Before I get into discussing Age Of Extinction, I think it’s important to establish some context and briefly touch upon what’s come before. Thus far in the Michael Bay-helmed franchise, we’ve seen one semi-watchable entry (the original Transformers), a legendary cinematic fecal-bomb that was filmed during the writer’s strike with only a handful of completed script pages (Revenge Of The Fallen), and a mind-numbingly stupid wrap-up that was an exercise in unfettered self-indulgence (Dark Of The Moon). After threatening to walk away from the toy-based property and move on to blow up other stuff, Bay had a change of heart and enlisted his Pain & Gain star Mark Wahlberg to take the saga of Optimus Prime and pals in a “bold new direction.”
Bay excised the entire cast of the previous films and promised a more streamlined narrative that would move the series away from the same ol’-same ol’ Decepticons vs. Autobots routine, as well as the introduction of a new antagonist, less broad comedy, and redesigned, easily identifiable Transformers. Early marketing for the film also promised the mighty power of fan-favorite Transformers known as the Dinobots. So, does Age Of Extinction deliver on these promises? Do the Dinobots thrill? Does Michael Bay finally combine his unparalleled technical acumen with a well-written storyline? Is the plot compelling and cohesive? Is the new human cast likable and fleshed-out ? Is this a newer, better, Transformers movie?
Please excuse my momentary lack of professional decorum there, but tragically, it’s just more of the same. A lot more. Transformers: Age of Extinction isn’t a movie, it’s a test of human endurance – a punishing, grueling, blinding, shrieking, bludgeoning, pummeling, hammering, clanking marathon of metal rending that challenges your very will to exist. In my review of the previous Transformers installment, I wrote that Dark Of The Moon was an assault on the senses; little did I know that it was mere prelude to the all out war Age Of Extinction declares on your very mind and soul. You’ll almost be praying for death by the end of this thing.
Unsurprisingly, the film continues Bay’s predilection for gratuitous T&A, slow-motion explosions, characters spouting inane dialogue silhouetted by enormous sunsets,”magic hour” photography, lots of sports car fetishism, and…oh, the racist caricatures are back as well in the form of a stereotypical Japanese samurai Autobot (voiced by Ken Watanabe), and “Brains,” a knee-high Transformer who spouts ebonics and cringe worthy prison slang.
Bay once again enlists his writing crony Ehren Kruger to deliver an admittedly far less convoluted, yet equally nonsensical plot. In the aftermath of the cataclysmic Transformers battle which laid waste to Chicago and killed 1,300 civilians from the previous film, The U.S. passes a regulation severing all ties with the robots, friendly or otherwise. A CIA Black Ops team led by a scenery-chewing Kelsey Grammer and current go-to henchman Titus Welliver is working with a neutral, non Decepticon or Autobot Transformer bounty hunter named Lockdown (a pretty badass character voiced by the versatile Mark Ryan) to hunt down and destroy fugitive Autobots. Eventually, they catch wind of Optimus holing up on a Texas farm and head out to take him down. Meanwhile, billionaire engineer/techie scuzzball Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci, looking like the only one having a good time here) is performing experiments on dead Decepticons and Autobots and has unearthed a deposit of metal in the Arctic which turns out to be the malleable, molecularly unstable substance Transformers are made of. He dubs this metal “Transformium.” Yep, leave it to Michael bay to come up with something even dumber than James Cameron’s “Unobtanium” from Avatar.
On the character front, Age of Extinction trades the ever-grating Shia LaBeouf and the bottomless pits of vapidity that were Megan Fox and Rosie Huntington-Whitely, for a manic Mark Wahlberg (horribly miscast as scrap salvager/robot inventor Cade Yaeger – the most Michael Bay character name of all time), and a pair of photogenic newcomers in 19-year-old actress Nicola Peltz, and Irish heartthrob Jack Reynor (playing Yaeger’s daughter Tessa and her boyfriend Shane, respectively).
There’s good Wahlberg (The Departed, Boogie Nights, The Fighter), there’s bad Wahlberg (Max Payne, The Happening, Ted), and now there’s an entirely new level of Wahlberg here in Age of Extinction. The guy is in a constant state of amped-up agitation and seems to be close to hyper-ventilating in every scene, and nothing he says or does ever makes any sense. There’s even an unintentionally hilarious scene where Yaeger rips his glasses off in dramatic fashion during a sit-down with Grammer’s character that felt like a SNL sketch. Peltz continues the grand tradition of deplorably written female characters in Michael Bay films. She wears next to nothing, is shot from lecherous angles, and her dialogue consists of screaming “Daddy!!!” in the neighborhood of 3,000 times. At one point in the film, her race car driver boyfriend explains that they operate as a team, and that “Tessa is the best gear shifter around.” So, she basically exists to handle her man’s stick. Subtle, Michael.
