Optimus Prime in “Transformers: Age of Extinction.” Photo by Industrial Light & Magic / Paramount
Optimus Prime in “Transformers: Age of Extinction.” Photo by Industrial Light & Magic / Paramount
Arts Rancho Santa Fe

Film review: ‘Extinction’ manages to suceed where ealier films failed

At first sight, it’s easy to assume director Michael Bay would just repeat the enormous blunders he made in “Revenge of the Fallen” and “Dark of the Moon.”

What he manages to manufacture with “Transformers: Age of Extinction” instead is a definite improvement over the disastrous sequels before it, something more or less on a par with the first “Transformers.” And the changes quickly become apparent from the get-go.

Four years after the events of “Dark of the Moon” left the world in pieces, humanity now distrusts the Transformers. When struggling inventor and single father Cade Yeager discovers an old truck he purchased is the hiding Autobot leader Optimus Prime, he and his daughter Tessa bring down a paranoid government official, the remaining Autobots, and a mysterious mercenary named Lockdown on them. Meanwhile, an arrogant businessman has designed Transformers of his own, only to see them gain self-awareness and turn on their human creators.

Departed are the human cast regulars from the previous installments, replaced by a new set of faces — one considerably less annoying when it comes to on-screen interactions.

In addition, the crude humor has noticeably died down and the obnoxiousness factor seems to have learned an essential little something called self-control.

Bay’s decision to introduce a higher level of vulnerability results in a darker atmosphere, which raises the stakes in a manner that challenges not only humankind, but also the surviving Autobots; in the case of Optimus Prime, the new attitude he displays toward Earth’s meat bags helps to establish a more dynamic energy within the film.

Effects-wise, the CGI here actually has something cool to demonstrate; the molecular transformations have this slick touch that proves to be a delight for audiences to witness. This streamlined achievement emerges in the form of human-made Transformers, with Galvatron in particular being prized for his striking resemblance to a sinister face we’ve seen before.

Mark Wahlberg does a fairly good job in his portrayal of the protective lead; in contrast, Nicola Peltz is a vanilla daughter, and the inclusion of Jack Reynor as her racing boyfriend does little to improve that. Stanley Tucci and Li Bingbing are a perfect fit for their robot designer businessperson roles; the same applies Kelsey Grammer, who plays a paranoid agent.

Regardless of these changes for the better, there are some things about the “Transformers” franchise that just don’t change, and whenever that happens, even a blockbuster that runs for 165 minutes isn’t without its mechanical breakdowns.

Characterization continues to range from functional to nil; even the slightly more interesting humans are as simplistic as they’re ever going to get, with Wahlberg and Tucci being the most notable standouts.

And while Lockdown is a formidable adversary for the darker Optimus, there’s not much to say about Bumblebee and the other Autobots.

Amidst the over-the-top mayhem that takes place in Texas, Chicago, and Hong Kong, the story overextends its grasp, wanting to cover more material than it can process. It’s understandable given the series’ past errors, but not even “Age of Extinction” has the ability to handle a gigantic storyline consisting of multiple large-scale components that render the whole thing disjointed every so often.

Ambition can be productive, but not when it proves to be a tad too overwhelming for the script to handle in one go. Even the first “Transformers” knew how to stay simple and effective.

On a final note, the much-advertised Dinobots were a bit of a letdown, as they appear only for a short period of time and have no personalities whatsoever.

And as exciting as it was to see these prehistoric titans do battle with their enemies, they turned out to be rather unnecessary; their addition didn’t really add anything to the film.

Despite having rust in the usual places, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” attains the “it’s-alright-to-enjoy-mindless-fun-once-in-a-while” core that made its franchise starter a crowd-pleasing guilty pleasure.

MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, language and brief innuendo

Run time: 2 hours and 45 minutes

Playing: In general release