By NATHAN LERNER
“Transformers: Age of Extinction” is the latest in the Hasbro Toys-inspired franchise run amuck.
Perhaps, you were hoping that the title of the fourth episode would constitute a self-fulfilling prophecy. Indeed, at the film’s outset, C.I.A. honcho, Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), proclaims, “The age of the Transformers is over.”
Don’t rejoice just yet. Paramount Pictures has already announced its plans to release the fifth installment sometime in 2016. Only an optimist would suggest that this ominous news affords us with two years of respite from these mindless, soul-crushing extravaganzas.
This time around is not Shia LaBouef in the lead. Instead, this reboot stars Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeager, a struggling inventor. The widower is raising his recalcitrant 17-year old daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz).
Stanley Tucci portays Joshua Joyce, the glib owner of a high-tech corporation. He has recovered the decapitated head of the evil decepticon, Megatron, and is using it as a template for an industrial line of dinobots. These will render moot the extraterrestrial autobot Transformers.
This corporate oligarch has forged a nefarious collaboration with rogue government officials. Agent Attinger has been tasked with recovering the extant autobots, so they can be disassembled for their rare metallic component, transformium. Somehow, I don’t recall seeing that element on the Periodic Table.
A run-down movie theater in small-town Texas is on the cusp of closing down. Among the detritus, Cade discovers a dilapidated truck. The inveterate tinkerer tows the rust-bucket back to his family farm. His daughter Tess (Nicola Peltz) is appalled. Cade defends his acquisition, insisting that selling the salvaged parts will help put Tessa through college.
Eventually, the vehicle reveals its secret identity. He emerges as Optimus Prime (again voiced by Peter Cullen), the head autobot. Cade busily repairs Optimus Prime. Meanwhile, his avaricious underling, Lucas, (T.J. Miller), sneaks off to report the autobot’s whereabouts, so that he can collect a reward.
When Attinger learns where Optimus Prime is, he dispatches a cadre of his black ops goons to Cade’s farm to capture the autobot leader. When the agents arrive, they are greeted by Optimus Prime, transformed into full-fledged fighting mode. After this initial confrontation, Cade, Tess, and their new bff go on the lam. Along the way, they are joined by Tessa’s boyfriend, Shane (Jack Reynor), whose driving skills come in handy.
With a shrewd eye on the international box office, a substantial portion of the film is set in China. A title card establishes that the action is taking place in Beijing. From these inland scenes, the narrative jumps to bustling Hong Kong.
Director, Michael Bay, and screenwriter, Ehren Kruger, once again regurgitate the same formula that made the three precursors such mega-hits. What you end up with is multi-million dollar toy porn, in which overbearing C.G.I. substitutes for any sort of character development or coherent plot.
The dialogue is particularly horrendous. Challenged for evidence of his legal authority, a C.I.A. interloper onto the Yeager farm, responds, “My face is my warrant.” Later, a bazooka-wielding Cade remarks “This alien gun can really kick ass!” Apparently, the results of his high-powered armament do not obviate the need for such expository dialogue.
The film contains plenty of self-referential puffery. The movie venue’s erstwhile operator bemoans the fact that “crap” sequels have ruined the business. Later, a geeky guy disparages “Armageddon,” an early Bay hit. Take that — Bay detractors!
The role of gender in the film deserves particular attention. Two recent films, “A Million Ways to Die in the West” and “Edge of Tomorrow,” have been notable in their revision of traditional gender prototypes. In each, the female co-protagonist, Charlize Theron and Emily Blunt, played ubermacho characters, well-versed in martial skills. They served as protectors and mentored their timorous male co-protagonists, Seth McFarlane and Tom Cruise respectively. In this “Transformers,” the filmmakers create a universe that is overwhelmingly male dominated. Tess is reduced to being a passive entity, with daddy, boyfriend, and autobots as her guardians. Business exec, Su Yueming (Li Bingbing), unexpectedly demonstrates her prowess in karate. This represents the sole deviation from the film’s gender stereotyping.
Can you say bloated? With a running time of nearly three hours, this “Transformers” is the longest film in the series. How many loud, senseless scenes of mayhem and destruction does a viewer really need to endure?
Should the “Transformers” vehicles be considered bona fide films or are they merely product placement vehicles that savage viewers with a sadistic levels of sensory overload? However they are categorized, after four installments, the “Transformers” franchise richly deserves extinction.
“Transformers: Age of Extinction”
* ½ PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo) 165 minutes
Nathan Lerner welcomes feedback at email@example.com.