They’re back, and yes they’re still incredibly big and spectacularly boring.
Director Michael Bay is back to force-feed us the fourth instalment of the Transformers franchise.
Cade (Mark Wahlberg) is an inventor who spends every spare moment tinkering with mechanical contraptions in his barn. His farm is threatened with foreclosure but he is ready to chase away his creditors with guns and baseball bats.
A single dad, he has no money with which to pay his business partner Lucas Flannery (TJ Miller) or to send his beautiful teenage daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz on hot pants duty) to college.
It just so happens that the old truck Cade has bought for spare parts is, underneath its rust, the badly injured Autobot leader Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen with a gravitas worthy of Liam Neeson). Cade helps crank the ailing Autobot back to life.
Ruthless CIA agents commanded by Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) are trying to destroy Optimus Prime as part of their war against all robots. “Our world will never be truly safe until all of them are gone”, he claims. There is a tremendous shoot-out in the farmyard followed by a car chase – at which point all logic seems to evaporate and the narrative becomes as tangled as the wirings in Cade’s inventions.
Cade enlists the help of Optimus Prime and the other Autobots in their bid to save humanity. They are pitted against the mighty extra-terrestrial robot, Lockdown.
This time we get some new alien robots. John Goodman voices Hound, a space GI and a dead ringer for his character from The Big Lebowski. His robot USP is a giant e-cigar which doubles up as a short range cannon during testing moments.
Then there’s Drift (Ken Watanabe), a metal samurai with a Japanese accent who wields a giant sword. His favourite hobbies are spouting cod Asian philosophy and dressing up as a 2013 Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse.
The motivation of billionaire financier/scientist Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), a Steve Jobs-like visionary who has set up his own lab/factory to mass produce Transformers using a metal known as Transformium, remains unclear. But Cade has no choice but to trust him.
Even as he tries to save humanity, Cade remains preoccupied with the behaviour of his scantily clad teenage daughter. He tries to chaperone her and expresses paternal outrage when he discovers that she already has a boyfriend. This is rally driver Shane (Jack Reynor), whose prowess behind the wheel saves them all from certain death – not that this is enough to earn Cade’s approval.
For all its cosmic references, Age of Extinction is a curiously naive affair. It offers the pleasures you could find in the most basic silent slapstick or adventure movies – chases, fights, explosions, and characters hanging from precipices.
Bay is one of contemporary US cinema’s greatest choreographers of car crashes, chases and gunfights. If you want meaningless mayhem on screen, he can serve it up in abundance.
The special effects are hugely impressive with the battling robots beautifully rendered in crisp, eye-popping 3D animation. For once, this is a movie that demands to be experienced on a big screen with giant speakers.
Bay’s movies tend to lurch forwards with all the grace and subtlety of the giant Autobots and Decepticons who trample everything before them in Age of Extinction.
Whenever the plot threatens to stall, Bay simply throws in another random shot of a beautiful sports car speeding along a freeway or turning into yet another robot.
This movie is almost three hours long, and it’s hard to work out why he needs so much time to say so little. At times the finale, a mass brawl involving good robots, bad robots, dinosaur robots and a bounty- hunting robot, feels like it’s never ending.
Bay clearly doesn’t care what critics say about the movie. Thanks to the franchise’s continuing success, he’s as resistant to their barbs as the armour-plated robots are to bullets and missiles. But Transforium really? It’s almost as lame as the introduction of Unobtanium in Avatar.
Unfortunately despite the title, there is no sign the Transformers are anywhere near extinction quite yet.
By Ruth Walker