Somewhere in the middle of the seemingly endless trudge that is Transformers: Age of Extinction, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) tells Optimus Prime (looking weary and ready to call his agent) that “Sometimes, mistakes can create amazing things.” So true, especially in terms of this fourth installment in the Hasbro-inspired franchise. The film is a series of mistakes within the shell of a bigger mistake, but it creates one amazing thing. Unfortunately, that ‘amazing’ lasts about five minutes of the bloated two and a half hour running time of the film.
The choice to subtitle the film Age of Extinction is both heavy handed–opening on scenes of dinosaurs ruling the earth moments before their demise–and ironic. The irony comes from the extinction of the successful elements, limited as they may be, from the previous films. Whatever tabloid fodder he has become, Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky provided a quirky, snappy counterpoint to the robot on robot action that defines Transformers. Cade Yeager is written to channel some of that nerd aura (he’s an inventor! he wears hipster glasses!) but comes off flat, in part because Wahlberg struggles to play a straight up good guy in these types of films. His success as an actor usually comes when he is allowed to showcase his innate cockiness. Stripped of that, he’s trapped between bland and hilariously awful reaction shots.
It doesn’t help that he is saddled with a teenaged daughter (Nicola Pelz) who is both annoying and useless. Like, Kate Capshaw in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom annoying and useless. Nevermind her Irish boyfriend (Jack Reynor), who carries a copy of the Texas statutory law that allows him to date a younger girl in his wallet like some sort of legal condom. And hopefully Stanley Tucci was paid well for wasting his talent as a Steve Jobs-esqe techno wizard.
Also extinct in this film is the meat of the franchise, the selling point of the whole mess: really cool, big ass robots. Part of the thrill of the first movie was watching the lightning-quick transformations. Hoping to circumvent audience fatigue among viewers who have seen it done in three movies already, ‘transformium’, a free-form pixelated transformation, is introduced. It looks like a swarm of angry paint chips. Even the new transformers are flat, lame (and in one case racist) action figures that seem even more pathetic in the shadows of Optimus and Bubble Bee, the only two remaining of the original Autobots. Perhaps they should have seen if Guillermo del Toro needed them for cameos in Pacific Rim.
So where is the amazing? Remember those early trailers with Optimus Prime wielding a sword while riding a Transformer dinosaur? Yeah, that is wicked cool. And there is more than one dinosaur. Sadly, there is not more than one saving grace to this film.