There’s only one thing anyone really needs to know about “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” Michael Bay’s fourth exercise in robot-on-robot violence and aggressive product placement: at nearly 3 hours, it’s the longest “Transformers” movie yet.
Any mention of the leaden dialogue, wooden acting, laugh-free jokes, deafening volume and enough explosives to knock the Earth off its axis would just be piling on.
The shame is that it didn’t have to be this way.
Even though the franchise is really just one long commercial for Hasbro’s Transformers toys, the first film, the one in which humanity initially came into contact with the warring intergalactic robots who can shape-shift into cars, trucks and awesome weaponry, had a sense of humor about itself.
The follow-up, “Revenge of the Fallen,” was unwatchable, but the third installment, “Dark of the Moon,” showed fits of inspiration amid the excess.
With “Extinction,” Bay — working from a script by Ehren Kruger (who also wrote the last two “Transformers” movies) — had a chance to start from scratch.
The entire human cast from previous films, including star Shia LaBeouf as steadfast Sam Witwicky, is gone. Taking LaBeouf’s place at the heart of the story is workhorse Mark Wahlberg — not a bad trade.
But the biggest reason why “Age of Extinction” should be better than it is can be summed up in one word: dinobots.
Die-hard fans of these half-robot/half-reptile creatures from the “Transformers” cartoons in the 1980s have been waiting for three decades to see their heroes — led by the less-than-eloquent but stout-hearted Grimlock — portrayed on the live-action big screen.
Who doesn’t like the idea of a robot-dinosaur mash-up?
Well, Bay apparently, because the dinobots show up late in the movie and don’t have much to do but serve as handmaidens to the good-guy Autobots in their perpetual brawl with the bad-mood Decepticons.
What a waste.
The story this time centers on a failed, impoverished Texas inventor, Cade Yeager (Wahlberg), who with his pal Lucas (T.J. Miller), stumbles across a trashed big-rig truck while scavenging through an abandoned movie theater for parts to sell. Of course, it’s not just any truck, but chief Autobot Optimus Prime — who is not only being hunted by Decepticons but also the humans.
In the previous films, humans and Autobots were allies, but now — in the wake of the massive Autobot/Decepticon war that destroyed Chicago the last time around — humanity is sick of all of them. But it’s up to Cade, and his (of course) beautiful daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz), and her (of course) brave boyfriend, Shane (Jack Reynor), to show the world that the Autobots are still worth fighting for.
On the other side, the CIA, through devious Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), is scheming to destroy all the remaining robots and send their parts to a robotics corporation operated by the ambitious Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci, the best part of the movie). His job is to create a new generation of robots that will be subservient to human desires. Good luck with that.
Bay has been making a lot of noise about how this is the first film to use the 65 mm IMAX 3D camera and, yes, some of the special effects are impressive in this $165 million spectacle that makes “Godzilla” look like a grade-school puppet show.
But a few more bucks on the script would have been a better investment because having our heroic robots yelling “Die, b——!” and “This one’s for you, a-hole!” is snickering, pandering, lazy writing Beavis and Butt-head would have found insulting to their intelligence.
Just as maddening is the heavy-handed product placement, much of it for Hong Kong and China, where some of the movie was filmed and where, no doubt, producers hope to find a huge audience. The scene where Joshua, in the midst of destruction, pops open a Chinese drink so everyone can see the brand, should have been too much even for Bay.
But there’s one part that hints at what “Age of Extinction” could have been if as much time and effort had been spent on storytelling as technology and promotion. It’s a simple chase down the exterior of a Hong Kong tenement in which Cade is running from one of the many bad guys.
Well-staged and suspenseful, the scene reaches for a “Bourne Identity” level of intensity. But this is just a brief respite from the rest of the movie’s incessant dullness.
And, with 165 minutes to fill, there’s a lot of it.