Some things just never change. While the latest summer movie installments of X-Men, How to Train Your Dragon and even 22 Jump Street matched and improved upon their predecessors, Michael Bay’s new Transformers: Age of Extinction does anything but.
The last time I sat through a summer movie this long, dreadful and seemingly endless, it was Transformers: Dark of the Moon. I’m sort-of glad there are audiences who enjoy these movies (like the too-young kids scattered in the theater with me at a matinee). Yet, the gigantic popularity of this series mystifies me, as I know I’m not alone in thinking every one of these movies stink.
A new cast and a few years since the prior installment (with its skyscraper-shattering imagery right out of 9/11) made me mildly optimistic going in. The spastic Shia Labeouf and the unbearable Megan Fox have been replaced by Mark Wahlberg and Nicola Peltz (so good on TV’s Bates Motel but not here).
A rushed prologue immediately gets thing off on the wrong foot: we get an elaborate opening showing that evil Transformers are responsible for wiping out the dinosaurs. This amusing idea barely connects, as state of the art CGI depicting dinos being stalked by robots goes by so quickly, you never get any sense of awe. Every scene that follows is like that, as no scene, character or idea is given enough time to develop.
The present day setting is Texas but might as well have been identified as “‘merica,” with imagery right out of a Coors Light and/or military recruitment film filling the screen. A drinking game of taking a shot every time the American flag appears would result in kidney damage after 10 minutes.
Anyway, Wahlberg–with his muscles about to burst out of his shirt–is as miscast here as a wacky scientist as he was playing a high school science teacher in The Happening. It’s bad enough the role makes him a weirdly over-protective father (in a manner appropriate to a ‘50s sitcom), but Wahlberg’s Mr. Universe-meets-Rick Moranis Dad unearths a hibernating Optimus Prime. Minutes later, things blow up a lot, the war between Decepticons and Autobots continues, Peltz pouts (and is constantly photographed from the waist down), nothing makes sense, everyone yells and even more things blow up. Ladies and gentlemen, you are watching a Michael Bay movie.
As in every other Transformers movie, the cast overacts crazily, clearly not wanting to be upstaged by the seamless blend of live action footage and CGI. Stanley Tucci’s bureaucrat in a Faustinian bargain with Galvatron is a repeat of the character Patrick Dempsey played in the last movie. Kelsey Grammer comes off best, though this isn’t a showcase for good acting. I was especially embarrassed for John Goodman, whose voice work for Hound isn’t a career highlight. While the supporting characters are often stereotypical, sexist, racist caricatures, let it be noted that none of the human cast is in any way likable.
The Transformers themselves are repellent, appearing as though made from crushed together soda cans and acting with all the charm of birthday party clowns. Aside from watching them transform and smash through buildings, it’s hard to think of these as our “heroes.” Despite a story originating from toy shelves, this PG-13 movie is too profane, scary and violent for children.
While this generation of children will grow up to recognize how well the Harry Potter series hold up down the road, this series (and the Twilight movies) will only bring embarrassed eye rolls and declarations of “so-bad-they’re good” years later. Let me save you some time: aside from The Island, none of Bay’s films improve with age. That this is slightly less terrible than the second Transformers film, Revenge of the Fallen, is the highest praise I can give it.