You know what you’re getting into when it comes to Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, and, unfortunately, nothing’s changed going into Transformers: Age of Extinction. Again written by Transformers scribe Ehren Kruger, this bloated toy commercial is just under three hours. Three agonizing, headache inducing hours.

Four movies in, I still have no idea who any of these Transformers are. I’m still not sure what’s happening in the action scenes or who’s winning. In Age of Extinction, I was confused as to why so much time was spent on Texas’ real life Romeo & Juliet law and none of that time was spent on the plot. I mean, it’s nice that research was clearly done, but it was done on the wrong thing.

I have to say that, while shoehorning Megatron/Galvatron/whatever into the plot was unnecessary, it was at least nice to see Kruger and Bay attempt something new in making Lockdown the primary villain in Age of Extinction. Lockdown isn’t very well known or often utilized (even in the comics) but he is given some spotlight here, and Mark Ryan does revel in his villainous dialogue.

The story — negligible though it is — is based somewhat on a Transformers arc from IDW a couple of years back. Essentially, humanity has turned its back on all Cybertonians. They want all of them off their planet, Autobot and Decepticon alike. The military has adapted their technology and is hunting them down. As the war between the Transformers escalates yet again, we’re given new characters (again, negligible though they are) and some redesigned old ones. A bounty hunter named Lockdown arrived to kill the Autobots and arrested Optimus Prime because he’s on a holy mission from the Creators. And then the Decepticons show up too because…because the script needs padding.

Thankfully, Shia LaBeouf is no longer in the franchise, but he’s replaced by Mark Wahlberg, who plays the most unconvincing native Texan/engineer/scientist in film history.

The fact that this franchise is more about spectacle than anything else makes for an exhausting viewing experience. The music gets blended into the sound effects and the spiraling, jumbled and prolonged action sequences. The action scenes build up both in length and insanity to the point where it just becomes one long imperceptible blur. If you leave this film with only a headache and not a seizure, that is no small miracle – yet Age of Extinction itself may be evidence against the existence of God.

Admitedly, seeing Optimus Prime riding in on the back of Grimlock was incredibly cool.

If you take a step back from the film, you can’t help but notice certain metatextual leanings. The characters seem to be as exasperated as the rest of us to the point of actually noticing how ridiculous everything that’s happening in the plot is. Hell, the Autobots repeatedly just say “Forget it, we’re leaving.” Maybe I’m just projecting. Either way, every cliché we’ve compounded on to Michael Bay is still very much intact. There are ‘splosions, collapsing buildings, 360 degree pans, sexy girls and more ‘splosions. Seeing as how Paramount is the studio behind both this franchise and the JJ Abrams Star Trek films should come as no surprise. They’re nearly identical, right down to the soul-destroying emptiness you feel by the end of it accompanied by the shock at how little the writers respect the intelligence of their viewer. Then again, the JJ Abrams Trek movies have made a ton of money and Age of Extinction made over a billion dollars so I guess they’re right not to respect our intelligence.

There are about three hours of special features — mostly making-of documentaries — and thankfully no audio commentary because, honestly, what would the point be?

A part of me feels bad for tearing into this film. Admittedly, I’m not the audience for it. I am a fan of the Transformers franchise. I grew up on the animated show from the 80s, I collected the toys and I loved Beast Wars in the 90s. As an adult, I read the comics. I have a real affection for these ancient giant alien robots that somehow feel pain and can turn into trucks and guns and sometimes nothing useful (looking at you, Seaspray). While it’s known as an action franchise, there are plenty of stories that primarily focus on story and character (Last Stand of the Wreckers being a notable example). There are dozens of great Transformers stories out there — and while Kruger has managed to name drop some pleasant references over the last few features, it doesn’t make up for how truly god-awful the live action film franchise is. The nostalgia factor (casting Peter Cullen and Frank Welker is something I will always appreciate) can only get us so far, and truly not even Kelsey Grammer (Boss should never have been cancelled), Stanley Tucci and various bits of sex appeal can save this film.

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