Transformers: Age of Extinction (United States, 2014)

June 26, 2014
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Transformers: Age of Extinction Poster

Michael Bay has often said how he loves to "blow things up real good." Well, if that's his desire in life, there's little doubt that he tops himself in Transformers: Age of Extinction. This is as excruciating a movie as is likely to be experienced by anyone, anywhere. It isn't merely that the story is insulting, the characters are bland, the action is dull, and the CGI is everywhere - it's that all this goes on for nearly three hours. That's three hours of your life you'll never get back.

Bay's argument is that the Transformers movies are made for the little kid in all of us. That might be true, assuming the kid is pugnacious, antisocial, afflicted with an attention span approaching zero, and lacking in anything remotely resembling a creative impulse. My inner child often delights in silly, loud, or otherwise unsophisticated films. Parts of Godzilla gave me chills. Misgivings aside, I'm looking forward to the next Star Wars. And, despite its recent precipitous nosedive, I still adore Doctor Who. But that inner child quails at the thought of enduring even one more minute of a Transformers movie. The only thing more epic about this film than its running length is its soullessness.

Bay keeps saying he's done with the Transformers franchise but it draws him back like flies to shit. This time around, the human actors from the earlier films have been jettisoned. At first glance, that might seem like a good thing until one realizes that people in Bay films are as interesting and important as background d├ęcor. It's really all about the robots, the orgiastic display of CGI destruction, and (of course) the explosions. I wish I could say "just sit back and enjoy the ride", but there's a reason roller coasters are only a few minutes long.

Is there a story here? It's not War and Peace but there's something that might be mistaken for the skeleton of a plot if viewed in dim light. For those who care about continuity, events in Transformers: Age of Extinction take place five years after those of the previous film, Transformers: Dark of the Moon. By this time, the Transformers have been virtually eliminated from Earth as a result of a ruthless cleansing scheme spearheaded by CIA Black Ops hotshot Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer in full Stinky Pete mode). Attinger has help from a Decepticon called "Lockdown" (voice of Mark Ryan), who has come to Earth in search of Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen). The CIA bad guy has also formed an alliance with billionaire inventor Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), who has figured out how to build Transformers. His pilot project is something he calls "Galvatron" (voice of Frank Welker) - a robot that looks an awful like the dreaded (and supposedly dead) Megatron.

The basic thrust of Transformers: Age of Extinction follows the misadventures of four surviving Autobots - Bumblebee, Hound (voice of John Goodman), Crosshairs (voice of John DiMaggio), and Drift (voice of Ken Watanabe) - as they seek out Optimus Prime, who has been revived with the help of Texas mechanic Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg). Along with Cade, his daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz), and Tessa's boyfriend, Shane (Jack Reynor), the Autobots seek to avoid being captured or destroyed by Lockdown while possibly saving Earth from Galvatron. (Lockdown doesn't really care about humans - he just wants Optimus Prime.) Bay once again deals Chicago a gut punch but this time around he saves the real destruction for Hong Kong.

In the acting department, Mark Wahlberg is an upgrade on Shia Labeouf, although it hardly matters. Walhberg does his job and stands around looking suitably awed, angry, or frightened, depending on what the script requires. Somehow, Stanley Tucci manages to rise above the material and leave an impression. It helps that he's used partially for comedic relief and gets to utter the best one-liner (one that uses up the movie's PG-13 single "f-word" allowance). Tucci's success is counterbalanced by Nicola Peltz's failure. The Transformers movies have had their share of annoying characters but none (not even the one played by Megan Fox) has achieved the apex occupied by Peltz's Tessa, who one-ups the worst horror movie heroine in terms of incompetence, ignorance, and irritation factor. On more than one occasion, I was actively rooting for a robot to stomp on her or for her to fall from a great height and make a satisfying splat. I guess this could be considered a step forward for Bay - he made me feel something about a human being in a Transformers film.

In the end, there's a sense that nothing much happens in Transformers: Age of Extinction, although that "nothing" is long, loud, and flashy. Bay's approach, which is technically proficient but without charm or life, bludgeons viewers into a near-catatonic state. If one takes a step back and looks at Transformers: Age of Extinction from a distance, the story isn't confusing but, while watching it, the sense of chaos is almost overwhelming. Shakespeare didn't know it, but when he wrote of "sound and fury signifying nothing," he could have been describing this franchise.

I understand that this is a "fanboy" driven production intended only to please those who either play with Transformers toys or have fond memories of doing so in their youth. However, it's disappointing to see how contemptuous the filmmakers are of anyone who pays good money to see a movie in the hope that it will offer more than cool special effects (that become progressively less "cool" the longer the film runs). This is blockbuster moviemaking at its worst - a product so cynical that it doesn't try to pretend it's anything more than a mindless spectacle. It's endless, tiresome, and tedious, but it will make so much money that Transformers 5 is a foregone conclusion. I can't think of a more compelling reason to hate Transformers: Age of Extinction.

Transformers: Age of Extinction (United States, 2014)

Run Time: 2:45
U.S. Release Date: 2014-06-27
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Painful Dialogue)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1