Transformers: Age of Extinction

Rated PG-13 • { 1.5 of 5 stars }

Since their debut as a line of Hasbro toys in 1984, the Transformers, specifically the heroic Autobots, have had to stare down many a nasty foe in order to fight the good fight and protect the human race. In the latest film installment of the franchise, Transformers: Age of Extinction directed by explosion-happy director Michael Bay, Autobot leader Optimus Prime and his small group of ragtag troops go up against what is perhaps their greatest threat to date: unchecked, ruthless capitalism. Do these armed-to-the-teeth, “more than meets the eye” robots stand a chance? It takes Bay and company nearly three hours to deliver an answer.

I’m not one to harp on movie lengths, but Transformers: Age of Extinction clocks in at 165 minutes. To put that in perspective, Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey runs slightly shorter (159 minutes). However, the latter attempts to draw a timeline from the dawn of man to the exploration of space and grapples with humanity’s purpose and place in the universe, whereas the former is about talking robots that can change into fancy-ass cars and stuff. Maybe I’m just bitter, because halfway through, I really had to pee.

Age of Extinction is certainly the biggest installment of Bay’s Transformers movies, and not just because of its ponderous (and I mean really ponderous) run-time. For the first time, Bay has a legitimate action hero-type leading man. Scrawny weirdo Shia LeBeouf is out, and in his place is hunky everyman Mark Wahlberg, perhaps the only actor in Hollywood cool enough to grab drinks with Optimus Prime after a long day of shooting.

Here, Wahlberg stars as Cade Yeager, a quintessential lovable loser. He’s an “inventor” who lives on some out-of-the-way Texas ranch with his scantily clad/smoking hot daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) and, when he’s not trying to micromanage every aspect of her teenage life, spends most of his time tinkering with electronic gadgets in hopes that he’ll stumble upon the one golden gizmo that will help him turn his shitty luck around. One day he finds an old, beat-up semi truck in an old, beat-up movie theater (still not sure how it got in there) and brings it home, only to discover that it’s no ordinary semi.

It’s Optimus Prime, of course, voiced by Peter Cullen. Prime is in hiding because of some crazy shit that went down in Chicago in the previous film that left the Windy City all sorts of fucked up.

The fallout from that incident has changed the public’s opinion of the Transformers, even the heroic Autobots, who are now being hunted by relentless CIA agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) and his clandestine cohort Lockdown, a vicious robotic bounty hunter who can transform into a sweet Lamborghini Diablo.


Lockdown a total badass. He’s got a giant space ship, a cruel mind and ferocity in combat, but he’s not even close to being the most frightening enemy here. What the Autobots really have to combat is human greed, which seems endless in Age of Extinction. Governments and entrepreneurs are in a race to crack the Transformers’ code and to exploit it for technological and financial gain. Stanley Tucci plays Joshua Joyce, the Steve Jobs-esque mastermind of KSI, a corporation that is close to mapping the Transformers’ genome. Using scraps from deceased Autobots and evil Decepticons, KSI has mined a metal they’ve dubbed “Transformium” (no, seriously), and if they’re able to harness it properly, it will, of course, change the world. Joyce makes a deal with the devil, forging an alliance with Lockdown and Attinger, and seems pretty hell-bent on stopping at nothing to achieve his goals (and rake in the profits while he’s at it).

All this just makes Optimums Prime sick. He’s a good guy, probably the most heroic, altruistic character of my childhood, but how can he still fight for what’s right when the humans have turned their backs on him and melted down his fallen comrades into ore? He struggles with whether or not he even wants to save humans from apocalyptic threats anymore. Even after a rousing bro-to-bro pep talk from Cade, Optimus is still not sure. Has his indomitable spirit finally been crushed?

I found it helpful to think about these things while watching Age of Extinction, because it was probably the most mind-numbingly dumb movie I’ve ever seen. It’s like one long commercial for General Motors’ new line of cars, set to tunes by Imagine Dragons, with some attractive people bickering at one another, robots and explosions tossed in as a garnish. Normally, dumb wouldn’t be a problem, but I feared nearly three hours of thoughtlessness at my advanced age could lead to permanent brain damage. I mean, you should probably go see it because everyone else will, and you don’t want to be left out. Chicago gets blown up again. You’ll love it.