Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction is not a movie in the traditional sense of the word, though “movie” will have to do until a new word is coined to describe the maximum sensory experience that Bay consistently delivers.
More so than any entertainer in the world today, Bay is intent on immersing audiences in that experience. A short promotional feature proudly advertises that the fourth installment in the Transformers franchise utilizes the new IMAX 3D Digital Camera for many of the action sequences, which comprise more than half of the 165-minute running time. That further clues in first-time Bay-watchers to his priorities: the action sequences are lengthy exercises in chase and pursuit, destruction and death, escape and trap, defeat and triumph. They are, frankly, an end unto themselves.
During one such apparently endless sequence, I wondered if it could be excised entirely without affecting the overall experience. As the closing credits finally, mercifully began to roll, I realized my idle thought was correct.
Still, I’d be a hypocrite if I denied enjoyment of individual sequences, especially those in the first half of the experience, much of it set in and around Paris, Texas (though it was actually filmed in and around Austin). The wide open spaces provide picturesque backdrops for the story to unfold, and for Bay and cinematographer Amir Mokri to indulge their love for lens flares and ‘magic hour’ photography, whether captured in-camera or in post-production. Transformers: Age of Extinction looks terrific, and the artistry involved in the extensive computer-generated imagery is top-notch.
I’d also be a hypocrite if I denied my love for action movies that skimp on the plot. Earlier this year, I very much enjoyed The Raid 2, which runs 150 minutes and is devoted almost entirely to action sequences. The difference, and it is a major difference, is that The Raid 2 features a stunning variety of action, from vehicular to martial arts to sword play to gun battles. For all that Michael Bay clearly loves action sequences, the fighting between giant CGI robots becomes routine far too quickly to sustain an experience of this length.
One of the reasons that the earlier scenes work — to the extent that they do — is the placement of humans in peril within those sequences strain, but do not break, credulity. Out of an evident desire to raise the stakes, the “human peril” element becomes ludicrously extreme, and then we’re back to watching robots bash one another.
While the experience does not lack humor, much of it is either front-loaded — in the person of the annoyingly grubby T.J. Miller — or back-loaded — in the more capable hands of Stanley Tucci. By that point of the action, however, Tucci is reduced to reaction shots, joking asides, and even he can only do so much. The rest of the picture relies on tired, ancient humor fantasizing that Mark Wahlberg is an old-fashioned father who doesn’t want his 17-year-old daughter (Nicola Peltz) dating boys. Of course, she’s been secretly dating an older Irish hunk / race driver (Jack Reynor) who is entirely too conversant with Texas statues about dating underage girls.
Transformers: Age of Extinction revolves around an upper-echelon CIA chief (Kelsey Grammer) and his determination to wipe the Transformers off the face of the earth. Of course, he has ulterior motives, and the good Transformers, led by Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) must decide if they want to help mankind against the evil Decepticons. Fans will know the difference between the good robots and the bad robots; for everyone else, it’s a matter of watching pixels fighting pixels, in glorious IMAX 3D Digital Camera photography at tremendous volume.
The experience opens wide in theaters throughout the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex on Friday, June 27.