Explosions, explosions and more explosions in 'Transformers: Age of Extinction'

Paramount Pictures

By Alec Stern, Senior Arts Editor
Published July 2, 2014

Pulling off the fourquel is tricky. There’s no way around it. Whether it’s a long awaited next entry in a storied franchise (à la “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” or “Scream 4”) or the start of a new trilogy (“Star Wars: Episode 1”) — or, let’s be real here, a saw-that-coming continuation because they’ll only stop making more once we stop giving them all of our money (“Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”) — the fourth film is a strange post-trilogy no-man’s-land whose merits are very often hard to defend.

Transformers: Age of Extinction

Rave and Quality 16

There are ways, in fact, to defend the “Transformers” trilogy — I’ve spent a lot of time doing it. Released in the thick of summer blockbuster glory, each entry in Michael Bay’s billion dollar enterprise accomplishes exactly what it sets out to: entertain. But like nearly every fourquel that came before it, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” has trouble proving its worth. It doesn’t even really try. “Age of Extinction” is nothing more than a money-grubbing, unrelenting special effects marathon, its many minutes leaving you with one resounding, disorienting headache.

A reboot of sorts, complete with an all new human cast featuring heavy hitters like Mark Wahlberg (“Lone Survivor”) and Stanley Tucci (“The Hunger Games”), “Age of Extinction” picks up five years after “Dark of the Moon” ’s attack on Chicago and concludes with nary a mention of Shia LaBeouf’s Samuel Witwicky. Somewhere in Texas, inventor Cade Yeager (Wahlberg) gets swept up in the battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons when he takes to fixing an old truck that turns out to be Autobots leader Optimus Prime. What follows, as does in each installment before it, is a relentless attack — as only Bay can pull off — on Decepticons, cities, audiences and fans of decent (or any) character development.

Among the new cast is Nicola Peltz (A&E’s “Bates Motel”), a fresh-faced ingénue filling the Daisy Dukes and stilettos previously occupied by Megan Fox and Rosie Huntington-Whitely. On “Bates,” Peltz proved to be way more than just the pretty face Bay largely makes her out to be. Here, as Wahlberg’s daughter Tessa, when she’s not delivering lines like, “It’s almost time to get a tan and get wasted!,” she’s reduced to screams, gasps and between-the-legs shots. Peltz makes the most of it, but like any Bay heroine, she’s the eye candy who eventually and often needs saving, and this tired routine is just one of the factors contributing to the movie’s generally tired production.

Ehren Kruger’s script also requires no brainpower on behalf of the viewer. Even “Revenge of the Fallen” — which until this weekend was the worst entry in the “Transformers” franchise — at least asks of audiences to grasp government-centric exposition and a robot mythology that carries most of the narrative. Conversely, “Age of Extinction” is a hollow string of action sequences, directed by Bay with a heavy hand and a fleeting desire to be anything more than that.

But “Age of Extinction” ’s fatal flaw isn’t its blatant misogyny, paper-thin storyline or offensive stereotypes (a lengthy portion of the film is set in China). When all is said and done, and a once-bustling Beijing is reduced to a sad pile of rubble, the film clocks in at 165 minutes. 165 minutes — easily the longest of the franchise and over 30 minutes longer than recent blockbusters like “X-Men: Days of Future Past” and “Godzilla.” Almost three full hours of smashing and banging and booming and crashing. Buildings coming down. Cars turning over. Landmarks bursting into flames. In the end, not even the reveal of the admittedly super cool Dinobots (dinosaur robots, that is) is enough to muster up any excitement out of your jumbled brain and tired eyes.

“Extinction” ’s relentlessly full throttle construction forces you to actually cherish the moments of cheesy dialogue that are few and far between. No developments — despite Kelsey Grammer’s best attempts at backstory-laden villainy — actually serve the characters or any greater good. Everything is exclusively, wholly and only about creating the next explosion. “Age of Extinction” is an overlong preteen boy’s ADHD-fueled dream sequence. Could a few quieter moments have helped elevate this soulless spectacle? It’s possible. But just when the dust begins to settle, and you slowly make your way up for some much needed air … Wait. Wahlberg found an alien gun.

There is something to be said about “Extinction” ’s zany backup characters, an area in which “Transformers” has always excelled. Amid the craziness, Yeager’s sidekick Lucas (played by quickly rising star T.J. Miller of HBO’s “Silicon Valley”) is an endearing addition, delivering several much needed lighter moments in the film’s first hour. “Extinction” is also partially redeemed by its stunning visuals, which dazzle right up until your overstimulated senses have reached maximum and absolute exhaustion.

For a movie that amassed 100 million dollars in its opening weekend, it was nearly impossible to find a real live person — friend, family, acquaintance or other — to see the movie with me (thanks, Mom). But the joke is on all of us (critics, adults, people in general) because Bay's rebooted robots are already responsible for over 300 million dollars in global grosses, the biggest debut of the year. And they show no signs of slowing down. “Extinction” ’s premiere was on par with 2011’s “Dark of the Moon” and well ahead of 2007’s original. And despite the fourth film’s very rotten 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, “Age of Extinction” was awarded an A- CinemaScore (an audience polling technique used to gauge a wide sample of moviegoers’ experiences).

Clearly, we shouldn’t underestimate the franchise’s legions of fans, wherever they may be. But unless you are squarely in the “Transformers” demographic, skip “Age of Extinction.” Seriously. Or at the very least, bring some Aspirin.