I’m fairly certain a movie like Transformers: Age of Extinction is beyond any judgment calls of “good” or “bad.” It is, after all, just Michael Bay going back to doing what he enjoys doing (after proving he could make smart, yet still trashy, movies when he directed Pain & Gain): explosions, CGI metal-on-metal violence, and complete disregard for human life. A lot of it doesn’t make sense if you think about it (Kelsey Grammar as a xenophobic CIA agent who works with intergalactic bounty hunter, and robot Predator, Lockdown?), but maybe that’s the point? Pure garbage cinema.
And at nearly 3 hours, there’s a lot of it to savor: the namesake toy characters (now including dinosaur robots), black ops psychopaths colluding with amoral corporate types, sports cars, Dark Knight drum beats, fashion model women in skinny jeans and short shorts, product placement for beer, cavernous alien ships housing a jarred collection of horrors (like something straight out of an H.R. Giger sketchbook), and Marky Mark. Wahlberg plays Cade Yeager, a small-time inventor living out of his farm workshop and having serious control freak issues (refusing to allow his daughter to date, verging on homicidal rage when he discovers her boyfriend, and exploiting his sole employee for cash) when he gets embroiled in the latest Transformers plot. He’s a gentler version of Pain & Gain‘s sociopath Danny Lugo, ruthlessness tempered by fatherhood into a nobler American Dream. Bay throws all this into an unending stream of action scenes which flip between brutalist horizontal stretches (chases along Texas and Illinois freeways with plenty of auto carnage) and dizzying verticality, culminating in a Hong Kong finale juggling no less than four factions, vying for control of the latest world-ending MacGuffin amidst skyscrapers and tower blocks. Machines and people hop around, perform judo flip cover fire, then get sucked up into the sky by an alien magnet. This is a movie unapologetic about being overcrowded and exhausting, likely because Bay isn’t making art to be praised or entertainment to be enjoyed: he’s making an ordeal to be survived.