And here we are with the fourth film in the Transformers franchise, which now make up over a third of Michael Bay’s filmography. While Transformers: Age of Extinction fails to top the previous entry in terms of spectacle, it makes up for it by abandoning all pretext of seriousness. The progression of the franchise has veered further away from the “boy and his talking car” idea at the center of the first film, and more towards secret history and mythology. The first film has a slow introduction to the mythology, while successive entries have piled on more and more. Luckily, none of it ever matters from one film to the next, so this is a franchise not bogged down by silly things like character arcs or relationships. While some will lament at Bay’s stubborn refusal to give up on including human characters, they remain essential, even if they are just for scale against the wanton destruction around them and keeping these films from being animated films with live action backdrops.
This film is a reboot of sorts, setting off from the end of the previous trilogy, and introducing an all new cast of expendable humans. Led by failed inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), and his partner Lucas (T.J. Miller) on the side of Optimus Prime, and Steve Jobs-analog Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) and CIA agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammar) hunting down the remaining Transformers on Earth. This is the best cast of actors that has ever been assembled for the franchise to date. This is the best case of actors that has ever been assembled for the franchise to date. Wahlberg is a definite improvement on Shia LaBeouf’s exasperated character from previous films, if only because Wahlberg is much more easily integrated into the chaos around him. While Wahlberg still fits the mold of Bay’s exasperated parent archetype, he also manages to bring a new dynamic to the series. I must mention that Stanley Tucci is a particular delight, playing a character entirely unhinged from reality, channeling the chaos around him into shouting nonsense.
Fitting for a reboot, Age of Extinction spends a long time establishing our human cast before we get to the explosions and fighting robots. I was a little surprised to find myself enjoying the film’s first hour in pastoral Texas as much as anything that followed, something I would not say about the first film. Wahlberg anchors the family unit well, and Bay’s penchant for shooting everything in the golden hues of magic hour is on full display soaking everything in gorgeous golden hues. And this is well before the dinosaur robots show up.
Of course, the film has way too much plot and very little in terms of clear character motivations, but that’s par for the series at this point. Also returning are the jingoistic overtones, the casual, light rascism (the Ken Watanabe robot has a gold face and is a samurai), and slow motion shots of overly tan women, but much of it will fly by all but the most attuned audience members. It’s also far too long, and the relentless bombast is exhausting by the end. I felt overstimulated, hyper, and shaken up when I exited the theater, but it’s hard for me to call that a negative. These are films that demand the biggest screens and the loudest sound, with the effect largely lost at home.
Anyone who has seen the previous film knows almost exactly what Transformers: Age of Extinction will bring. The most exciting thing about it, however, is a chance to see one of our finest auteurs unleashing his inner child on a limitless playground.