There’s no excuse for it.
And by “it,” I mean this fourth entry in the Transformers franchise being two hours and 45 punishing minutes long. I’m not saying there’s not a future world where this could be a good thing. One where a clever script and a director not named Michael Bay are leading the way. But in this reality, the one where Transformers: Age of Extinction is sent to assault our senses, there’s simply no excuse.
Sitting through this exhausting film isn’t to just watch it. It’s to be pummeled by it. Bay’s latest orgasm of CGI tests our endurance, moving us from the time of the dinos (where we find out — eye-roll, please — what REALLY killed them off) to the Arctic, Texas, Chicago, Hong Kong and China. If this were a ride, we’d deserve to have our complimentary passports stamped as we enter the gift shop. It probably should be a ride. Because it sure as heck doesn't work as a movie.
All of Bay’s excesses as a director are present — the slo-mo, the low-angle shots, people running to or from something. The Age of Extinction subtitle is hardly more descriptive or useful than, say, So Much Stuff Happening at Once You’ll Want to Stare at a White Wall When It's Over.
Stepping into the human role once filled by Shia LaBeouf is Mark Wahlberg, who plays Cade Yeager, a robotics fixer-upper with a teenage daughter (filling the eye-candy role once occupied by Megan Fox). They get to buddy up with the Autobots, who are robota-non-grata to the black ops division of the U.S. government, an agency led by Keep-Earth-Human zealot Kelsey Grammer. His is a shadow group that wants to be anything but stealthy, what with its preference for long black trenchcoats and a caravan of black SUVs that can kick up dust anywhere at a moment's notice. Working in league with an alien robot/bounty hunter, the black-ops guys are hunting down the Transformers. The purpose behind this links to a government contractor led by Stanley Tucci, who, with his stubble and black suit, looks and acts less like the crazy brilliant scientist he’s supposed to be, and more like a fussy New York fashion mogul with a taste for gaudy eyewear and a penchant for yelling when things don't go his way (which is pretty much all the time, because that's another Bay trademark).
The maguffin of the first Transformers was the All Spark; this time it’s “the seed,” which Tucci and Grammer covet for the riches it will bring them, unaware of the threat it poses to humanity. The biggest threat it poses to us is the endless stream of noisy, numbing battles it precipitates. It's tough to get jazzed about this stuff when nearly everyone involved is either boring or stupid or just plain unlikable. Optimus Prime, with his resonant voice and caring personality, is still the most interesting character, and that includes the humans. The rest of the Autobots are there to complain, fight and talk about wanting to be in a fight. I want to complain about the lack of female Transformers, but I figure they'd be no more interesting than what we've already got.
On at least three different occasions, someone proclaims, “You have NO IDEA” to announce the super seriousness of the situation. It also answers our question as to what is going on and why we should care about anyone or anything in the movie. For as much as it bounces us around from fight to fight, for all the effort clearly put into its special effects, Transformers: AOE is a slog, and by comparison, the first film looks like a masterpiece. They'll keep churning these out as long as they make money. The only transformation this series needs to be concerned with is making the next one good.