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Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)

Directed by: Michael Bay

Premise: The fourth film in the Transformers series. After the events of Dark of the Moon, humanity has turned on all Transformers, good and bad. An inventor (Mark Wahlberg) repairs Optimus Prime and he, his family, and the rest of the Transformers become targets of the CIA.

What Works: Transformers: Age of Extinction generally improves on the previous movies in this series. This instalment introduces an entirely new human cast who are less obnoxious and more watchable than the characters of earlier films. Mark Wahlberg is a much more engaging leading man than Shia LaBeauf and the relationship with his daughter, played by Nicola Peltz, is more interesting than the love stories of the previous movies. Age of Extinction begins with a more compelling premise than some of the other instalments, in that humans are fed up with the destruction of the Transformers’ previous battles and have forced the surviving robots into hiding. The story takes an interesting turn with the introduction of the military industrial complex responding to the Transformers and trying to capitalize their technology. As part of this story development, Stanley Tucci plays the chief executive of a military contractor who has a crisis of conscience and he gives the film its sole piece of humanity. Viewers who enjoy the Transformers series usually do so because of their action sequences. Age of Extinction is consistent with the other films while diminishing some of the obnoxious qualities of this series. This time around there are not so many close ups of metal grinding against metal and the action of the set pieces is generally coherent. Age of Extinction also shows some improvement in its regard for women; the previous Transformers movies photographed female characters with the same regard afforded to luxury cars. The single female character of Age of Extinction is still dressed in the requisite getup of short-shorts but the filmmakers don’t go out of their way to dwell on that fact and even remark on it self-consciously.

What Doesn’t: Age of Extinction may be the best of the four Transformers movies but it still isn’t very good. The underlying problem of this movie is that it is too long. Running 165 minutes, Age of Extinction is the lengthiest of the Transformers series but it does not merit that length. When a movie is described as being too long what that usually means is that the pacing and storytelling are off. There are plenty of movies longer than Age of Extinction that are well worth the time—see JFK, The Godfather, and the extended versions of The Lord of the Rings—but the problem here is that there is nothing holding the movie together. Audiences invest in characters, plot, and ideas but none of that is on the screen. The story premise sets this up to be a different kind of Transformers movie but the filmmakers quickly fall back on old habits and Age of Extinction is the same thing we’ve seen in the other three movies but longer and louder. The filmmakers do nothing interesting with the new elements. The premise of the Transformers-as-outlaws is quickly dropped and the father-daughter relationship consists entirely of Mark Wahlberg telling Nicola Peltz to cover up. It’s revealed that she has a boyfriend, played by Shane Dyson, but the only thing the filmmakers manage to do with him is for Wahlberg to repeatedly tell his daughter’s boyfriend that he’s going to beat him up. Stanley Tucci is also wasted and his crisis of conscience does not come with any sacrifice, undermining the one credible human aspect of the movie. Instead of bringing a new approach to the material, Age of Extinction rehashes the same kinds of set pieces and it continues the arc of this series, to increase the running time and expand the quota of destruction while decreasing the investment in the characters. In all, Age of Extinction has no drama because nothing meaningful is ever at stake. This movie features battle after battle and chase after chase but it all runs together. Despite the extraordinary amount of carnage on the screen, the movie is really boring.

Bottom Line: There is a reason why fireworks displays always run less than an hour; as impressive as it may be, spectacle without humanity cannot sustain long term interest. Transformers: Age of Extinction is flat and tedious because it’s always set at eleven and there is nothing to it beyond its computer generated mayhem.

Episode: #499 (July 13, 2014)