Mark Wahlberg experiences a moment of nuanced existential dread.
  • Mark Wahlberg experiences a moment of nuanced existential dread.

Expecting Michael Bay to direct a movie with a coherent narrative is something akin to getting mad at a cup of yogurt for being a lousy conversationalist, but Transformers: Age of Extinction (which really ought to be called Trans4mers) is a new low for Bay as a storyteller in that it wallows in its mediocrity—Mark Wahlberg stars as a man named Cade Yeager (!!!!!!!!) who is apparently a lifelong Texan, even though Wahlberg speaks in his usual thick Massachusetts accent about how he's "an inventah" who must help "the Transfoamahs"—and so many of the scenes centering on humans—including Yeager's creepy obsession with his underage daughter's virtue (even though Bay takes every opportunity to objectify Nicola Peltz's long legs and pink-lipsticked pout at the exact same moment that other characters remind us that she's a 17 year-old and therefore Forbidden Fruit), but excluding every scene with Stanley Tucci on a Steve Jobs riff, because Stanley Tucci is a goddamned national treasure—would be totally unremarkable if it weren't for the copious product placement shots and Bay's frequent inclusions of American flags in the background to remind us what these giant robots are fighting for, after all, but even with his many failings let's be clear that Bay is absolutely a maestro at filming Imaginary Giant Robots Running Across a Screen in Slow Motion as Rain or Ash or Fire Falls in the Foreground along with other assorted action scenes because that's his particular genius and (as much as anyone might want to find deeper meaning in Bay's frequent attempts to mock ineffective or corrupt government agents even as he parades old-fashioned American patriotism around the screen every five minutes, say, or his tendency to mock characters who think they're too cool even though Bay's self-regard must be reaching atomic levels at this late stage in his Hollywood career) he's not interested in anything besides the beautiful vulgarity of transcendental mayhem, but the American moviegoing public forgives him for his many flaws time and time again because he's really, really good at making the obscenity of American blockbuster cinema look really, really good and his unapologetic, toddler-like embrace of shiny cars and big trucks and helicopters and good-looking people behaving in very predictable ways gives Extinction the comforting, aesthetically pleasing air of a two-hour-and-forty-five-minute commercial for Assorted Awesome Stuff, which (let's drop our I-don't-even-own-a-TV snobbery here for a moment and just quietly confess to each other that this is a fact) at times is exactly what you want out of a movie, although even the most enthusiastic Bay fans have to admit that Extinction, with its now-obligatory-for-global-box-office-reasons visit to China and its outright refusal to identify a main antagonist until very, very late in its runtime, goes on for far too long, wasting too much time on super-uncomfortable explanations of how it might possibly be legal to fuck an underage girl in the state of Texas and also on the thankless task of trying to build Kelsey Grammer up into a credible threat, before the whole movie tips over into a totally insane final 45 minutes (involving fire-breathing robot dinosaurs and a weapon that just picks shit up in the air and then throws it at the ground again and again in a numbing blockbuster equivalent of a skipping record) that seem to have been scripted by an entire kindergarten class, but it must be said that Extinction's final battle doesn't compare in the slightest to the third Transformers movie's climactic 9/11-times-infinity battle in Chicago, and while hardcore summer blockbuster fans should be encouraged to watch this movie in full-on IMAX 3D excess the way Bay intended, I suspect that more people than usual will leave Extinction with the vague feeling that the ticket price turned out to be kind of a rip-off in that genial American snake-oil salesman tradition because it's quite possible that, after four movies totaling over ten hours, Michael Bay has finally exhausted his seemingly boundless enthusiasm for this concept (which is, I would like to take this opportunity to remind you, based loosely on a cartoon show that served as a commercial for a toy line) and is ready to move on to his next project, which will probably involve sweaty red-faced people yelling at each other and slow motion and a plot involving a MacGuffin that inspires a lot of explosions and a goofy comic actor or two chewing the scenery and a leggy female lead who gets kidnapped and a dumb main character who really means well, because after all when you've found yourself a schtick that succeeds to the tune of billions of dollars in box office revenue, why in God's name would anyone let you try to do anything different with your career?

I guess what I'm getting at is this: It's Michael Bay's hell; we just live in it.