If you came into this one expecting, say, “12 Years a Slave,” you’re likely to be disappointed. But “Transformers: Age of Extinction” didn’t promise to change your life. It promised giant robots in 3D, and it delivers giant robots in 3D.
And yes, that is exactly what the last “Transformers” movie promised. The third installment, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” delivered in spades, and raised the bar for this fourquel. “Age of Extinction” serves up stunts, special effects and big ticket property damage, epic in scale and nearly non-stop.
The plot isn’t really going to matter to too many prospective audiences, so long as the big robots don’t take too long to show up and get right down to the serious business of breaking buildings. The world is picking up the pieces after the events of “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” and a couple of military/industrial fat cats (Kelsey Grammer and Stanley Tucci) teaming up to make their own Transformers. Mark Wahlberg buys a junked truck that turns out to be Optimus Prime, and bad special ops guys show up. Oh, and aliens were responsible for the demise of the dinosaurs. None of that really matters, and to be honest, the screenplay borders on incoherent in places.
But then the “Transformers” aren’t made for critics any more than Hal Needham’s “Smokey and the Bandit” movies were back in the seventies. It’s a little astonishing, not to say alarming, that Bay has made almost nothing but “Transformers” movies for years now, though it’s unquestionably a living. But he’s mining his own lexicon way too deep—Mark Wahlberg’s character, a Disney-style eccentric inventor, is raising a daughter (Nicola Peltz) alone, which calls to mind Bruce Willis and Liv Tyler in “Armageddon” as much as it does anything else. There’s also a good-looking racecar driver boyfriend (Jack Reynor) to irritate Wahlberg, and you get the idea. These aren’t characters, but no one has ever made the claim that Bay is an actor’s director, and he isn’t about to expand his rep here. He’s getting bigger names all the time, and yes, they’re over-qualified, but no doubt happy to be attached to a hit. He’s always been particularly shallow with female characters, who are either sexy ingénues or bitches. It’s gratifying to report that former model Nicola Peltz is up to the task.
The humans are mainly to be chased around either by giant robots or human bad guys, dodge falling and flying debris, and occasionally recite a punchline. The action scenes, unquestionably big, are, like their predecessors, too over-the-top for their own good, and while eleven year olds will be entranced, adults will get headaches. After a while all the swirling, whirling, CGI metallic debris begins to look alike, and the noise level will get to you. And like previous “Transformers” movies, this one lets three or four good opportunities to wrap it all up before the two and a half hour mark get away. The movie is ultimately only five minutes shorter than “Saving Private Ryan.” It didn’t’ need to be. Look at the bright side, though. Shia LaBeouf, who starred in the first three movies in the franchise, is nowhere to be seen.