Transformers: Age of Extinction resurrects a tired franchise
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, and Nicola Peltz. Rated PG. Now playing
Considering that the sound and fury of the third Transformers movie left me with no lasting impression other than the absence of Megan Fox, I expected Age of Extinction to become an ironic reference to future iterations of the long-running series. Instead, the movie is a shocking resurrection of the Transformers as global action heroes.
Michael Bay has invested his maximalist sensibilities into an action movie that feels epic and not merely gigantic.
The key is that the movie starts very small, in a Texas barn where Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) juggles an ailing mechanical repair business and the single parenting of his daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz). His fascination with tinkering and robotics really pays off when his latest junkyard acquisition turns out to be none other than Optimus Prime (voiced, as ever, by Peter Cullen), now a decrepit ruin on the lam from a black-ops unit that seeks to eliminate all alien robots.
Unusually for a movie of the destruction-porn genre, the script starts with the premise that large-scale robot battles mean thousands of dead civilians. It’s understandable that some people would want to rid the planet of battling robots entirely. Yeager doesn’t fix Optimus out of sentiment, but to confirm his identity for the bounty.
Meanwhile, a technology kingpin (Stanley Tucci) has discovered the process that allows transformers to alter their shapes; extensive experimentation on dead Decepticons has given him the confidence to build his own, fully tame and controlled robot, that he calls Galvatron. Fans of the original cartoon know that making a Galvatron is not an idea that can end well, but Tucci, a great character actor, indicates how the decision is defensible, until it isn’t.
Still, the best actor in the movie is Wahlberg, which probably shouldn’t be a surprise anymore. He made a talking teddy bear seem completely real. Here, he goes through basically the full gamut of action heroics, from fist fights and car chases to dogfights in stolen alien ships. It’s so far over the top that there is no top, yet it’s all strangely grounded because Walhberg never once seems to be acting. He’s just doing what he must, as is Optimus Prime, an assemblage of moving parts who has never been quite this moving.