Robots and CGI win in Transformers: Age Of Extinction
The dire accents and product placement irks in this latest offering but the special effects are truly amazing, says Andrew Johnston.
The first thing to say about the fourth instalment in the Transformers franchise is that it's 165 minutes long. That's two hours and 45 minutes – almost an hour longer than the likes of Jaws, Star Wars or Raiders of the Lost Ark. Inversely, it has far less wit, intelligence or genuine excitement than those classics. But blockbusters have changed since the 1970s and '80s.
Audiences today seem to want to disengage their minds for a few hours and revel in spectacular action scenes, deafening sound effects and as few words as possible. And on that level, Transformers: Age of Extinction delivers.
The plot, of course, is a load of maniacal nonsense. It's something to do with the Autobots (the good Transformers) trying to stop the Decepticons (the bad ones) getting their robotic hands on a 'Seed' that will destroy all life on Earth etc. It's about as easy to keep up with as a cheetah in a Lamborghini, but what director Michael Bay's fourquel lacks in narrative coherence, it makes up for with a superb cast, a surprising amount of heart and some truly stunning special effects. Love it or hate it, CGI really has advanced to astonishing levels since Jurassic Park.
And as with the previous entries in the series, there are a couple of gonzo action sequences that make the numb bum, ringing ears and sore eyes worth suffering.
Let's not forget, for all his failings (Pearl Harbor, giving the world Aerosmith's I Don't Want to Miss a Thing, producing all those dreadful horror remakes), Bay is still the man who made Bad Boys and The Rock. So, the heroes' traverse between two skyscrapers while being pursued by dog-like Transformers and Mark Wahlberg's character's fight with a government goon as both fall down the side of a Hong Kong tenement building are as exciting as anything cinema has given us in recent years.
Wahlberg plays Cade Yeager, a Texan single father and struggling inventor, who becomes embroiled in mankind's war against robots when he finds Autobot leader Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) rusting in a derelict cinema (cue a nice gag about remakes and sequels having killed movies).
If you want to feel old, the fact that 'Marky Mark' is now playing dads should do it, with Yeager trying to protect his teenage daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) from an ever-shortening hemline and boyfriend Shane's (Jack Reynor) wandering hands.
For his part, Reynor delivers a diabolical Irish brogue, one so marble-mouthed you'd be hard-pressed to recognise it as English.
Still, at least he's trying. Despite playing a born-and-bred Texan, Wahlberg follows in the tradition of Sean Connery or Liam Neeson by making no attempt to disguise his Boston accent.
Elsewhere, Kelsey Grammer gives a wonderfully arch performance as CIA agent Harold Ottinger. If the James Bond series are looking for their next villain, they need look no further than the erstwhile Dr Frasier Crane.
The whole final hour seems tacked on, with an Asian-set finale that is sure to please audiences in that region, but which adds little to proceedings other than more robots trashing bridges, buildings and car after car after car.
Transformers: Age of Extinction is also brimming with almost comedic levels of product placement.
But like everything in this demented spectacle, it's best if you just go with it.
Bay's blockbuster may not transform cinema, but it'll sell a lot of tickets, toys and popcorn.