I'll be the first to admit that the second grade boy in me loves the first Transformers. It's not a great movie by an cinematic measure, but when compared to its subsequent sequels it's damn near Shakespeare. It's somewhere in the middle of the Michael Bay Scale of Excess (The Rock being the least excessive and Bad Boys II being at the other end of the spectrum.) The first of the sequels was one of the worst movies of the last decade, and Dark of the Moon, the third entry, was marginally better. Transformers: Age of Extinction is something of a reboot with all new human protagonists, but directly follows the events of the last film. It is also a complete letdown, suitable only for the most diehard of Hasbro fans and Michael Bay apologists.
After the battle that leveled Chicago in the last film, humanity has turned against the Transformers. Even the heroic Autobots aren't safe from a clandestine wing of the CIA run by Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), who hunts down the Autobots with the help of a Transformer bounty hunter called Lockdown. (Sidenote: Why do all the Transformers have names that make them sound like pro wrestlers?) As a result the remaining Autobots are in hiding, including Autobot leader Optimus Prime, whose cover is blown by a Texas inventor named Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) when he finds him while scavenging for junk. It's not long before the Feds show up to threaten Yaeger and his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), and soon they're on the run with Optimus and Tessa's stock car racing boyfriend (Jack Reynor).
This isn't the worst entry in the series (that distinct honor goes to Revenge of the Fallen with its casually blatant racism) but it is a terrible movie. In the past Michael Bay has certainly proved he's a capable director of action, but here, as he so often does, he substitutes giant explosions, loud crashes and hyperkinetic editing for actual choreography and expects us to be amazed. The animated effects are seamless but any sense of scale and awe is missing from what is essentially a cartoon. There is exactly one good scene, with Wahlberg and company climbing down a series of cables from a spaceship to the former Sears Tower while being chased by robotic attack dogs. It is the only moment that had any kind of tension or excitement.
The screenplay by Ehren Kruger is characteristically abysmal, with cliched platitudes standing in for dialogue, and character development that makes Snow White seem three dimensional. The acting is uniformly bad, with Wahlberg showing the kind of range he displayed in those Calvin Klein ads. He can be a fine actor, but this is his worst performance since The Happening. The young actors seem to exist solely to look pretty for the camera. And while we're on the subject, I'm tired of these movies being populated with models. The only characters who look like real people are the comedy sidekicks. It makes me long for the days when Shia the Beef starred in these films.
The plot is unnecessarily busy, with the MacGuffin being an alien bomb that turns everything into the same programmable metal that the Transformers are made of. Stanley Tucci shows up as a Steve Jobs-like tech mogul who is building an army of Transformers for the government. Tucci is completely wasted here, though he does have the movie's best line (which I can't reprint here, sadly.) And there's a throwaway subplot that has Decepticon leader Megatron resurrected in the body of a man-made Transformer, but the scripts seems to forget about him until the very end of the movie, when it brings him back for a shameless plug for the inevitable sequel.
None of this would matter if the movie was at all exciting. The problem is the movie's not very fun; it runs nearly three hours and feels longer than that. Even the appearance of the fan favorite Dinobots late in the movie is an anticlimactic letdown. If I go to see your movie about giant robots fighting and I'm bored, then I'm sorry Michael Bay, you failed.