Tuesday, July 1, 2014


Although he scrapped the original cast for a company of fresh faces, “Transformers” director Michael Bay has changed little else in this sci-fi, fantasy franchise about Hasbro’s enormous, shape-shifting, alien robots that exist to smash each other to smithereens.  Cast as an entirely different character from Shia LaBeouf’s twentysomething Sam Witwicky, Mark Wahlberg portrays a paranoid, single-parent father in the third sequel of Paramount’s “Transformers” franchise.  Wahlberg isn’t the only newbie.  Five-time Emmy winner Kelsey Grammer of “Cheers” skulks around as a sinister CIA spook, while chrome-domed Stanley Tucci behaves like a Victor Frankenstein-style inventor in league with the notorious Grammer.  For the record, I rank the original “Transformers” marginally above “Dark of the Moon,” followed by “Age of Extinction,” and then “Revenge of the Fallen.”  “Reindeer Games” scenarist Ehren Kruger, who penned the two previous “Transformers” tales, assigns everybody, Man and Transformers alike, with more than enough onerous tasks in this fourth installment to rival “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” with its colossal Windy City apocalypse. Inevitably, everything culminates in a larger-than-life smackdown between the Transformers with collateral damage galore.  Furthermore, Bay and Kruger have anted up some other surprises.  Not only do the Dinobots appear, but also mankind miraculously manages to manufacture Transformers in their research laboratories.  Naturally, you’ll have to channel your inner adolescence to appreciate the fanciful heroics and outlandish mayhem that this PG-13 blockbuster delivers with predictable regularity throughout its bladder challenging 165 minutes.  Whereas the previous “Transformers” outings were essentially screwball comedies about titanic toys using major cities as arenas for their pandemonium, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” (*** OUT OF *****) doesn’t consciously strive to be as absurd as its predecessors.  The hare-brained antics of Shia LaBeouf and his dysfunctional family were more amusing that anything Wahlberg and his teen daughter with her rally race car driver boyfriend dream up.  Indeed, the quirkiest character in “Age of Extinction” doesn’t survive the first hour.  Meaning, “Age of Extinction” isn’t a Looney Tunes extravaganza. 

“Transformers: Age of Extinction” takes place four years after the monumental battle of Chicago in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.”  Just as they suggested in the previous “Transformers” epic that NASA embarked on lunar exploration simply as a ruse to locate a crashed Cybertronian spacecraft on the moon before the Soviets, Bay and Kruger fantasize that the dinosaurs disappeared as a consequence of aliens exterminating the massive creatures with extreme prejudice.  Bay and Kruger waste no time introducing the Dinobots, and the scene in the Arctic where mankind has discovered a Dinobot fossil is eerie.  The next thing we know we’re in Texas.  The new protagonist in “Age of Extinction” is Cade Yeager.  A crackpot inventor who operates a fix-it service, Cade is a nice guy who wouldn’t swat a fly.  Cade and his partner Lucas Flannery (T.J. Miller of “Cloverfield”), a surfer dude out of water, are inspecting a movie theater that the owner wants to renovate when they spot a big-rig truck covered with debris.  Cade buys the rig with Lucas’ cash, and they haul it back to his barn.  Cade plans to strip it for spare parts.  Imagine Cade’s surprise when Optimus Prime (original “Transformers” voice-over artist Peter Cullen) changes his shape.  Cade is floored.  Not long afterward, a Top Secret commando outfit nicknamed ‘Cemetery Wind,’ that tracks and destroys Autobots and Decepticons alike, show up at his door.  Since the devastating battle of Chicago, the President has dismantled the combined Autobot & Pentagon operation to mop up stray Decepticons.  Furthermore, the administration has placed a bounty on all Transformers good or evil.  Lucas freaks out at Optimus Prime and alerts Cemetery Wind.  Sadly, Lucas is not prepared for the Storm Trooper tactics of James Savoy (Titus of Welliver “Mulholland Falls”) who resembles a shark in sunglasses and commands Cemetery Wind.  Savoy musters more villainy based on his menacing facade and this propensity for violence than his scheming boss, Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), who belongs to the Central Intelligence Agency.  Attinger has recruited a brilliant inventor, Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci 0f “The Hunger Games”); to conduct experiments on Megatron’s severed head.  Attinger wants Joyce to create a man-made line of Transformers, and Joyce possesses the genius to make it happen.

My trifling objections with “Age of Extinction” lay with the new cast and the change of atmosphere.  Basically, I’ll watch Mark Wahlberg in just about anything.  He makes consistently interesting movies.  Moreover, Wahlberg radiates greater charisma than Shia LaBeouf.  Unfortunately, Wahlberg plays a largely colorless character.  He worries constantly about his teenage daughter, Tessa Yeager (Nicola Peltz), and struggles to keep her on a short leash.  Naturally, Tessa hates his micro-managing parental skills.  Imagine Cade’s surprise when he learns that Tessa has been dating an older fella!  Jail bait-looking Nicola Peltz makes a poor substitute for somebody as drop-dead sexy as Megan Fox.  Mind you, Fox is no Meryl Streep, but she was built for the “Transformers” franchise.  Tessa Yeager exists so Cade will fear for her welfare.  She serves as the resident damsel-in-distress.  As Tessa’s reckless boyfriend Shane, Jack Reynor brings little to the action aside from his driving skills that a stunt double performed.  The stunts that Shane’s daredevil character pulls are impressive, but little about Shane’s one-dimensional character is as impressive.  Neither Kelsey Grammer’s rather ho-hum villain nor Stanley Tucci’s deluded inventor overshadow the memory of the insane shenanigans of John Turturro’s Agent Simmons in the first three “Transformers.”  Nobody takes over the roles that Josh Duhamel as Captain Lennox and Tyrese Gibson as USAF Tech Sergeant Epps created.  Remember, the military is excluded from “Age of Extinction.” 

No, you need not have seen the earlier “Transformers” trilogy toplining Shia LaBeouf to appreciate this entertaining reboot.  The best “Transformers” movies boast a multiplicity of shape-shifting robots, and the fourth “Transformers” movie meets the quota and then raises the bar.  Happily, quiet moments are few and far between in “Age of Extinction,” and the battling robots make the third sequel worthwhile escapism.

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