Review | Plot and Thrills Are Endangered Species in ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’

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If nothing else, at least the Transformers series is consistent.

For the latest installment, Transformers: Age of Extinction, director Michael Bay returns to deliver another round of photorealistic, but painfully lifeless, CG set pieces built on the backs of characters – both robot and human – that make it a near-herculean effort for audiences to give a damn.

Four movies into the Paramount Pictures franchise, and the best thing about them is they eventually end, although with its nearly three-hour running time, the conclusion of Age of Extinction can’t come fast enough. The plot, if you can call it that, doesn’t matter – not to the filmmakers, and not to the characters. But of course, the stories for these films are best evaluated in terms of which elements resemble something vaguely tolerable, or else suck the least.

Mark Wahlberg’s Texas inventor Cade Yeager is firmly in the “sucks the most” column: The only thing the film does better than demonstrate how poor of an inventor the man is – his genius peeked somewhere around “mobile, beer-dispensing dorm fridge” – is show him as an equally bad father. His forced, boring conflict with his daughter (Nicola Peltz) is largely based on him not wanting her to date, and her, well, wanting to.

extinction6As if the movie is daring you to find new means of caring even less, it throws in the daughter’s boyfriend – played by Jack Reynor, who has slightly less presence than a cardboard cutout from Spencer’s Gifts. The character, whose name you won’t recall, is endowed with affectations instead of a personality. When he’s not being rude to Cade for reasons the story neglects, he wears a leather jacket and drives a souped-up Chevy. (“I’m legit,” Johnny Blankslate boasts. “I just got picked up by Redbull.”)

The bad guys are led by evil CIA officer Kelsey Grammer, who doesn’t chew the scenery as much as you might expect, despite the ample opportunities “Operation: Cemetery Wind” affords him. That’s the black op used to assassinate all Transformers, with help from Lockdown, a robotic bounty hunter working for “The Creators,” the alien race responsible for the robots in disguise (that’s who, in the film’s final moments, Prime – with a nod to Prometheus — presumably rockets off to battle in Part 5.)

In between all of this, Stanley Tucci emerges as an egomaniacal genius in cahoots with Grammer to build their own Transformers – Tuccicons, if you will – for military applications, using the shape-changing metal element known as Transformium (yeah, that happened).

The plan goes horribly awry when new baddie Galvatron turns on creator Tucci, whose surprise that the robot he created from parts of Megatron’s severed head has turned bad is one of the better laughs you’ll have at the film’s expense.

From there, the story unspools with dull action scenes that are violently allergic to the notions of emotional or physical geography — punctuated by Autobots fighting among themselves and spitting out truly hateful remarks in the name of “comic relief.”

For a movie designed to sell new toys to young kids, Extinction is disturbingly preoccupied with finding new ways to say “You’re going to die” or “Can’t wait to kill some humans.” (The grating, one-note Hound, voiced by John Goodman, hates humans, but apparently has no problem modeling his non-vehicle form after them.) Toss in the one F-bomb the MPAA permits in PG-13 movies – it’s as awkwardly out of place as you would think in a Hasbro-branded feature – and you have more proof that children are the last audience this series understands or cares about. (Remember when these films wore their “From Executive Producer Steven Spielberg” credit like a badge of honor?)

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Of Extinction’s numerous narrative offenses, the worst is probably its lack of love for its heroes, especially Optimus Prime. The Autobot leader is reduced to an angry, 30-foot gun thug who, despite the events of the previous films, still debates the value of human life. It’s terrible to hear the hate that underlies his vow to tear Grammar’s villain to pieces; it doesn’t matter how evil the guy is, knowing not to cross that line is what Prime has spent the past three films learning.

Equally damning is the film’s handling of the Dinobots, which could have accomplished for this series what Hulk’s antics did for The Avengers. Instead, we’re given voiceless creatures with zero personality – all that distinguishes them is that they transform into different things. We’re even treated to a scene in which Prime announces to Grimlock that he gave the dinosaur its “freedom,” only to watch Prime battle the beast into submission under the threat of “help my family or die!”

As eye-rolling as Wahlberg’s performance is, he’s more adept at the hero moments than previous star Shia LaBeouf ever was, and the new robot designs are much easier to distinguish when it comes to the Bayhem, with the action alternating between punishing and soulless. They’d be fun to watch if Bay and writer Ehren Kruger cared as much about character as they do about scale.