The Autobots fare no better — in fact, they’re all assholes; especially Optimus Prime, who breaks his vow to never kill humans and generally acts like a brute for the majority of the painful running time. His characterization in this film is legitimately baffling. Three movies later, Bumblebee still has a damaged voice modulator – for no other reason that it pleases Bay to hear him “speak” in sliced up bits of audio from TV and movies (and bad ones at that). Complimenting—if you want to call it that—Ken Watanabe’s Samurai Autobot is John Goodman’s Hound, a rotund robot sporting a beard of chains and chomping down on a mortar shell stogie. Hound is essentially Walter from The Big Lebowski, and Goodman’s dialogue here is some of the laziest I have ever heard. It’s obvious Bay and Kruger simply wrote down 20 non sequiturs on a piece of paper, handed it to Goodman in a recording booth, then cut and pasted them into the scenes arbitrarily during editing. There’s another Autobot who speaks in a growly British accent who’s always pissed off and wants to be the leader. These are the guys you’re supposed to be rooting for?
The character motivations are thin and eventually become irrelevant due to the piss-poor dialogue and lengthy running time: Cade wants to keep his daughter virginal, His daughter wants to graduate high school and…be free to wear shorter jean cutoffs, I guess? Shane wants to get in said cutoffs, Kelsey Grammer wants to protect ‘MURICA from “aliens” (wink-wink), Tucci wants more Transformanium, Lockdown wants Optimus Prime, and Optimus Prime just wants to get the hell off of Earth. None of this is compelling or worth giving a single shit about, and all of it is in service to pounding, relentless, overwrought action scenes, each one more tedious and exhausting than the last.
Eventually everything just devolves into a group of poorly developed and unlikable human characters chasing other characters around Hong Kong in pursuit of yet another world-destroying McGuffin called “the seed,” cross-cutting among the Autobots pumping endless rounds of ammo into nondescript Decepticons, Dinobots raging through the streets, Grammar’s CIA henchmen engaging in a wacky chase after Stanley Tucci and the Seed, Lockdown’s ship using a giant magnet to suck up metal objects (ships, cars, buildings, transformers) and drop them down for no reason whatsoever like a 5-year-old grabbing fistfuls of sand and Matchbox cars in a playground sandbox, and Wahlberg fighting Titus Welliver in (and on) a crowded Chinese tenement.
It all goes on…and on…and on…
The movie is endless. It’s 2 hours and 45 minutes, but feels like 7. Glass never stops shattering, buildings never stop exploding, over-designed CGI robots never stop shooting and punching, vehicle engines never stop revving, and Bay’s camera never stops swooping or shaking. It’s a nauseating, migraine-inducing experience; like being strapped into the world’s tallest, twistiest roller coaster and forced to ride it for hours on end. The first few times around might be fun, but then it becomes a brain-rattling, waking nightmare.
I felt a brief glimmer of hope early on in the film, mostly in part to the promise of exploring the origins of the Transformers themselves (the film’s opening sees giant ships piloted by aliens terraforming the Earth with Transformanium, causing the extinction of the dinosaurs) and the coolness factor of Lockdown, but it all turned to ashes in my mouth thanks to Bay’s continued lack of prescience or concern for pacing and storytelling. On a purely visual level, you’d have to be a real stone-hearted, joyless crank to not feel a spark of childhood glee watching giant steel dinosaurs tear through a city breathing fire and crushing everything in sight, but—it’s a familiar refrain—the lack of narrative cohesion or any characters to care about renders it all meaningless.
With Age of Extinction, we’ve reached the nadir of the Transformers franchise, city-destroying disasterporn shlockbusters, and Michael Bay’s career itself. It’s hard to imagine Bay squandering his technical skills further or sinking any lower after this 165-minute long descent into pain and madness. He’s learned nothing and is content to remain in a state of perpetual adolescence, which suits him just fine, because why should he change when we keep giving him our money?
People love to tell you that you have to “turn off your brain and just sit back” in order to enjoy these movies, but if you want to get any sense of enjoyment out of this “film,” you’ll need nothing less than full-frontal lobotomy. There is absolutely nothing to like about this film; it has zero redeemable qualities. And now, zero stars.
0 stars out of 5.