‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ movie review: Wahlberg joins Optimus Prime

The fourth in the series of science fiction action films, "Transformers: Age of Extinction" stars Mark Wahlberg in the lead role. This is the first film in the Transformer series to feature Dinobots.

It’s only natural to get a little excited about the title of “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” and not because it means another installment of talking machines battling to the death. It’s the word “extinction.” Could this mean that Michael Bay is throwing in the towel on his loud and lumbering franchise after this fourth chapter?

Ha.

Actually, a fifth movie is reportedly in the works. The extinction in the title refers to the fact that some loathsome Transformers were responsible for the annihilation of dinosaurs, and they may have a similar plan for humans. The movie begins in prehistoric times before bringing us to a modern-day reality, and the unfolding of all those eons feels like it’s happening in real time. The movie clocks in at an astonishing 2 hours 45 minutes.

This “Transformers” is technically a reboot, and one thing the movie has going for it is its lack of Shia LaBeouf. Instead, we follow a new cast of characters led by Mark Wahlberg. He plays Cade Yeager, a kind of mad scientist inventor who runs a robotics repair shop in Texas. He can’t fix a machine to save his life, but when a decaying semi winds up in his care, he has no trouble bringing it back to life. Of course, this isn’t just some old truck: It’s Optimus Prime, the benevolent leader of the Autobots (a.k.a. the good-guy Transformers).

Wahlberg has a great screen presence and gets off some good one-liners during the movie’s early moments. He’s a single father to the teenaged Tess (Nicola Peltz), and just when you’re wondering how this girl’s shorts could be so microscopic — and there are plenty of opportunities to ponder with all the close-ups — Cade makes some comment about how she needs to remember to use cold water and air dry next time she’s doing laundry. But the relative pleasure of those first minutes is thanks largely to T.J. Miller, best known as the outlandish Erlich on HBO’s “Silicon Valley.” He has a similar role here, as a somewhat clueless bum with a hilariously outsize sense of self-worth.

But there isn’t a lot of time for comedy when evil men and robots are out to get Optimus Prime. One such person is Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), the head of a CIA program aimed at destroying all Autobots. His henchmen include a Decepticon (a.k.a. a bad-guy Transformer) named Lockdown and a heartless creep played by Titus Welliver. When these predators discover where Optimus Prime is hiding, neither the Autobot nor Cade’s friends and family are safe. Cue the action.

Some of the special effects are amazing. Bay shot the movie in Imax 3-D, and he makes the most of the technology. Watching a steamship get sucked into the air by a spaceship, only to be thrown back to the ground, might have viewers covering their heads. The problem is quantity. There are so many action sequences related to so many story lines that midway through an epic fight, you might find yourself wondering what exactly started this particular battle and what the objective is other than destruction for the sake of it.

All those minutes devoted to crunching metal come at the expense of not just character and plot development, but also simple transitions. The movie moves both too slowly and too quickly, as scene transitions appear to have been stripped or significantly shortened during the editing process. Even the lengthy run time isn’t sufficient to develop the many story lines, from a subplot involving Tess’s secret boyfriend (Cade doesn’t let her date), to a scientist, played by Stanley Tucci, who wants to take old Transformer parts and create newer, better Transformers that he can control. We can all guess how well that goes.

Distractions, meanwhile, abound, whether they’re music-heavy slow-motion sequences that look reminiscent of “CSI: Miami” or absurd product placement. The lingering close-up of a Beats Pill speaker is especially egregious.

And then there are the self-referential scenes in which an older character, who once owned a movie theater, laments the current state of cinema: All these sequels, and they’re all just garbage, the man sighs. It might be funnier if it weren’t so true.

‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’

½

PG-13. At area theaters. Contains intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, strong language and brief innuendo. 165 minutes.

Washington-area native Stephanie Merry covers movies, theater and art for Weekend and the Going Out Guide. She’s also the section’s de facto expert on yoga, gluten-free dining and bicycle commuting.
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