[ Director: Michael Bay; Screenwriter: Ehren Kruger; Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammar, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, BingBing Li, T.J. Miller, Titus Welliver; Running time: 165 minutes; Certification: 12A ]
When it was announced that Michael Bay would be stepping back into the Transformers universe after delivering his pet project, the unfairly bashed Pain & Gain, you could feel the collective rubbing of hands from critics everywhere when they realised they had the chance to pen a new scathing review of the director they love to hate. Indeed, after the desperately poor Dark Of The Moon there was every reason to be pessimistic about this fourth instalment – a pessimism cemented when the 165 minute running time was announced, a trait of which Bay seriously needs to work – yet considering Pain & Gain there was also cause for optimism. While it was completely shredded by certain critics; most notably (and hilariously) Mark Kermode, I felt there was enough in it to prove Bay has some sense of artistic merit. If he could somehow bring a bit of that to a Transformers movie, or even just find his old ability to entertain, we could be in for something a bit different.
That trait – Bay’s inability to make a movie under two hours (literally) – has found its silver medallist in Age Of Extinction. Coming in second only to the tediously long Pearl Harbour, at two hours and forty-five minutes it needs a harsh edit. People go on about how Tarantino needs a more disciplined edit to his films, but if there’s one person in Hollywood who actually demands it, it’s Michael Bay. Several scenes could do with being cut completely; the Stanley Tucci lift sequence springs to mind, where he just laughs for about two minutes before a fight, that strangely looks like The Raid (did Bay purposefully dress BingBing Li as Hammer Girl?), breaks out and leads to…nothing, really. Equally the pacing is very languid to begin with; while much of the Texas farm stuff where we’re introduced to our new set of characters may be pleasing on the eye, it’s terribly loose and drawn out.
But the reshuffled cast helps enormously; the presence of Mark Wahlberg particularly welcome. He’s far more watchable and likeable than Shia LaBeouf who, to be fair, I used to vouch for and actually think was a rather fun screen presence, but after all the nonsense with his personal life I lost faith. His non-appearance here is welcome; Wahlberg appears to carry the film with far more ease and bravado. Kelsey Grammar as the film’s human villain is just as good. It remains hard to see him as anyone other than Frasier Crane – typecasting at its best (worst?) – but he puts in a fun performance here and it would be great to see him take the big screen by force. He’s clearly capable of it.
Amazingly we don’t see the first explosion until about the twenty-minute mark, and even more amazingly the film is actually quite restrained with them. There are plenty of crash, bang, wallops, but considering the running time we would probably expect more Bayhem. Only into the final forty or so minutes do they start appearing regularly, when the film unfortunately descends into the same thing as the last three movies; big robots hitting each other in the middle of a city. It does become tiresome, yet it’s also fun and entertaining for a good while, and we actually care about most of the characters which couldn’t be said for at least the last two entries. Also, dinobots are cool.
Bay certainly has a way of making entertaining action flicks, he just needs to rein himself in. Critics will no doubt hate this film with every speck of their souls, but if it had been a solid two hours, it may have been, dare I say it, worthy of a fourth star*. Because it is fun, it is entertaining, it is spectacle; it’s the most enjoyable film of the series. But it’s also a drag. It goes on for far too long and too many scenes don’t lead to enough. Yet we should embrace the good things, try to be optimistic, because this isn’t where the series is going to end. Even if it probably should be.
*but not really