This fourth Transformers film, Transformers: Age of Extinction, is every bit as shriekingly noisy, mind-numbingly long and exhaustingly idiotic as you’d expect from yet another Michael Bay entry in the franchise. If you ever ask me what’s wrong with modern American cinema, I’ll emphatically point you in the direction of these movies, with their wanton orgies of property damage, casual racism, leering misogyny, egregious runtimes and unfortunate penchants for giving Shia LeBeouf a paycheck. With that said, it’s still easily the best of the series for more reasons than replacing LeBeouf with Mark Wahlberg. It’s simply one of the most ideologically screwy movies I’ve ever seen.
Age of Extinction opens with a bunch of spaceships descending on prehistoric Earth and promptly carpet-bombing some dinosaurs. (Michael Bay is always searching for new things to incinerate.) The movie then picks up with Americans dealing with the aftermath of Chicago being destroyed in 2011’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon. A particularly grumpy Kelsey Grammar, along with his robot sidekick who can turn his face into a gun, are hunting down the world’s remaining Transformers — good guys and bad — all for the sake of national security. Meanwhile, Joshua (Stanley Tucci), a callous Steve Jobs proxy, experiments on what’s left of the Transformers. At the same time, in Texas, an inventor named Cade (Wahlberg) finds what he thinks is a junky semi in an abandoned movie theater. The truck turns out to be metamorphosing robot, Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots and former ally to humanity. For a while, the film strays away from its bombastic blockbuster trappings and becomes a kind of heist flick, as Cade, Optimus and some other robots break into Joshua’s lab. For a second, it looks like Age of Extinction might try to do something different with the Transformers pastiche the fourth time around. But it doesn’t last long. Soon enough, Bay and his cadre of CGI bots and metal dinosaurs are blowing up big swaths of China in slow motion.
Age of Extinction quickly becomes just as furiously dumb as its predecessors, except for one interesting aspect: It’s wholly insane. This is a movie that manages to touch on subjects like drone warfare, the war on terrorism, the hubris of the tech industry and slavery — all while saying absolutely nothing about any of these topics. They’re just hamfistedly shoved into the movie with an incredibly angry countenance. Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen), feeling betrayed by humanity and wishing to release himself from the yoke of oppression put upon him by humans and his alien creators, has entered the realm of anti-hero — with all the blind rage that entails. I kept expecting the film to soften up eventually, but nope, Optimus stays pissed off, eventually breaking his vow to never harm a human by killing one in battle. And then, the movie ends with Optimus flying — growling, giant sword in hand — into outer space to literally destroy what could be interpreted as his gods, his creators. It’s almost fascinating, except, unfortunately, even with the strange ideas and tangents the film strays into, the thing still sucks. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo.