A single father with a teenage daughter gets dragged into the struggle of the Autobots against an all new foe.
At the time of writing, Transformers: Age of Extinction has already earned almost $400 million. After less than a week at the box office, it’s already the 8th highest grossing film of the year and it has plenty of openings still to come.
At this point the film is practically critic proof – raking in the dough despite racking up a mere 18 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. The demand for Michael Bay’s particular brand of robotic crack only gets bigger with each new entry, with the success of the franchise pushing him to the 4th highest grossing director of all time.
I have witnessed the full 2 hour and 45 minute spread of Age of Extinction. And you know what, it was a lot of fun.
I might add the information that I’m an unreserved fan of Michael Bay. Even at his worst (objectively Revenge of the Fallen, right?) the man conjures up images and scale like no other and I love that he’s still able to take a year off to make something as utterly zany as Pain and Gain.
Age of Extinction is still vintage Bay – every shot looks like a beer commercial, every scene is shot at magic hour and the dialogue is a mixture of hackneyed and ill-advised ad-libbing. But he also stages some of the most brilliantly madcap action you will ever see on screen, with full scale explosions gobbling oxygen mere feet from famous faces and actual cars tossed around ahead of the CG robot additions.
It’s just so clear from every frame that he loves this stuff, that he frequently shoots and edits just because something will look cool, leaving little things like narrative sense and causality to be someone else’s problem. It’s like watching a child at play, smashing things together until the game is done.
This approach has led to some tough movie experiences in the past but thankfully there’s been some improvement here. Lone screenwriter Ehren Kruger manages to mostly retain a couple of decent plot threads throughout, though the random padding of the series remains in a series of extraneous stories and elements which just serve to expand the already egregious running time.
Another positive step lies in the cast. Put mildly, the performers in the original Transformers trilogy were irritating at best and personality vacuums at worst – from Megan Fox to Josh Duhamel via the Beef himself. Bay has learned some lessons here, jamming the film full of faces that are not only familiar but also have some acting chops.
So even when the dialogue gets hammy or night on incoherent it doesn’t matter quite so much – because that there is Kelsey Grammer shouting nonsense at Stanley Tucci. Tucci is worth the price of entry alone, doing the decent thing and going truly big while also being the only character who actually seems bewildered by what the blooming heck is going on.
Mark Wahlberg makes for a much more palatable lead, taking some time to snipe at his teenage daughter for wearing hotpants (vacuous victim Nicola Peltz) while being super earnest and beefy. And Irish chap Jack Reynor gets a hell of a Hollywood intro as one of the semi-leads. His accent is a bit confusing (an Irish race-car driver living in Texas...) but he looks the part on screen and we’re bound to see plenty more from the young star.
Bay brings some great action to bear, particularly the ending fight which manages to keep all the important people in frame and even brings up a little bit of emotion amid the chaos. Plus there’s dinobots. They’re freaking huge.
Age of Extinction’s main problem is really its length. Clocking in at almost three hours it makes for bum and brain numbing viewing. And also screws with the story – a two hour version with a couple less plots (like the vomitous concessions to the Chinese audience or random comedy dude) would have made the action feel even more intense and led to far less confusion.
All that said, I really did enjoy large parts of the film. There’s nothing like witnessing a Baygasm on screen, particular in IMAX and 3D and when Optimus Prime is lopping off heads while riding a gigantic dinobot you have to admit its a spectacular kind of spectacle.