Director Michael Bay, best known for his big-budget explosion extravaganzas, and more recently, for storming-off a convention stage because his teleprompter wasn’t working, is rebooting his most famous franchise. “Transformers: Age of Extinction” is the fourth installment in the Hasbro toy robot series, though this title would have been more appropriate to describe the series after 2009’s incredibly disappointing “Revenge of the Fallen”. As it turns out, “Extinction” is much stronger than both “Revenge” and 2011’s “Dark of the Moon”, but still falls short of the original. However, there’s no arguing that this the most outrageous two-and-a-half hours at the movies all summer.
Bay made one smart decision even before a single frame was shot: “Out with the old and in with the new”. Shia LaBeouf and the rest of the regular live-action cast are gone in favor of a more experienced, likeable, and effective ensemble. The consistently good Mark Wahlberg (who apparently had forgiven Bay for their previous collaboration, last year’s disaster, “Pain & Gain”) stars as Cade Yeager. He’s a single father of 17-year-old daughter Tessa (“The Last Airbender”‘s Nicola Peltz). Cade is a struggling inventor who collects old junk and spare parts on their Texas ranch in hopes of building the next, big thing. But, in the meantime, he’s out of money, can’t pay the mortgage or afford to send Tessa to college.
It’s been five years since the battle in Chicago between the Autobots and Decepticons destroyed that city and killed thousands. The US Government has ended all relations with the Autobots (the good Transformers, if you’re new to the series), and CIA head Harold Attinger (the always great Kelsey Grammer) is out to eliminate any remaining Transformers that are in hiding. Cade comes in contact with none other than Optimus Prime, and once the CIA finds-out, a global hunt-down begins, as Cade and Prime travel with Tessa and her boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor from “Delivery Man”) in an attempt to save themselves and the Autobots from complete destruction.
Also new to the franchise is Academy Award nominee Stanley Tucci. He plays a scientist at a giant Chicago corporation who’s sitting-on some groundbreaking discoveries in the Transformers world. This element of the plot, while interesting, takes-up way too much time, with Tucci becoming the film’s comic relief character. This is a case of a great actor being miscast and misused. He tries hard, but Stanley Tucci is never supposed to play “goofy”.
Grammer, on the other hand, gets the perfect amount of screen time as the evil, cold-blooded, greedy government official. We recently discovered the former Frasier Crane’s bad side with his work on the Starz series “Boss”, and Grammer provides the same amount of menace and cold-blooded dialogue to make for a satisfying villain.
As an action film, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” isn’t the best of Summer ’14 by any means, but it’s still highly entertaining. This installment helps the series hit all-time highs in metal-on-metal clanking, humongous explosions, slow-motion aerial sequences, unapologetic product placement (from Victoria’s Secret to Bud Light) and incredible visual effects. Seeing many of the classic Transformers again, with the fancy new sports cars they change into, will get cheers from the audience.
The simple story, which is set-up reasonably well, takes a major backseat once things shift to Hong Kong in the final hour. Bay, realizing the last two “Transformers” were duds, is relentless in delivering the action. After awhile you do wonder when it’s all going to finally end. There’s only so much ‘robot on robot’ fighting a person can take. But, overall, “Age of Extinction”, contrary to its name, has brought this iconic movie franchise back to life.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” gets a C+.