For many, Michael Bay's Transformers movies serve as cognitively undemanding, ear-shattering, eye-popping escapes that offer all the big, dumb fun that real life refuses to indulge in. These flashy, structurally flimsy blockbusters capitalize on the big and the loud, a surprisingly effective marketing ploy that earns each new installment millions of dollars. But here's the thing: None of them pretend to be the type of artsy, emotionally resonant movie that the Academy absolutely loves, and that seems to be the selling point for most people.
As expected, the franchise's fourth installment, [Transformers: Age of Extinction](movie:206531) faithfully adheres to the formula that made its predecessors juggernauts at the box office while unceremoniously scrapping character development, dialogue, and all the other stuff that distracts Optimus Prime and his robot opponents from leveling cities. And guess what? It works. Granted, it's soulless, superficial, and mindless in every possible way, but Bay and his gifted group of special effects wizards manage to deliver everything they promised. On top of that, the film stands well enough on its own while still reminding viewers that more wreckage is on the way in future installments.
The film's plot focuses on Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), a single parent living in rural Texas who accidentally stumbles upon Optimus Prime. It's been four years since the climactic battle in Chicago, and the government keeps itself busy by hunting down and killing any Transformer they can find, all to ensure global security. So, when fate says, “Here! Have a Transformer!” trouble comes a-knockin' before he can say “Marky-Mark and the Funky Bunch.” After a devastating attack on his home, Cade, his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), and her boyfriend, Shane (Jack Reynor) flee with Optimus, it becomes clear that something much bigger than them is happening. Throw in the Transformer bounty hunter, Lockdown, a version of Stanley Tucci who bears a hilarious resemblance to Steve Jobs, and a menacing Kelsey Grammar, and you've got the makings of one crazy movie.
As the trailers and the Internet have made very clear, this latest entry in Bay’s blockbuster franchise starts fresh with an entirely new cast of human characters and an explosive new plot that opens up some potentially cool possibilities. Not once throughout Age of Extinction’s hefty running time does Sam Witwicky make an appearance in person or in reference, a storytelling decision that will likely please fans who detested him in the first trilogy. Instead, Mark Wahlberg steps in as the new protagonist, a role he assumes with little difficulty and seems to enjoy immensely. Jack Reynor and Nicola Peltz function as Wahlberg’s wooden co-stars, turning in just the types of cheesy performances that make these movies so much fun. Surprisingly, Stanley Tucci’s Joshua Joyce turns out to be the most entertaining character in the movie, wrestling the spotlight from Wahlberg’s meaty hands and keeping it just out of arm’s reach for the rest of the movie. He’s funny, awkward, and a perfectionist to a fault, making for an interesting, lovable character in his own right. Kelsey Grammar plays an appropriately over-the-top human villain, but he’s overshadowed by Lockdown and another villain whose identity we won’t reveal.
I had to knock my rating down a few points due to some moments that even by Transformers standards are considered unacceptable (most of them involving T.J. Miller trying to be funny), but other than that, we had an absolute blast. As buildings crumble and robots beat and batter each other into scrap heaps, Bay's giddy, childlike excitement at having the world as his sandbox becomes evident remarkably fast. What kind of film lovers would I be if I didn't join him in his glee?
Age of Extinction clocks in at an intimidating 165 minutes, making the longest installment in the series. While the first hour wisely spends its time laying some major new groundwork, it often runs the risk of boring viewers. Bay can make things explode with dazzling brilliance, but ask him to deliver an engaging exchange between his characters and he will disappoint. Luckily, as the movie finds its footing, the action heats up and the pace quickens and becomes a sprint, slamming viewers with fight after fight in a way that only this undisputed master of architectural destruction can pull off.
In all honesty, the film delivers plenty of fun, and nothing beats an already battle-weary Optimus Prime charging to war atop a prehistoric steed while wielding an awkwardly large sword. The last half-hour of the film packs quite a wallop, and its inevitable sequel has a pretty big crater to fill if it's going to top anything this movie throws on the table.
It's good to have you back, Michael Bay. Now go blow some shit up.
3 out of 5 stars