Two veterans of the Michael Bay Transformers movies attended Transformers: Age of Extinction. Below is their attempt to sort out what they saw. It’s possible there are spoilers in what follows; it’s also possible they have no idea what they’re talking about.
Swansburg: Autobots, roll out!
Wickman: *Transforms into dino mode.*
Swansburg: Glad you’re in dino mode, Forrest, because we’ve got some big questions to chew on here. So, we went to see Transformers: Age of Extinction last night.
Wickman: I know this because my 3-D headache is still receding. The terrible (and racist) Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was 150 minutes long, and the interminable Transformers: Dark of the Moon was 157 minutes. This movie was a torturous 165 minutes.
Swansburg: Yes, but this one has dinosaurs! And Stanley Tucci! And Mark Wahlberg playing a character named Cade Yeager.
Wickman: I was excited for those dinosaurs. Weaponized animals seem to be the big theme of this blockbuster summer, from the monkeys on horses with shotguns of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes to the gun-totin’ raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper!) of Guardians of the Galaxy. But can we just note that the Dinobots don’t even show up until after almost the complete runtime of the movie?
Swansburg: That’s a very good point.
Wickman: I’m also not exactly sure where they came from, which was confusing thing No. 37 about this movie. (I hope you will be able to address my questions about confusing things Nos. 1 through 36.)
Swansburg: I was astonished at how late their appearance was. They were a deus ex triceratops. When I first saw the dinos in the trailer for this movie, I thought it would be more like the classic episode of the original animated series, “S.O.S. Dinobots,” which I owned on VHS as a kid. (Confession: I still own it.)
Swansburg: So the movie opens in the Pleistocene, or thereabouts. And, if I’m not mistaken, the opening sequence posited that the dinosaur extinction was somehow related to the Transformers, or their ancestors. Did you get that sense?
Wickman: Yes, I believe the Transformers triggered the Ice Age.
Swansburg: Any idea why?
Wickman: I believe that they were terraforming it. Or, since they are Transformers, that’s not quite the right word. They were Transformers-forming it.
Swansburg: So that they could ...
Wickman: Take it over for themselves? But then clearly they didn’t do that, because they still made room for the great descendants, the Witwickys. Oh, I dunno, JUST CUT TO THE NEXT SCENE, SWANSBURG.
Swansburg: OK, we’ll leave the mystery of the film’s strange overture unsolved. As A.O. Scott points out in his review, Michael Bay is an art-house auteur who revels in ambiguity, so we must learn to embrace the many shades of possible meaning in his work.
Wickman: Fair enough, but it is not a good sign that we do not even understand the basic premise of the movie.
Swansburg: Not even close. Let’s leave behind the dinos for now and discuss the main plot of the movie. So this movie is set a few years after the last one.
Wickman: “Texas, USA,” as the on-screen titles tells us, lest we confuse it with the other Texases.
That’s where we meet our main (human) character. But see, I’m already confused again: And that is because Mark Wahlberg is supposed to be playing an inventor.
Swansburg: Right. An inventah.
Wickman: Now, I realize he wasn’t exactly supposed to be Thomas Edison, but I’m also pretty sure that Wahlberg is not the guy you cast to play an expert in robotics.
Swansburg: That was a bit of a tough sell. A Texan inventor no less. Must be Southie Texas.
Wickman: Can I ask another question about our main characters?
Wickman: So there’s his daughter, who I’m sure we’ll get to in a second when the camera finishes panning up her legs.
Swansburg: That pan, the first of many fond takes of Nicola Peltz’s gams, made me uncomfortable. As Cade Yeager is fond of reminding us, she’s underage.
Wickman: An entire action sequence was framed by Nicola Peltz’s legs!
Swansburg: Let’s talk about how Cade Yeager and his leggy daughter meet our old friends the Autobots.
Wickman: Right. They find a truck inside a movie theater, of course.
Swansburg: Obviously. The movie theater scene was really weird. There were several possibly meta jokes about the movies that didn’t really land. Could you distill a message from those musings?
Wickman: I could not. There was definitely a part where someone complained about how all the movies these days were sequels and remakes, but it didn’t seem like the makers of Transformers 4 were the butt of the joke. It felt more like we were the butt of the joke, for watching.
Swansburg: That sounds about right. OK, so the goodly Autobots! Our heroes from the previous three pictures. They’ve gone into hiding. Because they’re being systematically hunted down and killed. By Frasier Crane.
Wickman: Yes, Frasier doesn’t like illegal immigrants.
Swansburg: He does not. Frasier runs some kind of CIA black ops group, called, wonderfully, Cemetery Wind.
Wickman: And they like to wear black all the time. And sunglasses. And trench coats in the middle of the Texas USA summer. So we’re pretty sure they’re evil.
Swansburg: So they’re hunting down the Autobots in order to ... what? They want their special metal?
Wickman: Transformium, yes, for making Transformers. Though this becomes confusing later, when we find out that Frasier is planning on using a Transforma-forming bomb to create an unlimited quantity of this resource. Do you have any way of resolving this?
Swansburg: I wish that I did, Forrest. My favorite part of the Frasier plot is that it is eventually revealed that he has engaged in a prodigious amount of nefarious activity, including making an obviously terrible deal with a dastardly alien robot bounty hunter and killing off several beloved Autobots and untold innocent human civilians, in order to secure a job with an Apple-esque tech company that has promised him ... a “seven-figure” salary.
It’s a total Dr. Evil moment. Frasier puts the fate of his country, nay the world, in the balance for ... one million dollars. Like, hold out for eight figures, Dr. Crane!