We are now four movies into Michael Bay’s mind-numbing franchise, and there is very little left to say about the series that hasn’t been said already. The sequels have always been a monotonous rehash of the original robo-slugfest, and Transformers: Age of Extinction only offers the same thing, and more of it — literally, given it’s heft 165-minute running time. If there are any positives to be had this time around, they are that the series has gotten much more dumber, and that Mark Wahlberg is a better leading man than Shia Lebeouf.
This is movie marketing masquerading as film-making at its most cynical, aimed at all us nostalgic Gen-X’ers wrestling with middle age and looking to relive our childhoods. Apparently Bay and company think we were obnoxious brats with near-crippling cases of ADD.
It does have a surprisingly gritty — and hopelessly muddled — story, even compared to previous entry Dark of the Moon, which it spins directly out of. Picking up five years after the events of that installment, it reveals that the Transformers, both good and bad, have been virtually wiped out on earth. It turns out the mass destruction that leveled much of Chicago rankled more than a few humans, especially CIA operative Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), who hunts them down and murders them with a black ops team with the decidedly cheesy moniker Cemetery Wind and the aid of a Decepticon bounty hunter named Lockdown (Mark Ryan).
Attinger is also working with Steve Jobs-esuq billionaire inventor Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), who has figured out how to build supposedly human-controlled Transformers from scratch, lead by Galvatron (voiced by Frank Welker), who has some ominous roots.
The handful of surviving heroic Autobots come out of hiding when their leader, Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen), is found and reactivated by Texan mechanic/failed inventor Cade Yeager (Wahlberg). He, his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), and her boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) go on the run with the Autobots in attempt to save the world (again) from all the bad guys.
Not that any of that matters, since Bay’s movies — and this in particular — are about the basics: slow-mo beauty shots and stuff getting blowed up real good, and there’s no shortage of that here. Bay and screenwriter Ehren Krueger take a side-trip long enough to whizz on what’s left of Chicago before moving on to stop the bejeezus out of Hong Kong. Fanboys who’ve been clamoring for the past several years to see the Dinobots onscreen may want to curb their enthusiasm; they only appear as a minor deus ex machina plot device during the movie’s extended climax, and get lost in the clamor of its monotonous orgy of mass destruction.
As for the slightly less robotic human characters, Wahlberg is a faux idealist/working-class single dad struggling to keep the faith and protect his daughter in between cock-blocking her and her boyfriend, who are a blandly generic pair of pretty young things. We saw this before in Armageddon, but at least that some actual acting from Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler. Apparently no such requirements were placed on Peltz and Raynor. Grammer and Tucci seem intent on actually performing and manage to lift the material a tiny bit; no doubt one or both of them herniated something in the process.
Aside from established characters of Prime and Bumblebee, the other Autobots in the movie — Hound (voiced by John Goodman), Crosshairs (voiced by John DiMaggio), and Drift (voiced by Ken Watanabe) — are broadly sketched stereotypes of the crusty old soldier, the Cockney tough guy, and the noble samurai. It used to be that the CGI robots were the most-developed characters (relatively speaking) in the Transformers movies; that’s not the case anymore.
This is tiresome and tedious blockbuster cash-cow movie milking — er, making — at its shallowest. Granted, we’re only supposed to turn our brains off and enjoy the ride; do that for the duration of this beatdown and you may not be able to turn them back on again.