Some may argue that Transformers: Age of Extinction isn’t as bad as 2011’s Dark of the Moon, but that’s a lot like saying that, of the punches you took to the shoulder, face, throat and groin, this one hurts the least.

And if the box office is any indication, we can expect the most narratively bankrupt movie franchise ever made to keep swinging.

Transformers: Age of Extinction opens today nationwide.

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Comments

  • G-Man

    Since Edgar Wright is in need of a job he could direct Transformers 5? Going to see this now actually.

  • Claude Gaudette

    If somebody asked me “So, what, you want a SMART movie about giant robots hitting each other?” I’d say “YES, GODDAMIT! That is EXACTLY what I want!” Smart doesn’t have to mean intellectually rigorous, complex, and “Artsy”. It just has to mean the filmmakers put as much thought into the story making sense, the characterization feeling believable, the acting being convincing, and the visuals clearly conveying what is happening and to whom as they do to how much CGI they can cram into an already incredibly crowded frame without blocking the blatant product placement. There are times where if I had one wish it would be that the easily amused apologists out there who drone on about “It’s just a dumb popcorn flick, don’t be so critical! Just turn off your brain!” all had but one throat with my hands around it.

  • samuel

    Amen

  • Claude Gaudette

    The thing I want to say to anyone who thinks that to enjoy something you have to turn off your brain is: “So what you’re saying is, to enjoy this thing I would have to be basically brain dead? No, thanks.”

  • Steelbolt

    So in other words, in the words of the honorable Jay Prescott Sherman, your final verdict on the movie is: “It stinks.”

  • Shizzle My Nizzle

    i hate to generalize, but i’m confident saying anyone that likes these things is likely pretty damn stupid.

  • NihilistZerO

    So by the description of the ending I guess a reboot is way off… Would love to see them start fresh with F. Gary Gray… tell the origin story in 10 minutes just like the cartoon did. Ship crashes. Ship computer seeks out vehicle samples to repair transformers. Peter Cullen be good Frank Welker be evil while chasing a McGuffin in a reasonably thought out narrative. It doesn;t have to be Shakespere, but it doesn’t have to be Bay-Stupid either….

  • Dre Day

    Same old complaints. Sure to be, the same old box office success. Keep ‘em comin’ Mike Bay! I want Megan Fox and Unicron, in the next one!

  • PietroMaximoff

    Dark side of the moon: i watched it at home, and couldn’t take it anymore! i had to continously do other things like texting or playing candy crush, it was just too long, bid and dumb… i don’t think i can watch this one on the big screen. sure i’ll catch up some day, but probably once it’s on TV

  • Kerwin

    Wow…I didn’t think it was that bad…My only complaint was that the Villains were kind of horrible…To make a true hero I think you need a true Villain and that’s what this film was missing. Prime never really had a chance to stand up against evil and stand for what’s right…he just ran the whole time…

  • Victor Acosta

    Jeremy Jahns said it best:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7CcNY5w4MU

    An I wholeheartedly agree with his rating. Nuff said!

  • CudaBiro

    Why would they reboot? This is quite likely to be one of the top three films in terms of box office this year.

  • Ben

    But were boobs present???

  • David Fullam

    Cue angry fanboys sending hateful emails to various movie critics for not loving the film in 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…..

  • http://www.soulexo.com Benjamin J

    Pacific Rim was far from perfect, but it was a much better example of a movie with giant robots hitting things that had other things going on and characters you could at least make an attempt to care about.

  • Tophman

    I wholeheartedly agree with Phil’s digs & observations (well except for Wahlberg… the man can do no wrong imo … but I’m biased). Bay’s movies have all favored flash over substance and as long as he gets box office results, that’s unlikely to change. Watch it for Nicola’s barely there jailbait outfits, the visual eye candy, & of course the Bayvestation, but it’s imperative you check your brain at the door.

    Btw, the cut here in SE Asia is PG so Hound didn’t drop his F-bomb though I wouldn’t take any little kids to see it as there’s a large body count (both human -many from our protagonist Prime- & ‘Cybertronian’ alike).

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