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Perhaps Michael Bay was worried that this might be the last Transformers movie ever, hence the “extinction” in the title, and, further hence, being the reason that he packed the running time with even more than usual of his trademark pyrotechnics, hyperbolic action sequences, and the wanton destruction of a noodle shop.
Then again, Mr, Bay doesn’t really need a reason to blow things up real good.
This reboot of the franchise no longer features Sam Witwicky, as played by the increasingly less boyish Shia LeBeouf. Instead, Sam’s Autobot, Bumble Bee is now transporting Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), his nymphet of a daughter, Tess (Nicola Peltz), and her boyfriend, Shane (Jack Reynor), who for reasons that are never explained, is Irish, though he has spent his high school years in Texas. On the other hand, the film itself is all about origins, of the Transformers, that is, though we in the audience know little more about that coming out than we did going in. It’s a Michael Bay film. It’s about things flying through the air with injurious intent and general mayhem.
What made the original Transformers flick to enjoyable was the sweetly absurd relationship between a dork and his loyal alien friend. It was charming as each tried to adjust to the other, and even more so as Sam’s parents tried to adjust to them both. And here, in AGE OF EXTINCTION, there are the seeds of such charm, and a hint of some social commentary, and they are quickly quashed in favor of yet another bout of robots bouncing through the air and giant skyscrapers tumbling like so many towers made of pixie sticks. Wahlberg as an inventor with no business sense, but an overreaching protective instinct for his daughter is terrific, playing the part as the reformed bad boy who knows exactly what designs the current crop of bad boys have on his winsome daughter. Peltz is less terrific, though the part calls for little more than for her to look good in shorts that barely skirt an R rating and play the damsel in distress with appropriate weeping and screaming. Poor Reynor is given no consistant character on which to peg an interpretation, what with Shane bopping from terrified dufus to take-charge macho man with a steely gaze. Still, he looks good and the Irish accent is adorable.
The true delights of AGE OF EXTINCTION, beyond Wahlberg’s slow burn over Tessa’s putative virtue, comes from the comic relief.
That would be the intentional comic relief, just so we’re clear. TJ Miller as Cade’s partner is a delight coasting through as a slow-witted slacker who means well. When he exits the film, a little piece of my soul died. It revived, though, with the appearance of Stanley Tucci. He’s the evil industrialist who’s petulance is equaled only by his narcissism. The wickedly sardonic twist he gives lines such as “illegal icky sh*t” when describing his covert collaboration with a black ops branch of the CIA has the potent smoothness of a well-aged single-malt scotch that has surrendered to the dark side. Then there’s Thomas Lennon as the President’s flunky of a Chief-of-Staff, one week on the job and already in over his unctuous head. A film with just Wahlberg, Tucci, Miller, and Lennon would be sublime, particularly if it included that shot of from EXTINCTION of Wahlberg and his compelling biceps at the blacksmith’s anvil.
Oh yeah. The Transformers themselves, Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) et als who switch from towering robots to nifty cars. The state-of-the-art animation used for them is as impressive as their stolid, cliché-ridden dialogue isn’t. They become a weak distillation of THE DIRTY DOZEN and THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, but rendered as a contemporary band of stereotypes that always seems to include an Australian. Compounding the problem is the contrast between that state-of-the-art animation, and the derivative, uninspired direction from Bay, that insists on using shadows while filming the fascistic Black Ops honcho (Kelsey Grammer) who has his own agenda with the Transformers. Bay has also made the interesting choice of keeping the camera movements oddly static for such a kinetic film.
And then there’s the length. Alien robots transforming and scampering over the landscape while reducing it to rubble is fun the first time, even the second, and passable on the third, but by the tenth iteration is becomes tedious, and by the time three-quarters of the 163 minutes of running time had passed, irksomely boring, The ploy Bay has used, unsuccessfully, is that as the story becomes more and more stupid, and the stupidity is jaw-dropping in its scope, the effects become bigger and bigger. So much time, money, and animation talent wasted is infuriating, which is the reason so many of us were still awake at that point.
There was a press day her in San Francisco for TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, but unlike most press days, the film was not screened for those members of the press interviewing the lovely young leads of the film. That’s always a bad sign, in that even unfinished films have been screened in anticipation of press days. That said, I can’t say that I wasn’t warned that this was going to be a bad film, but that it was even worse than I expected is saying something.