Transformers: Age of Extinction Review: Pure Exhaust
Transformers: Age of Extinction isn’t a movie, it’s a marathon. Which begs the question: how do you gauge the dramatic successes and failures of running non-stop for two hours, only to be picked back up again and forced run for yet another hour just because you haven’t seen the robot dinosaurs yet?
Like the rest of the Transformers movies, Age of Extinction is a run-on sentence, full of contradictions, casual racism and product placement. It has no ambition other than to beat you down until you’re so senseless you’re willing to accept anything it tells you, even if it says something completely ludicrous like “This movie is good” or “Mark Wahlberg is a 35-year-old.”
So although Transformers: Age of Extinction has a plot, it doesn’t matter, even to Transformers: Age of Extinction. Previous installments are contradicted on a whim, and completely different movies poke their heads in occasionally just to see what the hell is going on. And all the while this movie tries to make up for its narrative deficiencies by overselling every limp emotional beat against a killer sunset, or by slow-mo’ing the action to the point of absurdity.
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That amorphous plot follows Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), a crackpot inventor with a hormonal teenaged daughter (Nicola Peltz) who’s secretly hiding her relationship with a racecar driver (Jack Reynor). When Cade stumbles across a broken Optimus Prime in a bankrupt movie theater – an image that practically dances on cinema’s grave – he fixes the Autobot leader and winds up on the run with the two young lovers because the government, led by CIA agent Kelsey Grammer, is hunting the Transformers down, good and bad alike, for reasons that will soon be revealed and will soon be conspicuously reminiscent of Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
Meanwhile there’s an interstellar bounty hunter, a Steve Jobs stand-in played by Stanley Tucci who yells things like “Algorithms! Math!” and new Transformers with giant metal trench coats, giant metal cigars and giant metal Japanese stereotypes who are supposed to be lovable but who shoot defenseless creatures for no reason anyway. Even the beloved hero archetype Optimus Prime vows to commit cold-blooded murder in this movie, and later in the film he also decides to punch someone until they learn to appreciate him. By the end, he more or less decides to punch God.
There’s nothing in Transformers: Age of Extinction that feels any different from the previous movies in the franchise. The human thespians are new and the action may be slightly more coherent than usual but it’s all still just a cavalcade of glossy pageantry, half-written storylines, and decent actors forced to yell robot names while falling from one great height after another. A robot inevitably catches them and saves their lives, of course, but falling several stories onto solid metal can’t possibly be that much safer than falling on solid asphalt.
It may be loud and stupid, but at least it’s loud and stupid. The fans of this franchise expect nothing more and nothing less and by all the stars in heaven they will get what they came for. They will emerge sweaty and parched and slightly queasy but they will probably come back for more. Transformers: Age of Extinction is impervious to criticism by design, because it’s hardly fair to debate the deeper meaning of a thing that exists only to suck the cash out of your wallet and hit you over the head with it.