Michael Bay, the Bard of Bombast, finally got to do whatever he wanted, how he wanted to do it and for as long as he felt like doing it. He has also completely lost his mind. Transformers: Age of Extinction is not just an insane jumble of Bay-isms — from explosions to battle scenes to chase sequences to snarky dialogue and bad acting — it runs on and on and on for an epic-long 165 minutes.
Age of Extinction is so nuts that the heroic Optimus Prime rides to the rescue on the back of a metallic alien who just happens to be a fire-breathing, T-Rex Transformer. This creature of legend is 65 million years old. The movie rewrites the history of paleontology. Soul-sucking aliens, not a giant asteroid, caused the demise of dinosaurs. Who knew?
This kind of juvenile excess could be forgiven — and even applauded — if any part of screenwriter Ehren Kruger’s plot made any sense – and if the first two hours of this insanity was not so bloody boorish and so incredibly boring. That includes relentless product placement.
That said, there may be Transformers fans who love this reboot, which takes place five years after the Battle of Chicago in Dark of the Moon. There may be millions of mainstream audience members who want to watch nearly three hours of random destruction in the Texas outback, in Chicago and in other world cities such as Beijing and Hong Kong.
Fans may also care less that Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and his girlfriends are gone. We had enough of them, anyway. They are shunted aside by an eccentric Texas inventor (Mark Wahlberg), his blond bombshell daughter (Nicola Peltz) and her Irish-American boyfriend (Jack Reynor).
But the not-caring does not end there. You also have to ignore the overt propaganda that presents the People’s Republic of China as a better functioning democracy than the United States of America. On that point, China is well served by Bay (we presume because of Chinese funding). But the U.S. is made out to be the villain for its corrupt government agencies, its useless White House representatives and its morally skewed moguls of industry. I don’t much care about the Americans: They can defend themselves. But the Chinese government is not exactly a paragon of virtue.
The technology of the movie itself is as stunning as the storytelling is terrible. If nothing else, Bay spends his hundreds of millions in the budget on cutting-edge, digital special effects. Age of Extinction is a compendium of everything he has already done in the other Transformers movies — only better, slicker, bigger, louder and of course more bombastic. Bay is the Bard.
The budget and Bay’s obsession with blowing up things real good allow him to be the baddest boy in the biggest sandbox. What he cannot do — or chooses not to — is give actors something meaningful to chew on. Instead, he allows them to be laughed at by the audience (something that happened frequently at my preview screening). When Wahlberg emotes as the anguished dad, there is open ridicule. Ditto when our human heroes are plucked out of dire danger by an Autobot in some ridiculous way.
As for the villains, Kelsey Grammer and Stanley Tucci make interesting co-conspirators, Titus Welliver plays a brute killer and Mark Ryan does the voice of Lockdown, who makes his uber-scary debut in the movie franchise. Footnote: Tucci’s grasp of the absurd lets him energize the final act of the movie.
Age of Extinction also ends with an open-ended setup for the next sequel. Unless this latest movie tanks at the box office, which seems unlikely, there is more to come. We assume Bay will once again direct. The frenetic fun will never end.