Same story. Different city. In “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” director Michael Bay attempts to revitalize what has become nothing more than a bunch of machines fighting over human territory. Entertaining cartoon-based movie sequels rely on character plots and narrative depth to optimize story coherence. The fourth installment of the “Transformers” series, however, relies on a Bay-sic strategy: large explosions, empty plotlines, hot cars and sexualized females.
Four years after the Battle of Chicago, the U.S. government has now cut its ties with the Autobots, and a secret section of the CIA hunts down the remaining bots and dismantles their deceased bodies for the element Transformium.
The new protagonist, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), lives modestly as an unsuccessful robotics inventor in Texas. Making his living off of meager inventions using scrap parts, Yeager convinces his friend Lucas Flannery (T.J. Miller) to purchase an old pickup that turns out to be an injured Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen). Yaeger quickly fixes Prime, who must immediately protect him and his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) from the CIA’s bounty group.
Here, the Yeagers become enemies of the nation and work with Prime and a few salvaged Autobots to face two separate antagonistic parties. The first is guided by Lockdown, a mercenary Transformer bounty hunter who works with the CIA to activate a “seed” that will nuke an entire landscape and terraform a section of earth into Transformium. The second is the private billion-dollar corporation Kinetic Science Institute, which attempts to remodel Optimus Prime using salvaged Transformium from Megatron’s severed head but which ultimately recreates Megatron into a new and improved Galvatron.
The plot acts as a repetitive sequence of useless dialogue and fighting with lots of explosions. While in the early minutes of the film, there seems to be a sustainable narrative filled with a backstory through the Yeager family, the plot eventually gets lost in the battles. They are so drawn out and dispersed liberally throughout the film that it is sometimes difficult to remember what initiated a battle.
Amazingly, the storyline flows seamlessly without Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) — the protagonist in the previous three installments — fairly well. There is never even a hint towards his existence, and the movie transitions smoothly. This could be because the human characters do not add any real substance to the series, although this isn’t due to lackluster acting.
“One of the things also that Michael [Bay] always made sure we were aware of was the fact that it — the whole thing doesn’t really work if the human characters in the film don’t sell the threat of what’s going on,” said Jack Reynor, who plays race car driver Shane Dyson.
Needless to say, the video effects in “Age of Extinction” are spectacular and greatly outshine their predecessors in visual quality as well as realistic action. The explosions are lifelike and the conversions from machines to Transformers are beautifully fluid. Although the film was recorded on 3-D cameras, the action never flies off the screen enough to be notable. The pop-up effects generates more of a headache rather than a new viewing experience. This film was made for IMAX, not for 3-D.
Under Bay’s guidance, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” adds nothing to the series. It is another trite installment simply with larger bots and bigger explosions. The film is painfully long and utterly incoherent. Given that the next chapter supposedly already in pre-production, it will be worrisome if Bay is given the directing rights for that as well. The only thing left for him to do is make marine Transformers explode earth. In order for this series to flourish with its intricate storyline that already exists through the cartoon series, it may be best if the next entry is given to another director.