Film Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction

Autobots defend ungrateful humans in the fourth entry in the franchise. Special effects still reign despite a new cast.

More is more for Michael Bay, never a director to pass up a chance to go big. The pounding, relentless Transformers: Age of Extinction will dominate the box office, but most likely so would have a shorter, less ear-splitting version.

The Transformers plots may not write themselves, but they come pretty close. Autobots led by Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) are the good guys; Decepticons are bad. Similarly, government and business figures are bad; marginal, crackpot outcasts and their friends are good. At stake: Autobot culture, personal liberties, human civilization, the fate of the planet.

What screenwriter Ehren Kruger brings to the mix this time is a new set of characters, centering on debt-ridden, over-his-head Texan Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg). Salvaging junk from an old movie theatre (with obligatory nods to the end of film, the curse of sequels, and other self-referential gags), Cade discovers what turns out to be Optimus disguised as a truck.

The Autobots are on the run thanks to "Cemetery Wind," a black-ops CIA program headed by Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), who's in cahoots with Steve Jobs-wannabe Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) to wipe out "illegal aliens" while harvesting their technology. Attinger sends troops to Texas, along with Decepticon bounty hunter Lockdown (Mark Ryan), to get rid of Optimus.

Yeager, his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), and her boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) help Optimus escape. They gather with the surviving Autobots (including John Goodman's Hound) near Monument Valley to plot an attack on Joyce's KSI headquarters in Chicago.
A Decepticon spaceship discovered in the Arctic plays a role in the Chicago scenes, as does a poorly engineered Galvatron (Frank Welker), who goes berserk during a freeway chase. Then it's off to China with Joyce, his business partner Su Yueming (Li Bingbing), and the surviving human leads to cash in on co-production funds and incidentally wipe out much of Hong Kong.

This is what money gets you onscreen these days: endless helicopter shots; unlimited cars, trucks and SUVs; the luxury to slow down for banter in barns, gas stations and corporate conference rooms; and full use of ever-improving digital effects.

Slipping in too many human moments was apparently too costly, however. Wahlberg, essentially repeating his clueless but resolute Daniel Lugo from Bay's Pain & Gain, is good enough, especially when Kruger writes him a line like "Sweetie, hand me my alien gun." Almost everyone else is adrift, including a scenery-chewing Tucci.

But why argue with success? Transformers: Age of Extinction will make a bundle no matter what its flaws. Allow yourself to be swept along, and you'll notice that Bay churns the screen like no one else, marshaling an arsenal of effects to produce a vision of chaos that verges on astonishing.

And there are some ironies to savor, like Attinger's goal of building a "fully automated U.S. Army" in a Chinese plant, or Yeager pondering the implications of Texas's "Romeo and Juliet" law while his daughter nuzzles with her boyfriend.

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