Following a bearable debut and two pretty awful sequels, one might think that Michael Bay would be out to prove something with this fourth film in the franchise.
After all, we’ve put up with dumb, dull, plotless Bayhem for far too long – haven’t we? We deserve some proper good Autobot action – don’t we?
Erm… Apparently not.
Following on from the events of Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, in which Chicago was devastated courtesy of a great big incomprehensible battle with the Decepticons, we’re now in a world where Transformers are the new terrorists, and the Kelsey Grammer-led CIA is determined to wipe them out once and for all.
But because we’re clearly no match for the giant machines, humanity has recruited a new ally to savagely hunt its former protectors – ruthless bounty hunter, Lockdown.
Enter struggling inventor and strict single dad Cade Yeager (Wahlberg), who’s convinced that the massive truck he’s happened upon in an abandoned cinema will earn him some cash and pay his daughter Tessa’s college fees. It won’t, of course. For that ‘truck’ is a robot in disguise – namely a seriously wounded and angry Optimus Prime, who’s about to cause the Yeagers a whole lot of trouble.
With the CIA hot on their heels, Cade, Tessa and her secret boyfriend Shane have no choice but to throw their lot in with Optimus and his new bunch of bots – chunky rustbucket, Hound (John Goodman); samurai-esque Bugatti Veyron, Drift (Ken Watanabe), and mouthy Chevy Corvette, Crosshairs (John DiMaggio).
Taking advantage of Cade’s nerd skills, the gang infiltrate Kinetic Solutions Incorporated, a global technology firm owned by genius Joshua Joyce (Tucci), who’s using government money and a newly-discovered substance called Transformium to develop human-made Transformers. The dream is to create a robotic army that will protect humanity, but in hindsight, harvesting the stuff from the remains of dead Decepticons probably wasn’t the best idea.
You can probably guess the rest. Epic battles ensue, and much of picturesque China is ravaged. But it’s a relief to see Bay take his foot off the pedal somewhat. Instead of the famous confusing blur of twisted metal and explosions for which the term ‘Bayhem’ was coined, the action is for the most part comprehensible.
Stuff still blows up in slow motion, but it’s easier to tell what’s exploding – and why. It must be said, the effects here are faultless. The Transformers shift form effortlessly and seamlessly, while their human-made counterparts are given a digital, pixelated quality that, though it has the potential to infuriate diehard fans, brings something contemporary to the franchise.
There are some genuinely enjoyable goosebump moments here. You’ll have a happy every time Prime gets his sword out, Grimlock’s introduction is silly but wonderful fun, and there’s a nice reference to Ratchet’s painful encounter with Lockdown from the animated series. Meanwhile most of the laughs are delivered courtesy of Bumblebee and the ever-brilliant Stanley Tucci, who delivers a completely over-the-top scene-stealing performance, clearly enjoying every minute of ridiculousness.
But for these few moments of joy we’re forced to sit through some real garbage. Three very long hours of it. The plot is convoluted and overcomplicated with several screaming inconsistencies and the dialogue exposition-heavy, stilted and awkward to the point where even solid performers Wahlberg and Grammar trip over their lines.
But at least they get a chance to do their best with it – bar an establishing scene in which she sort-of discovers that a comet didn’t kill the dinosaurs, Transformers did, Sophia Myles’ geologist is entirely redundant. Meanwhile, one moment which suggests that China is a nation of undercover ninjas, and another that awkwardly justifies underage sex make for uncomfortable viewing to say the very least.
Despite the desperate hopes of many, Bay still hasn’t figured out how to make the gold of Transformers translate to the big screen. And perhaps he doesn’t have to. Age Of Extinction is doubtless going to do well at the box office no matter what critics have to say about it. That it must happen in such a flawed manner is nothing short of infuriating, though.