By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2 (Out of 4 Stars)
When director Michael Bay first announced that he would not return to direct another Transformers movie after Transformers: Dark of the Moon, many frustrated movie goers, including myself, breathed a collective sigh of relief. I think we hoped that this meant either the end of what turned out to be an abysmally banal series, or better yet, an opportunity to reboot with fresh minds in charge. His rock ’em, sock ’em robot trilogy got off to a promising start in 2007 with the first film, but the next two installments disappointed with its excessive and stupid attempts at humor and their overindulgence in destruction porn. To give Bay and his effects team some credit, the CGI robots and action sequences do look impressive, Bay just has a penchant for excess and simply fails to exercise some much needed restraint in these films. To begin with, the screenplays by Ehren Krueger, Robert Orci, and Alex Kurtzman in parts 2 & 3 feature some of the most atrocious writing ever committed to film.
Well, here we are three years later with the fourth installment in the Transformers franchise, and not much has changed behind the camera. Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura convinced Bay and Krueger to sign up for another movie, but with a brand new cast of human characters. By replacing Shia LeBeouf with Mark Wahlberg as the lead, the producers of the film hoped to breathe new life into the franchise. What they should have done, at the very least, was hire better writers than Krueger to scribe a great Transformers film. In that scenario, I think I could live with Bay returning, The series badly needed a transformation in the script department. Sadly though, the result of Krueger and Bay’s reteaming is more of the same overindulgences and nonsense which made the previous two films so frustrating.
Krueger does attempt to make his screenplay smarter, playing on relevant issues of homeland security and fearmongering, but extensive subplots involving the main human characters in addition to the robotic drama and action make this latest chapter bloated and overwrought. Krueger and Bay set this installment four years after the incidents of Transformers: Dark of the Moon. After the catastrophic damage and loss of life caused by the war between the Autobots and Decepticons, an elite C.I.A. unit, headed by Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) has been hunting the surviving Autobots. When struggling inventor Cade Yeager (Wahlberg) and his teen daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) discover the badly injured Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) and reluctantly agree to help him, they become hunted by the U.S. government as well. As Yeager further investigates the activities of the C.I.A., he uncovers a plot between Attinger and technological entrepreneur Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci). Joyce’s plans to exploit the technology of the Transformers could possibly lead to the eventual extinction of human life on earth.
Krueger’s plot and story are actually interesting and the potential for a great film was there. The trouble is that he pads the movie with unnecessary and extensive story and character development and humorous sequences which essentially waste way too much time. In addition to this issue, Krueger’s attempts at humor fail more than they succeed. These moments also take up too much screen time. Once again, Bay overindulges in his action sequences which often run protractedly and grow tiresome by the final act of the film. I can think of particular rescue scene that easily could have been trimmed extensively and would have helped move the story along more smoothly. Clocking at 165 minutes, Transformers: Age of Extinction often drags on and wears out its welcome even before the film reaches its climax. The filmmakers not only squanders too much of its audience’s time, it also squanders the talent of a great cast of actors who do their best with the mediocre material.
Wahlberg brings enthusiasm, energy and a likable sensitivity to his character and Stanley Tucci’s gleeful and passionate channeling of Steve Jobs, along with his exceptional comic timing almost salvages the hackneyed development of his character and some of the silly lines he delivers. Kelsey Grammer’s regal presence improves on what otherwise is a cliché, government conspiracy villain. T.J. Miller also contributes to the laughs as Yeager’s assistant Lucas Flannery, but he’s another character that succeeds only because of the natural charm of the actor. In addition to returning voice actor Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime), this installment can boast exceptional voice work by Ken Watanabe (Drift), Frank Welker (Galvatron), and Mark Ryan (Lockdown). My favorite voice actor of this film and probably the entire film series has to be John Goodman who performs as Hound, an ornery soldier who transforms into a military truck. Goodman’s performance, and the actually funny comic material he has, makes him the most lovable Transformer character of the entire movie franchise.
Despite the solid foundation for an intelligent story and the fresh cast, this Transformers movie is definitely not the most lovable installment of the series. Krueger and Bay’s gluttony with their screenplay and action sequences make this third sequel just another frustrating and irritating entry in a franchise badly in need of a reboot. Die-hard fans of the old school Transformers toys and cartoon are better off avoiding this movie. It certainly is not worth the ticket money and the 165 minutes lost in seeing it. If fans of this franchise do exist, they will get another helping of that which pleases them.