Transformers: Age of Extinction
Ultimately, Transformers: Age of Extinction is not as excruciating as its predecessors. The first Transformers was bad, but not spirit-killing bad. Revenge of the Fallen kicked off that trend, delivering a soulless two-and-a-half hours of nihilistic gear crunching nihilism - a phenomenon that was reproduced, but in sub-lethal doses, in Dark of the Moon. Somehow, even with at least four extra tiers of mindless climax and a post-9/11 motif underway, Age of Extinction manages to be the least offensive of the lot. Maybe it's the absence of Shia LaBeouf, perhaps the colorful robo-voice cast, or even the thinly veiled breakdown of American conservatism that's principally responsible fueling interest. But make no mistake: this combination may well airlift Transformers: Age of Extinction to a surprising altitude of tolerability (especially when considering its egregious 167-minute runtime), but the movie is still pretty darn bad.
The movie bats around themes of progressivism (and, more prominently, anti-progressivism) with no particular margins in mind. Mark Wahlberg plays a lifelong Texan with a distinct proclivity for non-rhotic Rs and a teenage daughter (Nicola Peltz) who he keeps on a tight leash. When he comes face to face with her new boyfriend (Jack Reynor), a 20-year-old immigrant (perish the thought!) from Ireland (is that one of the bad ones?) in one of the film's most mind-boggling scenes representing the upsurge in liberal thinking that lays waste to American values like statutory law. Dopey Wahlberg, a perpetually blubbering Peltz, and the wickedly nondescript Reynor discover and join forces with a Transformer - Optimus Prime, to be precise - who is on a quest to do something. Something to do with humans or Decepticons or Dinobots. Whoever it is (they're all in there), he's trying to avoid them or save them or fight them. His friends come, too. Bumblebee, John Goodbot, and a samurai Transformer so undeniably racist that it stunned me that the voice actor behind the portrayal was Ken Watanabe, and not somebody whose only experience with Japanese culture came from World War II-era Looney Tunes shorts.
The incomprehensibility rages on as the story ropes in inventor Stanley Tucci - a Steve Jobs type - and Senator Kelsey Grammer - a Kelsey Grammer type. As the arguments for and against innovation are sprinkled through a minefield of nonsense, we struggle to understand the sincerity behind director Michael Bay's ultimate message. We also struggle to understand where or when or how any of what happening is happening in relationship to any other place, time, or characters in the movie. The geography of the action sequences (it might be wrong to pluralize this phrase - the second half of the film is more accurately one long action sequence separated by moments of Tucci nebbishing it up) and coherency of the set pieces are sub-afterthought. We see a lot of stuff, but we never watch anything really happen.
With a climax that lasts forever and an abject lack of denoument, the second half of the movie is notably more harrowing than the first. But thanks to the charms of its cast (Tucci has fun and Goodman is endearing... forget Wahlberg, Peltz, and Reynor, though) and a few comically bizarre moments (like a rainstorm of Bud Light bottles or Tucci screaming about math... well, not about math, but... eh, you'll see), Age of Extinction is ultimately... survivable. Not the highest praise you can give a movie, but possibly the highest praise you can give a Transformers movie.