Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction
The latest and longest installment in the gratuitous, bombastic series following transforming alien robots is the best one yet, but that’s faint praise.
That Transformers in all its excessive, absurd, patriotic, orgiastic glory is better than the preceding three has nothing to do with director Michael Bay, who checks every box in his blockbuster movie-making template. There are an overdose of glares and sleek lighting, lots of slow-motion strutting, signature low camera angles starring up at our heroes, and of course a plethora of American flags.
And explosions. Lots of explosions, lots of noise, and lots of terrible dialogue.
No, Transformers, here given another in a line of generic and meaningless subtitles with Age of Extinction, is watchable because the cast has been greatly upgraded. Gone is the panic and smarminess of Shia LeBeouf, and instead we get an energetic and ever-charming Mark Wahlberg. Our villains include Kelsey Grammer and a pitch-perfect Stanley Tucci, the actor solely responsible for keeping your attention and interest of the last half hour or so of this nearly three-hour lark.
It begins and ends with Wahlberg, and secondarily the wonderful young Irish actor Jack Reynor, getting a big time starring role, having made waves with the stunning drama What Richard Did. Wahlberg isn’t playing anyone new. He’s a spirited hard-luck Texas inventor (with an occasional Boston accent) and loveable single father Cade Yeager, trying to keep a business and house together alongside his underling scientist Lucas (T.J. Miller) and his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz).
Now, Tessa fits the Michael Bay mold of a woman: a rather slender teenager with long hair and long legs and who likes to wear incredibly skimpy clothing while also requiring the assistance of men early and often. It is with his consistently leery and gratuitous camera that Bay ogles Tessa’s body – as he does with other women in the film. She is simply there to provide friction between Wahlberg and her secret boyfriend Shane (Reynor), and of course give them both something for which to fight.
The haphazard lab, which operates out of the Yeager’s barn on their picturesque farmhouse (complete with American flags) becomes a site of early incident, as seeking spare parts, Cabe purchases a broken down truck that, wouldn’t you know it, happens to be the leader of the friendly Autobots who once fought for humans.
Of course since the Battle of Chicago (the third Transformers film, and not at all required viewing), the secretive and greedy arms of the government have decided they want alien technology, and it’s time to hunt and kill all transformers, whether or not they were good or bad.
This is five years after that last film, and we bear witness to the death of one beloved Autobot early on. That we care more about the robots than the humans has never been a big deal. It’s not long before this black ops agency called Cemetery Wind, led by a menacing Kelsey Grammer and his head field agent Savoy ( Titus Welliver), find out something is happening in the Yeager’s barn.
So sets forth the chaos, melodrama, and convolution. Yeager and company protect their new robotic friend, he protects them in return, Shane makes his first appearance at the barn, and soon the humans arnd the Autobots are on the run together.
But wait, there’s more. No absurd, sprawling summer sci-fi fare is complete without some esoteric object that holds the fate of humankind, or something like that, in the balance. Sometimes it’s given a silly name (the Tesseract, in The Avengers) or sometimes it’s more ominous (the All-Spark, in one of the earlier Transformers). Here it’s the Seed, something that can turn anything organic (like us!) into transformer metal. As we being, it’s possessed by some ancient race of Transformers, but they are ready to give it over to the humans in very dangerous business deal.
Everyone has motives. This alien leader, who transforms into a pretty slick sports car, wants to kill the Autobots, while Grammer’s slimy private sector bigwig wants money. Tucci’s inventor wants to change the world, while a bit of a personal vendetta develops between Savoy and Yeager.
Oh, and there may be Decepticons lurking too.
It’s all exaggerated, ridiculous, and rather nonsensical storytelling, but it’s truly the charm of the leading men (and save for one brief moment in the film, it’s only men who can do anything), that prevail. To his credit, Bay has perfected Transformers action, realizing it with both coherence and tension; even if a couple scenes are redundant (he loves battles on the highways). The dialogue is laugh-out-loud awful, and though it pretends to be self-aware, it’s not.
As mentioned, we care far more about the fate of the robots than the humans, though Tucci may rival some of the secondary Autobots. Those include Hound (John Goodman), Drift (Ken Watanabe), and Crosshairs (not Jason Statham), all of whom are rather ridiculous caricatures and maybe vaguely racist, in true Transformers fashion.
Of course the best ones come at the end, and surprisingly this action-packed and comically-ludicrous popcorn flick doesn’t feel its overlong runtime. Transformers is a triumph of excess and absurdity: silly and lazy while simultaneously energetic and hilarious. If you can overlook Bay’s sexism and patriotism, there’s some fun to be had, and a ton to laugh at.