On this, the 180th day of the year, we are very close to the midpoint of this particular trip around the sun. It just so happens to coincide with the midpoint of summer movie season. Which, further coincidentally I’m sure, also marks the release of Transformers: Age of Extinction. Transformers: AoE (that’s what the kids call it) is full of explosions, CGI monsters, and beautiful people (Stanley Tucci, yowza!) – it’s kind of the perfect example of a summer blockbuster, down to the 2014-best opening weekend box office it inexplicably earned.
Age of Extinction is the latest entry in Michael Bay’s Transformers series, which formerly starred Shia LaBeouf and a bunch of CGI robots that turn into cars. Well things have changed in the three years since Transformers: Dark of the Moon; now the series stars Mark Wahlberg and a bunch of CGI robots that turn into cars OR dinosaurs. I shit on the premise, but I quite enjoyed the first Transformers when it came out in 2007. I found LaBeouf oddly endearing and the story surprisingly coherent, even if the action wasn’t. Things kind of went downhill from there.
This time around we are following Cade Yeager (Wahlberg), a struggling inventor whose search for success lands him in the company of a rusted-out pickup truck that is secretly Autobot leader Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) in disguise. Seems that the humans who once fought alongside the Autobots, are now hunting them down at the behest of CIA agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer). Cade (“Cade Yeager” is absolutely going on the list of best character names for 2014), his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), her boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor), and Cade’s employee Lucas (T. J. Miller) are forced to go on the run or be exterminated by unaffiliated transformer Lockdown (voiced by Mark Ryan) or evil Agent Savoy (Titus Welliver).
That’s a lot, and I haven’t even gotten to Tucci’s Steve Jobs-esque scientist or the Dinobots. Luckily for the script, the final cut of the movie is 165 minutes, so there’s plenty of time for everything. Too much really, because most of this gets established in the first 30-45 minutes. Everything after that is just pseudo-philosophical debate or pseudo-entertaining action. Except the Dinobots, who don’t make their appearance until the last 45 minutes of the movie. That’s right, Transformers: Age of Extinction runs for two hours BEFORE the mechanical T-Rex that Optimus rides in all the marketing even shows up.
I won’t say the movie held my attention the whole time. Because that would be a lie. In fact it was even a little less engaging than its predecessors, which I rewatched over the weekend. As much as Shia LaBeouf rightly catches flack for being a crazy creep, he does have an everyman charm that helps make the first three Transformers films believable. And sure, his screaming can be pretty grating, but he is a quick-witted fellow as well. Wahlberg, however, replaces all of that with a level of earnestness that helps pick up the slack. Wahlberg is everyone’s favorite lovable dunce, so the idea of him playing a genius inventor is kind of ridiculous, but his commitment to the father-daughter relationship he shares with Peltz makes up for it. It is a refreshing dynamic, especially after three movies-worth of LaBeouf hormoning all over beautiful women. The humor vacuum is mostly filled by Miller and Tucci, though Age of Extinction is noticeably more self-serious than those that came before.
All of the hallmarks of a Michael Bay movie are present here – massive destruction, dimension-less bad guys, slow motion yelling, baffling portrayals of non-white races. Transformers: Age of Extinction marks the temporal, FX-ual, and probably financial peak of the summer. It is too bad that all of that prestige is wasted on such a nothing of a movie, but maybe we can take solace in the fact that it could have been worse. Oh god, I hope that doesn’t mean Guardians of the Galaxy is worse.