Even the heartiest Transformers nerd must admit that Michael Bay took his mecha-fetish too far this time. The fourth episode in a saga that didn't need a second, Age of Extinction, is 2 hours and 45 minutes of numbing dumb and dull end credits listing the artists cashing in. It is exactly what moviegoers who made this franchise thrive deserve.
Age of Extinction — a wishful title if ever there was — is set a few years after the planned finale, 2011's Dark of the Moon, and its battle royale between Autobots and the evil Decepticons. Everything was settled as Chicago got leveled, with Bay's dispassion for human stuff making what must be an astounding body count nothing worth mentioning. Autobots save the world, end of story. Please.
Bay had another idea, after seeing fans lined up for hours at a theme park's Transformers ride, and realizing he hadn't demanded enough of a cut. Just reboot the plot in another time and place, with different-but-the-same actors. Which is why we get Mark Wahlberg doing a pretty good Shia LaBeouf impression as the needless lead human, and Nicola Peltz as an eerie mutation of Megan Fox and what's-her-name from Dark of the Moon. John Turturro's role of statured actor slumming is now played by Stanley Tucci.
Wahlberg plays Cade Yeager, a barnyard inventor deep in the heart of Texas, so don't mess with him. Cade is a widower raising his nubile daughter, Tessa (Peltz), who isn't allowed to date but sneaks around with Shane (Jack Reynor), whose drift racing skills come in handy in the movie's frequent attempts to be fast and furious. Shane also supplies Wahlberg with his sole acting motivation, defending Tessa's honor, which it appears she already surrendered.
Tucci keeps his chin up as Joshua Joyce, founder of a tech corp using the head of Decepticon leader Megatron as the techno-genome to manufacture Transformers. His work is being co-opted by CIA black ops supervisor Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), whose plan is to exterminate all Autobots, especially their sonorous leader Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen). Ehren Kruger's screenplay strains to make things more complex but that's about it.
The remaining Autobots, hiding in John Ford country, include Bumblebee, whose popularity is enhanced by never speaking, and franchise newcomers Hound (John Goodman's recycled gruff) and Drift, voiced by Ken Watanabe in samurai tones. The presence of Watanabe and Chinese action star Bingbing Li, plus setting the overlong third act in Asia, is Bay courting an enormous audience that can take or leave subtitles.
Action speaks decibels louder than Kruger's comic strip words. An armada of moon rock-shaped warships carpet-bombing dinosaurs with hovering space napalm is a nice opening, forgotten until later when said dinosaurs come alive as Dinobots. One car chase blurs into the next, with CIA killers in wicked sports cars and Autobots somersaulting into vehicular form. Bay's mayhem is more discernible than usual, with smarter uses of slo-mo, and cutting back on tight shots turned into visual gibberish by the robots' designs.
Age of Extinction is stretched to exhaustion by constantly finding a reason for Optimus Prime to gather reinforcements, Grammer to arrange a nefarious response and everything mechanical upstaging the humans. Getting to the climactic beatdown sooner might make a half-hour of cacophonous metal-on-metal violence and sequel-setting easier to sit through. Nah.
Steve Persall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.