With Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor. Written by Ehren Kruger. Directed by Michael Bay. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo. 165 minutes.
“2001: A Space Odyssey” was 160 minutes. “The Godfather” was 170 minutes. There is no reason on Earth (or beyond) that TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION needs to be 165 minutes. It is a bloated, incoherent mess that may divert children (and grown-ups who enjoyed playing with the toys) who have turned the last three films into international hits. It’s a prime example of why box office is not a good measure of quality.
Written by Ehren Kruger, the once promising screenwriter who now makes a lot of money for “Scene: Good robots fight bad robots,” sets us up with Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), a Texas inventor who is about to lose his home. It’s five years after the events of “Transformers: Dark Of The Moon” (2011) and the battle of Chicago. For some reason the “Autobots” (the good Transformers) are now considered the enemy and are being slowly eradicated by a government black ops group headed by Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer). It’s at this moment that Cade finds a beat up old truck that–surprise, surprise–is really Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots.
When the government swoops down on Cade and threatens his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), he gets mad, and throws in his lot with Optimus Prime. The rest of the movie consists of chasing and fighting, with yet another battle of Chicago and then, if that wasn’t enough, moving the action to China for another battle in Hong Kong. It turns out that Attinger is in cahoots with Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), who is recycling and deconstructing the robotic debris to create a new generation of transformers.
Meanwhile, between fights–and sometimes during them–Cade is very upset that Tessa, about to graduate high school, has a boyfriend. Shane (Jack Reynor) is three years older than her and Cade rants so much that this reviewer (himself the father of a teenage girl who just graduated from high school) found him to be a complete jerk. If this was Kruger’s attempt at comic relief, it fails miserably. Meanwhile there are still other robots, also bad, who are working with Attinger for reasons of their own.
So for nearly three hours, director/ringmaster Michael Bay has the good robots fight the bad robots, introducing new ones with little explanation and just assuming that if you’re willingly watching the movie you already know who they are and why they’re there. Most of the action scenes with the robots are tedious, although the showdown between two humans, Cade and black ops leader James Savoy (Titus Welliver), actually shows some spark.
This is beyond a “check your brains at the door” sort of movie. This is a movie that has a character go from being a hard-ass to cuddly comical relief simply because of a phone call making him realize he was wrong. It’s one where the CIA is building a top secret robot army using advanced transformers technology… in China. After all, it’s not like we’d be worried about China acquiring the technology for themselves. Hollywood is more concerned that this movie appeals to audiences across Asia.
Although there are some good actors in the cast none distinguish themselves here. Wahlberg is embarrassing as the obsessive father. Grammer and Tucci are saddled with cartoonish characters. Peltz and Reynor at least have the advantage that they’re not Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox from the earlier films.
“Transformers: Age Of Extinction” may not be the worst movie of the summer, but it’s pretty bad. Nonetheless, it’s going to make a fortune proving once again that H. L. Mencken was right when he noted that no one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.