Transformers: Age of Extinction picks up only a couple of years after the end of Dark of the Moon, introducing a whole new cast of human characters to fill the giant Shia-shaped hole in the franchise. Taking the leading seat this time around is Mark Wahlberg as down on-his-luck inventor Cade Yaeger. He lives on a farm with his daughter, Tessa, played by Nicola Peltz, and works with his assistant, Lucas, played by TJ Miller. The first act of the film is by and large concerned with resetting the human element and in that regard, the set-up isn’t bad. Mark Wahlberg’s inventor character makes perfect sense in a Transformers film, making the conceit by which the Transformers fall into cahoots with a new set of humans feel natural and sensible. Also, establishing the key human relationship as a father-daughter one, rather than romantic, is a fresh direction to take the series. In theory, this should all work out nicely as a semi-reboot.
It’s unfortunate, then, that the execution of it, while not horrendous, lacks the spark that make the first Transformers fun and likable. Much of the blame for this falls on the script, written by series vet, Ehren Kruger. Never does the script give the audience a compelling reason to like Cade or his daughter, making the endless reiteration of their family dysfunction tedious and irritating. Nicola Peltz’s angsty performance does not help things along, as her constant, nails-against-chalkboard whining mixed with Michael Bay’s insistence on his women wearing thick makeup and high heels make her the absolute least-likable of the series’ leading ladies to date.
In contrast, the robotic side of the picture is a series highlight. Extinction introduces a newer, more colorful, more interesting squad of Autobot protagonists. It’s during these, regrettably brief moments with the titular heroes that Extinction provides the clearest picture of what a really good Transformers has the potential to be. Newly redesigned Autobots and Decepticons have more distinct facial features, making them more readily discernible from one another than they were in the previous three films. The new voice actors behind the Transformers; John Goodman as Hound, Ken Watanabe as Drift and John DiMaggio as Crosshairs, are given much more freedom to ad lib and play with these characters as they please. Goodman in particular has a lot of fun as the trigger happy ordinance specialist, and it’s a shame the film didn’t feature even more of him and his companions. With this film it’s easy to imagine a movie exclusively featuring the Transformers without the support of human counterparts and being all the better for it.
From plotting perspective, Age of Extinction keeps itself above sea level for roughly it’s first half. The conflict at the center of the narrative is clear and concise relative to the films preceding it. The government is hunting down and killing the Autobots for their perceived responsibility for the events of Dark of the Moon. On the run, the remaining Autobots join together to defend themselves and, in the process, discover a set of more sinister motives behind their extermination. This first half of the film works, and it’s easy to get on board and understand the stakes. Unfortunately, about halfway through a curveball involving a second villain comes into play, muddying the narrative waters as far as motive goes. Worse, this is the precise place that the film devolves into repetitive action sequences, with any story developments becoming hazy in the fray.
It isn’t very long after the midpoint that the movie turns into a chore to watch. A messy plot mixed with a constant barrage of explosions and visual mayhem render the actual proceedings almost indiscernible. Characters motives become nearly irrelevant from this point on, thereby throwing any sort of emotional involvement clean out of the window. From a purely technical perspective, there are some things to be impressed by during this final hour or so, but it’s mostly just a numbing experience. It also feels as if Michael Bay is losing focus with his action during these sequences. Nothing during them, even when they are impressive, is something that hasn’t been seen before in one of the previous Transformers films. Say what you will about Dark of the Moon, heck, even say what you will about Revenge of the Fallen, but the one department that Bay always outdid himself in is action. This cannot be said of Age of Extinction and it’s hard to tell if it’s due to an apathy on Mr. Bay’s part or if he, perhaps, reached his ceiling in Dark of the Moon.
As an overall experience, Transformers: Age of Extinction is something of a disappointment. While it never falls to the despicable depths of Revenge of the Fallen, it distinctly lacks the spark of the 2007 Transformers and Dark of the Moon. Extinction does occasionally deliver in sequences that momentarily capture the fun of those films, but they are in the minority in comparison to the sequences that don’t. If there’s anything to learn from Age of Extinction, it’s that Michael Bay has very much run his course with the series, and that Ehren Kruger has nothing of real merit to offer to the franchise. If Paramount wants to keep the Transformers franchise going, it’s time they got some newer blood in the director and writer’s chairs.