Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Whalberg, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammar and Titus Welliver
Running Time: 165 minutes
Release Date: July 5th
Let’s start this review by clearing the air and clarifying something: Critics hate the Transformers films, but they don’t hate them because they’re big dumb movies about shape-shifting alien robots. They hate them because they’re bloated and – most importantly – no fun.
With a big-budget popcorn movie, I’m not asking for the subversion of Starship Troopers, the invention of Die Hard, the characterisation of Jaws, the intelligence of Inception or the snare-drum efficiency of Speed (though literally any one of those things would be nice). All I ask is that the film clocks in at a reasonable running time, the story makes vague sense and the action scenes are coherent. Michael Bay frequently sets the bar low and then misses.
To be fair, Transformers: Age of Extinction, is probably the best film of the four (four!) in the franchise. So that means that it’s poor, but not eye-meltingly awful.
The film delivers for the first half hour or so; Bay’s movies always look good, with bleached out colours and the gloss of an expensive music video. The set-up is simple (at first); and the opening scene, in which Transformers decimate the dinosaurs, is pretty great. Stanley Tucci is fun as a Steve Jobs-esque tech billionaire (way to respect the recently deceased, Mr Bay). And Kelsey Grammar is surprisingly menacing as a shady government agent.
The story takes place after the Transformers war caused the destruction of Chicago, and both the good and evil robots are in hiding and hunted by the government. Boston beefcake Mark Whalberg – hilariously miscast as both a Texan and an egghead engineer – discovers a dusty old truck that turns out to be the leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime. So Prime, Cade (Whalberg), his teen daughter and her boyfriend (Irish actor Jack Reynor) become fugitives from the government and from a bounty-hunting Transformer named Lockdown.
Wait a second – what does Lockdown want? We’re told he works for “the Creators”, but we don’t know what they want. Also, Lockdown says “We all work for someone”. Does that mean that Transformers all have jobs, and if so, as what? Are there Transformer builders, tax-accountants, popstars and dancers?
The running time is truly punishing, especially since the story is vague and nonsensical and the action scenes are useless. Most of the set pieces involve variations on revolving; robots tumbling down a hill, robots rolling across a street, robots grappling one another and spinning so you can’t tell which is which. For a man who has built a career as an action director, Bay is surprisingly poor at choreographing action.
There are other problems; the goofy, broad humour (a trademark of Bay’s), the racially insensitive Japanese Transformer, the often unintelligible digital robots’ voices and (as always) the borderline pornographic product placement.
Here is a list of things you could do in 3 hours instead of going to see Transformers: Age of Extinction – fly to Poland, learn the basics of guitar cords, read Animal Farm, drive to the coast from anywhere in Ireland, roast a 16lb turkey, learn how to ride a bike or learn how to swim.