By this point, the “Transformers” franchise seems pretty much bulletproof. Despite harsh critical reviews (the latest has a particularly scathing score of 16 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), the movies always pull in large amounts of money at the box office. “Transformers: Age of Extinction” easily beat the competition this weekend, earning $100 million so far.
And yes, I must confess, I contributed to that $100 million this weekend. I’m not a “Transformers” apologist — I have issues with all the films in the franchise, even the first one, which actually came relatively close to a “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While I think you can make an argument that sometimes it’s fun to have movies that are just pure, mindless escapism, the “Transformers” movies have always felt a little too indulgent. There are enough other action movies to choose from that make more of an effort to have a decent plot and characters.
However, I gave in and went to see “Age of Extinction,” mostly out of curiosity to see the Dinobots. And I have to admit (don’t judge me!) that I enjoyed this one. Can I defend it as a great movie? No — but it was fun.
The plot is admittedly rather convoluted. The main character is Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), an inventor and salvager who discovers a Transformer that turns out to be Optimus Prime. Both Transformers (the “good” robots) and Decepticons (the “bad” robots) are treated as enemies who must be hunted down and destroyed, but Yeager decides to protect Optimus. What follows is a rather complicated adventure that involves the CIA, an intergalactic Transformer bounty hunter named Lockdown, the (sort-of) return of Decepticon leader Megatron, and the arrival of the much-publicized dinosaur Transformers, the “Dinobots” (trust me, you’ll enjoy the movie much more if you don’t try to think about it too much).
The film does run too long, clocking in at almost three hours, and it takes too long for the Dinobots to show up (they don’t appear until the film’s final third). All the issues that director Michael Bay regularly takes flak for show up again here: more effort spent on special effects than plot, too many characters that aren’t fully realized, and a major requirement for suspension of disbelief.
But Bay is helped in this installment by Mark Wahlberg, as well as Stanley Tucci as Joshua Joyce, a Steve Jobs-esque ruler of a tech empire. Wahlberg is a much more likable lead (sorry, Shia LaBeouf!) and the film benefits from his charisma. Tucci is also obviously having a great time chewing scenery as the arrogant, eccentric Joyce. The film has some genuinely funny moments, and no matter how cynical you are, watching Optimus Prime ride into battle on a T-Rex Dinobot is all kinds of awesome.
This movie won’t end up on my “best of 2014” list, but for a $5 summer matinee movie, I felt I got my money’s worth.