Start with cute dinosaurs, add a fine cast that knows how to do parts with a dash of overperformance, sprinkle current political themes, pound the action over and over, mix in the Chinese for better foreign box office and stir. The result is director Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction for Paramount.
The plot defies description and at some point the audience is exhausted. But Hasbro’s autobots and decepticons are back and they’re just as much fun or tedious as they ever were in a movie, depending on one’s age and perspective. Bay, working with Ehren Kruger’s screenplay, shows more respect for a story this time around, to the extent possible. His arrested development, non-intellectual, nine year-old boy sensibility is intact with the attention span to match. Nothing on screen lasts for longer than a few seconds, though with a coherent main plot and dedicated character actors such as Stanley Tucci as comic relief, Kelsey Grammer as a power-lusting government agent and Mark Wahlberg essentially as Mark Wahlberg, the movie combines its stomach-turning sensory assaults with elements of Cars, Die Hard and the Fast and Furious pictures to deliver a Saturday matinee that’s sure to kill a couple of hours. When I asked about press notes at the studio screening, a publicist just looked at me and deadpanned: “This is a Transformers movie.” So I have no clue who the two young lead actors are and it’s not worth the effort of cross referencing movie sites. They are both fine in the film.
The same can’t be said for the Chinese actors through no fault of their own. Their inclusion is so conspicuous, like the movie’s beer and car product plugs, that they detract and exhaust from an already overloaded movie. The Chinese militarism doesn’t fit, either, but all of this appears later in the film. The first part involves a rogue government conspiracy to round up the autobots and catch leading good ‘bot Optimus Prime. The nefarious plot entails a Transformers origins story that’s best left unsaid. Enter Wahlberg superfically (very superficially) representing family and property rights as an inventor in Texas whose nubile daughter wears cutoffs and screams and gasps throughout the movie. Action moves from Texas to Chicago to China. In between, Bay includes homage to Westerns with the autobot outlaws in Monument Valley and the Texas phase includes passing references to government thugs.
The best scenes of Transformers: Age of Extinction never last long. They get swallowed by subplots. Interesting points about worshipping at the temple of technology, loyalty and the military-industrial complex are similarly lost in the din of pandering to Asian markets. When it’s focused on car chasing and action-driven humor (despite the astronomical body count), with Tucci getting the funniest lines, the fourth Hasbro action figure movie can be entertaining. I saw it in 3D which adds nothing but weight on the nose and dollars to the ticket price. The picture is also being released in IMAX theaters.