'Transformers: Age of Extinction': What the Critics Are Saying

Partially set in Hong Kong, the latest installment of the Michael Bay fighting-robot franchise stars Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Nicola Peltz, Kelsey Grammer and Jack Reynor.

Transformers: Age of Extinction, out Friday, features the same fighting robot that spurred the franchise in the first place — Optimus Prime, voiced again by Peter Cullen — but is headed by a completely new (human) cast: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Nicola Peltz, Kelsey Grammer and Jack Reynor.

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The fourth installment of the Paramount/Hasbro-backed series, once again directed by Michael Bay, is believed to possibly become the first film of 2014 to hit $100 million in its box-office debut. Overseas, Age of Extinction has already earned $30 million, including record-setting Thursday midnight previews in China ($3.5 million) and a stellar $5.5 million Thursday start in Russia, the second biggest opening day of all time.

Read what top critics are saying about Transformers: Age of Extinction:

The Hollywood Reporter's film critic Clarence Tsui says in his review that "there's a lot of state-of-the-art 3D chicanery, and the film is a marked improvement over the wholesale inhuman chaos of the last two installments, 2009's Revenge of the Fallen and 2011's Dark of the Moon. But the bloat of this latest entry — at 165 minutes, the longest of the lot — suggests that Michael Bay and his team are struggling to rejuvenate the whole premise. … It has neither the first film's sporadic comedic pleasures born of the interactions between its humans and robots, nor does it attain the hyper-sensationalism that makes the second and third installments utterly over-the-top showcases of gratuitous demolition."

Besides being "dull," the film includes odd allusions to directors like Stanley Kubrick and John Ford, but a few digs at Bay himself for "cheap laughs," and "even when the action switches to Hong Kong — a twist designed to qualify the film for Chinese co-production status and a bigger slice of the Asian box-office pie — the noise never abates." Even more so, Wahlberg's "troubled interactions with Tessa [Peltz] and barbed exchanges with Shane [Reynor] are cliched or underwritten, and his ability to morph into a bazooka-wielding warrior ("This alien gun can really kick ass!") limits his register further." Tucci's "clownish antics while racing for survival in a Hong Kong tenement block are probably the highlight of the film."

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The New York Times' A.O. Scott reminds that, altogether, "Age of Extinction makes clear what has always been true of the Transformers movies: Although they may look like soulless corporate studio product, they are really examples of personal cinema, expressions of the will and imagination of their director, Michael Bay … [his best films] are those in which the battle between sense and sensation ends in a rout. … You can admire what he does without really enjoying it." He warns, "If you spend any time thinking about why the CIA and an Apple-like technology corporation would be in cahoots with an intergalactic bounty hunter in an anti-Autobot pogrom you are missing the point: … a boy at play, reveling in the creative and destructive power, and the glorious uselessness, of his own imagination." 

The  Los Angeles Times' Betsy Sharkey notes that "Bay continues to get better at staging the battles, making it easier to follow which particular metal warrior or villain is being shredded. It allows even the uninitiated to appreciate the incredible technical wizardry required to make all those grinding gears that are constantly assembling and disassembling interesting. … The filmmaker has actually built a better Transformers in Age of Extinction, one I'm sure fans of the franchise will adore. It's still not a great movie, but it is, most definitely, full-metal Bay." Also, Wahlberg "continues to be such a likable onscreen presence that it is easy to overlook some of the really corny lines he's asked to deliver."

The Washington Post's Stephanie Merry gives the reboot one-and-a-half stars. She calls some of the special effects "amazing" — "Bay shot the movie in Imax 3D, and he makes the most of the technology. Watching a steamship get sucked into the air by a spaceship, only to be thrown back to the ground, might have viewers covering their heads." But "the problem is quantity" of those action sequences, coupled with how "the movie moves both too slowly and too quickly, as scene transitions appear to have been stripped or significantly shortened during the editing process."

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Time's Richard Corliss says that the film, which he refers to as Trans4mers, "bears the signature excesses and lapses of Hollywood’s most incorrigible director of megabudget action pictures and then some. In its third hour, when the movie spins off its narrative rails, Trans4mers goes botsh-t crazy." Although Bay's "bot battles [that] he and his FX crew stage are not just red meat for fanboys but the movie’s cinematic glory," otherwise can be said of the human cast: "Peltz is the generic blonde, around only to get into trouble — here, by alien abduction. John Goodman, Ken Watanabe, John DiMaggio and Reno Wilson have fun voicing the “Dirty Foursome” of Autobots summoned by Optimus, but they never escape the cage of comic stereotyping." Still, Reynor is described as "looking like an impossibly hunky Seth Rogen."

Email: Ashley.Lee@THR.com
Twitter: @cashleelee