fit Michael Bay’s fourth foray into Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots on the big screen, Transformers: Age of Extinction, but they aren’t nearly the worst things one can say about it.
Arguably, the film’s worst offense is its length. Mind-numbingly long at 2 hours and 45 minutes, the film first lulls you almost to sleep with nearly an hour of dull setup and uninteresting stock characters, then tries to make up for the shortfall of action in its opening act by bludgeoning your senses for the remainder of its running time. By the time this bloated batch of bad has run its course, you’re likely to feel as though you’ve been through a battle with the giant Autobots and Decepticons yourself, and whether or not your wits actually survived the encounter you’ll have to take stock of once you’ve far away from the theater and you’ve had time to recover.
The plot here (as far as there is one) goes something like this: five years after the devastating “Battle of Chicago” that served as the climax of 2011’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the world is still recovering and still for the most part fearful of anything alien. Though they were granted sanctuary in the U.S. for their help in liberating Chicago from the Decepticons in that cataclysmic event, Optimus Prime and his Autobots find themselves in hiding and on the run from shadowy government operatives led by CIA Agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), who sees all the aliens as a threat to peace except for the one helping him hunt down and destroy humanity’s one-time protectors, a menacing Decepticon bounty hunter called Lockdown.
There are a few humans willing to help Prime, of course. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), a struggling inventor and widowed father of a teenage daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz), comes across a badly-damaged Optimus and, rather than call the authorities and claim a substantial monetary reward for turning the alien in, takes it upon himself to patch up the Autobot leader as best he can. His efforts put himself, Tessa, and Tessa’s car racer boyfriend Shane (Jack Raynor) squarely in the sights of Attinger and Lockdown, and also brings them to the attention of Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), the brashly ambitious technical genius behind an American tech corporation using remains of dead transformers to engineer new robots that humanity can control.
Once Optimus and the Autobots help Cade, Tessa, and Shane escape from Attinger and Lockdown and learn about the involvement of Joyce’s company in killing other Autobots in order to utilize their metal and parts, Joyce puts his working prototypes into action against them, including his most powerful robot, Galvatron, who for a very good reason bears more than a passing resemblance to Prime’s old nemesis, Megatron. From there, it all turns into a battle royale as the Autobots, Galvatron, Joyce and Attinger all struggle for control of “the seed”, an alien bomb once used on Earth billions of years ago that led to the extinction of the dinosaurs and is linked to the very creation of the Transformers themselves.
All that made sense, right? No? Well, don’t feel bad, because on screen it really doesn’t. And honestly, in a movie that’s part of this franchise, did you expect it to makes sense? If you did, then maybe you’re setting your expectations too high.
The one thing that Transformers: Age of Extinction does well is, of course, its visual effects. This series of films has continually improved upon itself in terms of presenting eye-popping visuals that make the battles between these mechanical behemoths come to life in a vibrant and engaging way … at least, for a while. This new film furthers that trend, making the robot clashes and their participants clearer and easier to follow than ever before, and that’s vital here considering the number of robots that eventually are on-screen at once all shooting and slashing at one another. Particularly impressive here are the fan favorite Dinobots, who make their big screen debut in this film and live up to being the biggest and baddest of the Autobots’ allies. Too bad they aren’t in the movie for nearly long enough to make much of an impression.
But all that amazing ILM-generated special effects wizardry isn’t nearly enough to justify this film’s ridiculously unnecessary length (at 165 minutes, it’s the longest of the four Transformers films), or to redeem yet another exercise in plot-and-character-optional, explosion-driven storytelling. It’s sad, really, as this film’s immediate predecessor was actually a highpoint for efforts at plot content in this series. This film’s plotting, if you can call it that, is actually closer to 2009’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen in terms of inept storytelling and rampant continuity issues and plot holes, but that film’s failings can be blamed in part on the fact that it was written while Hollywood was in the midst of a writers’ strike, with scenes often written on set prior to shooting.
Age of Extinction, however, has no such excuse. Thus, its inconsistencies, incoherent plot turns and thoroughly ineffective efforts at drama to inform the battles waged between men and metal giants are all directly attributable to the film’s editors and sole credited writer, Ehren Kruger, whose other screenwriting credits include the previous two Transformers films as well as Scream 3 and 4 and The Ring 2. The results here make more sense when seen in that context, don’t they?
To fairly give what little credit is due here outside of the special effects masters involved in this production, the human principals here do their best with what they’re given. Wahlberg plays to his strengths as the tough guy dad who protects his dreams of innovation as passionately as he protects his daughter, while Grammer is coldly intense as a ruthless paranoid megalomaniac acting upon his own sense of knowing what’s best for humanity. Tucci also has some fun moments as the driven and often douchey visionary Joyce, but that sort of character is old hat to Tucci at this point, and you get the sense throughout the proceedings that he’s just running around and screaming here with nothing but a paycheck in mind. Interestingly enough, the human participants in these proceedings, as poorly fleshed out as they are, do more favors for the film than the cast members providing voices for the Transformers themselves. Veteran voice talent Peter Cullen once again brings Optimus Prime to life as only he can, but John Goodman and Ken Watanabe aren’t asked to do much with their voice work aside from sound like themselves, and what they deliver falls resoundingly flat.
Is this film bad enough that Bay and fellow executive producer Steven Spielberg will finally decide to put this fatigued franchise into hibernation for a good long while? Not likely. If anything, the film is practically tailor-made to make hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars in Far Eastern markets, particularly China, where much of the film’s final climatic act was shot. In addition to the fact that action and special effects-heavy Hollywood blockbusters tend to do exceptionally well financially in the Far East, the fact that the Chinese government and Chinese characters in particular in the film are portrayed very favorably should play very well to audiences out there. Those two factors alone will all but guarantee that Transformers: Age of Extinction, Golden Raspberry frontrunner for Worst Picture that it might be, will still be one of the top financial grossers at the box office in 2014, and all but assure the inevitability of yet another sequel.
Oh, the anticipation.
Score: 2 out of 5
Transformers: Age of Extinction
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz, Jack Raynor, Li Bingbing, Sophia Myles. Directed by Michael Bay.
Running Time: 165 minutes
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo.
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