The Transformers series isn’t exactly what you’d call highbrow entertainment. Rival toy robots fight each other in computer-generated battle scenes while members of the overzealous American military try to figure out where they fit into the equation. It’s a formula that’s worked wonders, turning the franchise into one of the biggest of all time. Transformers: Age of Extinction, the fourth film in the series, a reboot of sorts. Helmed by Michael Bay, the guy who directed the previous films, the movie features the usual quotient of special effects and gigantic explosions. It also introduces inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) as the protagonist. Because he’s a better actor than Shia LaBeaouf, who starred in the first three films, Wahlberg is actually one of the film’s sole bright spots. The film, which clocks in at just over two and a half hours, features a convoluted plot that involves so many ludicrous twists and turns, the phrase “jumping the shark” doesn’t do it justice.
The film takes place four years after the previous film. In case you forgot, that one ended with a deadly battle between Autobots and Decepticons that left Chicago in shambles. As a result, the C.I.A. has started targeting the Autobots, even though the robots have helped humans in the past. While not quite anti-government, the film’s politics are rather confusing and only hint at a critique of the covert nature of many C.I.A. operations. When Cade and his pal Lucas (T.J. Miller) buy an old semi-truck that turns out to be Optimus Prime, the U.S. military sends the cavalry after his ass. He barely escapes with his leggy, cutoff shorts-wearing daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) and her race car driving boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor). So far, so good.
But then the film’s plot quickly unravels when Cade discovers the C.I.A. has partnered up with the high tech firm Kinetic Solutions Incorporated, which is manufacturing its own Transformer. In response, he puts together a team of Autobots to try to stop them. And yes, clichés such as “we’re getting the gang back together” are uttered. The problem is, the C.I.A. has enlisted the help of Lockdown, an intergalactic mercenary, who’s flying around town in a giant spaceship in the attempt to capture Optimus because his “creators” have put a bounty on his head. They want to take him away and have a pack of vicious robotic wolves at their disposal too. Before you can say “what the fuck,” the action gets transported to Hong Kong where Optimus recruits Dinobots to help him battle Lockdown in a final climactic scene. And at that point, you might have already bailed — the film is that boring and tedious.
While it features all sorts of cool fast cars (including the Italian-made Pagani Huayra and a 2013 Lamborghini Aventador LP 700-4) that transform into giant robots, Transformers: Age of Extinction is such a fiasco, the special effects can’t redeem it. The film feels like the plots from two or three movies have been rolled into one. With two more Transformer movies in the works, it’s hard to see how Bay and co. will manage to sustain the franchise.