Dirge overkill: Latest Transformers is longer, bigger and more the same

For fans of the Transformers film franchise, the latest installment delivers more of the same: Mechanized mayhem on a grand CGI scale, courtesy director Michael Bay. Those who have enjoyed the three earlier films will likely feel likewise about this one. Those who don’t, probably won’t.

If nothing else, Transformers:  Age of Extinction posits its own theory, as the title implies, about how the dinosaurs vanished from the Earth. It wasn’t a meteor. It wasn’t the Ice Age. It was the Transformers. They did it. No doubt future generations of archaeologists will ponder this long and hard … but hopefully not too long and hard.

For those keeping score at home, Age of Extinction takes place four years after the last film (Dark of the Moon). The CIA, under the directive of transparently nefarious hatchet man Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), has been hunting down all Transformers – with the help of some new Transformers built by tech mogul Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci, in between Hunger Games gigs and hamming it up here just as much). Joyce isn’t so much the proverbial mad scientist as a madly misguided one, which Attinger uses to his gain.

The resulting high-tech, high-decibel grudge match between “good” Transformers (Autobots) and “bad Transformers” (Decepticons) — which runs an unconscionable 165 minutes – also drops Mark Wahlberg into the proceedings as everyman inventor and all-around good guy Cade Yeager, who discovers and revives the top Transformer, Optimus Prime (again voiced by Peter Cullen).

This arouses the unwanted attention of Attinger’s agents, led by steely Titus Welliver,and it’s not long – actually it is – before Cade’s on the run with Optimus Prime, accompanied by pretty teenage daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) and her hunky Irish boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor), trying to stay one step ahead of the bad guys.

Subtlety has no place in the Michael Bay canon, and Transformers: Age of Extinction is bereft of such as a result. The human characters, who are about as one-dimensional as could be conceived, are trampled underfoot (some literally) amid the mind-numbing destruction on display. Periodic attempts at humor, such as Cade referring to his daughter’s beau as “Lucky Charms,” are obvious and heavy-handed. At least the film’s principal comic-relief character, Cade’s surfer-dude sidekick (TJ Miller) exits quickly – and not a moment too soon.

The film is rife with product placement – only appropriate, perhaps, given that it’s based on Hasbro’s popular line of toys – and it’s amusing to note that even during the action scenes, many of the enormous billboards prominently featured remain intact. Even when a Beijing bus is crushed, the Victoria’s Secret placard is spared. (Whew!) Of course, it’s a foregone conclusion that Age of Extinction will likely be as successful at the box-office as its predecessors, and the door is left wide open for a continuation. In a sense, it’s critic-proof (the previous films certainly were), and the special effects are admittedly impressive, albeit in service to a pretty ponderous narrative. The new Transformers is undeniably big and just as undeniably empty. Just like the others. !

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