Another installment of Michael Bay‘s critic-proof Transformers franchise comes to town, and this one is both more and less than some of its predecessors, but in new and quasi-interesting ways. Possibly the most notable feature of the film that clocks in at a whooping 165 minutes is that there is so much that is good in it, all of it wasted or destroyed by Bay. On the other hand, the most notable feature is probably that somehow it still just isn’t that bad. It’s bad, and irritating, but it’s not that bad.
Transformers: Age of Extinction kicks off with an overlong, laughably serious, establishment introduction, which is practically a separate movie unto itself. We get far more than we need about Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), his plight, his daughter, and his overly cliche, and simplistic “dreamer who doesn’t work well with real world issues.” It isn’t that the idea is a bad one, it just gets to us in a mostly tired way, and it keeps happening at you long after you’ve had more than your fill. Besides, Yeager is almost comic in his passion, because he’s a robotics inventor from some ’50s episode of television, not the present.
Our scene-setting continues with the explanation that Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) has managed to procure some role as the leader of a double-secret-no-take-backs black ops division of the CIA in order to play out his personal vendetta against Autobots and Decepticons alike, despite the fact that he has to cover his robot alien slaughter under the exceedingly thin veil of only being after the one group. He manages this by way of a super-double-secret death squad led by his main lackey, James Savoy (Titus Welliver).
We’re already well into the waste here. Kelsey Grammer is not necessarily the next greatest actor ever, but he’s done some seriously good work, and Titus Welliver has managed some amazing performances. Sure, it’s just a summer actioner, but these two are so boringly one-dimensional that if we were back in the glory days of westerns, Grammer’s character would be Black Hat McGee, and Welliver would play Henchman #1. This is especially frustrating because screenwriter Ehren Kruger (mostly known for other Transformers films, and various other garbage… but, fun garbage) has built in a worthwhile story about the government’s treatment of “aliens” and the general, reactionary attitude of “kill them all, sort it out later.” Plus, you can hardly tell the story without including a bit of, “if I have to kill every last person I’m supposedly protecting in order to get to what I’m protecting them from, so be it.” Kruger is naturally after the popcorn version of these things, but the hints of a better, more detailed, and far more fun version of things are there. Bay, unfortunately, serves this up as quickly as possible, and with no real thought to delivering any of it.
At any rate, this all gives us the stage for the Autobots being in hiding, and for Yeager stumbling upon Optimus. The government as bad guy spin also gives us an entry to disliking corporate giants who sit on their golden thrones messing with things they don’t understand. It turns out that Attinger has a deal with Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), a tech corporation billionaire, to make our own Transformers, now that we’ve discovered Tranformium, the metal Transformers are made of, and learned to program it. But, Attinger also has a deal with Lock Down, a Transformer who is neither Autobot, nor Decepticon, but is instead on a mission (sort of) to bring Optimus Prime back to The Creators. Don’t worry, it’s all explained very well, and makes perfect sense. After all, we have more than 160 minutes to work with. Actually, no, it isn’t, but who cares?
Much as any Transformers movie is bound to spare no effort at making you want to hate it, it’s hard to deny the fun that exists in Transformers: Age of Extinction. It at least has an interesting story, even if it doesn’t actually give it to you, and the action is a bit more toned down, which means that much of it might actually be relevant to the story that is only there in said flimsy sense. Still, the goofy fun is there, and even if the film goes wrong in a lot of ways, this time around they aren’t all ways that are quite as sure about your level of stupidity.
If you make it into the theater, that’s about all you can expect, and you’re even more likely to leave satisfied with this one. However, that doesn’t mean that a lot of viewers won’t find a lot to be disappointed with. Watching Mark Wahlberg and Stanley Tucci have a lot of fun is worth sitting through on its own, and the action won’t leave anyone unhappy, but the waste is still there, along with some other odd moments.
The government story doesn’t come through as well as it might, because when we dance into the realm of hyperbole, and don’t know what we’re doing, it just makes everything look silly. Moreover, making a point by way of bad hyperbole can actually make it seem like you’re trying to make the opposite point. There are also several moments where the action goes on too long, the camerabatics are too prevalent, and the connection to the story gets lost, and the result is that things that should be extremely cool come off as a bit boring. Plus, Yeager’s background, and his relationship with his daughter, eventually become so oversold that they aren’t interesting anymore, and this is at a point when you’ve got two hours left to watch. As if there weren’t enough examples of how Bay manages to get everything to go wrong, Roger Barton, William Goldenberg, and Paul Rubell (all with very solid histories in their field) are all credited as editors on the film, and somehow the result is one of the worst examples of film editing that I’ve ever seen.
As for the category of odd things that pop up, and seemingly for no real reason at all, we have the scene in which Yeager confronts the boyfriend that he only now discovers his daughter has. It turns out, apparently, that Texas has a law that provides a loophole to statutory rape such that if it is a continued relationship that started when both parties were under age, it isn’t statutory rape when one of the parties becomes old enough that it otherwise would be. This fact is made known to you, and the relevant characters are aged 20 and 17, apparently just so that we get a chance to have someone say to Yeager, “That’s right. I’m statutorily raping your daughter… in some other state!” Make of that scene what you can.
Like I said, Transformers: Age of Extinction cares about as much for critical response as Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo (or whatever that show is called), and when it comes to leaving something off as a summer thrill ride, this one works well enough, but it has a lot of problems for anyone hoping for a bit more.