‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ Most Tolerable of Series

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CHICAGO – I’ll say this for “Transformers: Age Of Extinction,” it’s the most tolerable Transformers movie Michael Bay has ever made. The substitution of Mark Wahlberg for Shia LaBeouf is a big part of that – and for its first two hours at least, Bay realizes less is more.

This stripped down reboot disguised as a sequel finally allows the Transformers themselves to get a word in and actually increases their effectiveness. There are far fewer Transformers, a simpler story, and a better actor in the central roll. However in the last hour of this nearly 3 hour onslaught of mechanized mayhem, Bay succumbs to his worst instincts and pummels the audience with a headache inducing barrage of destruction that’s both numbing and just plain boring.

Optimus Prime
Autobot Optimus Prime in ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures

Picking up some time after the events of the third Transformers movie, the Deceptecons have seemingly been defeated in a battle that turned Chicago into a war zone. The Autobots have officially been placed under government protection and the U.S. Military has officially ended their partnership. But behind the scenes a sinister C.I.A. Director (Kelsey Grammer) is systematically hunting down and killing each and every transformer left on the planet with assistance from an intergalactic bounty hunter with a hidden agenda.

Mark Wahlberg meanwhile is a struggling robotics inventor and mechanic in the kind of small Texas town that only exists in the movies. He’s got a hot teenage daughter (Nicola Peltz) who seems to own nothing but short shorts (this is a Michael Bay movie after all). He’s fighting off eviction notices on a huge farm by fixing old electronics while trying to invent the next big thing and get his daughter through high school. He and his surfer dude assistant (T.J. Miller) happen to stumble upon a beat-up old truck inside a dilapidated old movie house (Chicago’s own Uptown Theatre getting a chance to shine). The question of what a big rig is doing inside a movie house, or how it got there are never asked. But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that’s no ordinary truck.

When Wahlberg does a little tinkering and brings Optimus Prime back to life- the government is on his doorstep before you can say oil can. Optimus summons the last few remaining autobots together to protect their new human friends and uncover who is systematically hunting them down. Meanwhile, the head of a Chicago-based weapons contractor (Stanley Tucci) has cracked a genetic code of these mounds of metal and is trying to create his own army of man-made transformers for the U.S. Government. Tucci and Grammer are both obviously slumming in big budget trash like this, but they at least seem to be having a little fun doing it. Chicago once again plays a big part is this movie as the action hopscotches from Texas to Chicago to Beijing. Bay leaves more of the city intact this time, although a giant alien spaceship does use the Willis Tower as a rather large and expensive anchor.

There’s plenty of destruction and big guns, and skimpy outfits (Peltz is asked to do little more than pout nervously, run and generally look hot and terrified in those short shorts). But for a Michael Bay movie the first two thirds of it actually feel restrained, and that’s a good thing. Wahlberg comes off as a more likable and sympathetic figure as a concerned father than Shia LaBeouf ever mustered. He’s not showy, but he is solid in an endearingly wooden kind of way.

Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor
Cade (Mark Wahlberg), Tessa (Nicola Peltz) and Shane (Jack Reynor) in ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures

There are shades of 9/11, government conspiracies and a faint whiff of commentary about government black ops and Patriot Act invasions of privacy. And pared down to just a handful of Autobots, the Transformers have more time to develop personalities you can actually identify. You can tell who’s who, and who’s fighting who and the effects look great. I was as surprised as anyone to find part of this fourth installment to be somewhat enjoyable, in a bad movie brain-dead blockbuster kind of way.

But when the action moves to Beijing for its climax, Bay brings in the dinobots. This is the big addition fans have been waiting for, and as someone who actually had a dinobot as a child- there’s a certain nostalgic appeal. But Bay doesn’t stop there. He turns up the volume to 11 and goes back to the wall to wall bombast he’s famous for. He pours on wave after wave of new Transformers to tear Beijing to pieces, and he goes past overkill to full on sensory overload. By the end, I frankly didn’t care what happened I just wanted to retreat to the relative calm of the beeping car horns and bustle of the city outside the theater doors.

“Transformers: Age Of Extinction” opens everywhere on June 27 in 3D, IMAX 3D and regular 2D. See local listings for show times and theaters. Featuring Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, and John Goodman, Screenplay by Ehren Kruger. Directed by Michael Bay.  Rated “PG-13”

HollywoodChicago.com contributor Spike Walters


© 2014 Spike Walters, HollywoodChicago.com

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