“I think history is about to change,” intones Sophia Myles’ geologist.
History may be in for a shake-up, not to mention the cast and settings for Michael Bay’s fourth Transformers outing.
But by the final hour of this 165-minute clockbuster you’ll be feeling an overwhelming sense of familiarity – as its director’s brand of “textbook machismo”, to quote Ehren Kruger’s script, batters your brain into submission.
“Remember Chicago” blares a billboard, reminding us of the Windy City’s destruction in the finale of Bay’s third outing Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Rest assured, there’s no need: the equally protracted conclusion to this latest episode feels like a carbon copy, albeit set in a vibrantly-shot Hong Kong, as the most expensive episode of Robot Wars ever made plays out in glorious IMAX 3D.
Still, Transformers: Age of Extinction does tread fresh ground, with Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky and his family airbrushed out the saga. Replacing him is Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), a cash-strapped inventor struggling to raise his 17 year-old daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz); their tender relationship, defined by his over-protective demeanour, gives the film the heart lacking from the LaBeouf years.
Then there’s Kelsey Grammer’s government suit Harold Attinger, out to hunt down the Autobots – in hiding following the events in Chicago – with the help of a bounty-hunting Transformer Lockdown, out to capture their leader Optimus Prime. Also present, Stanley Tucci’s high-flying Bill Gates-alike Joshua Joyce, out to replicate the Transformers’ metal-morphing skills, with the help of Myles’ boffin. Hell, there’s even a subplot set 65m years ago.
It transpires that Optimus Prime (commandingly voiced again by Peter Cullen) has been cooling his heels as a rusty old truck – discovered by Cade, who intends to strip it for parts. But no sooner has Prime revealed himself, then the CIA are on the case and Cade and Tessa are on the run, aided by her until-now secret Irish boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor), who conveniently happens to be a top-notch race car driver.
As Prime hooks up with the other remaining Autobots, it’s an eminently watchable first act. But as this group of robotic outlaws and their human allies discover that Joyce’s conglomerate KSI has been building man-made Transformers (leading to one fantastic scrap between Prime and prototype droids Galvatron and Stinger), Bay reverts disappointingly to type, with the soft-rock slo-mo montages and excessive product placement notably grating.
Also weighed down by an indulgent running time and tedious/meaningless scenes of endless carnage, thankfully the human element stays strong, with Wahlberg and the excellent Tucci, in particular, keeping you watching. A pity John Goodman (voicing cigar-chomping Autobot Hound) lazily recycles his Monuments Men character.
But then originality has never been high on Bay’s list of requirements.
After a promising start, thanks to Wahlberg and his funky bunch, Age Of Extinction transforms into a typically bombastic Bay offering. If it’s major-league spectacle you want, though, look no further.