NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- For a movie as big and as costly as Transformers: Age of Extinction, you would think all of the pieces would work together and fit to make the year's biggest blockbuster.
Unfortunately, the pieces are there, but they never combine for a cohesive cinematic experience.
Being a huge Transformers fan myself, I went into the movie with tempered expectations, given the first three movies had mixed results, despite performing exceptionally well at the box office. This one is no different, having done over $300 million at the box office worldwide, with $100 million in sales from the U.S. and $90 million from China for Paramount Pictures, a division of Viacom (VIAB), according to preliminary results from Rentrak.
The acting in this movie is much, much better than in the first three, led by Mark Wahlberg, Kelsey Grammer, and Stanley Tucci. Tucci, who plays the CEO of KSI Corporation, a fictional cross between Lockheed Martin (LMT) and Apple (AAPL), is almost Steve Jobs-like in his quest for perfection on screen. He achieves that in the first half of the movie, but toward the latter half, he starts to ham it up too much, and it becomes a bit of a distraction. The rest of the human cast, including Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, T.J. Miller, Titus Welliver and others, play their roles effectively, but no more. They could be replaced by any similar actor or actress in Hollywood, and the movie wouldn't miss a beat.
Turning to the robots, Director Michael Bay did a much better job of character development this time around, (maybe with some help from Hasbro (HAS)?) but still falls short. Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots is more aggressive than usual, but his characteristic nobility returns in the end. Lockdown, the film's main bad guy, was given more lines than the last main bad guy, Shockwave, who for some reason, returned this time around, despite being killed last movie. A bounty hunter who has been sent by "The Creators" to bring back Optimus Prime, Lockdown proves a worthy foe for Prime, much more so than Megatron did in the second and third movies, a major complaint fans have had over the years.
Other Autobots were given more screen time this go round, including Drift (a Japanese samurai bot voiced by Ken Watanabe that turns into a helicopter and black and blue 2013 Bugatti Veyron Grand Sport Vitesse), Hound (voiced by John Goodman, an Oshkosh Defense Medium Tactical Vehicle), Crosshairs (voiced by John DiMaggio, a green Chevrolet Corvette C7 Stingray), and Bumblebee (2014 Chevrolet Camaro concept).
However, the big draw for this movie was the inclusion of the Dinobots, enormous mechanical robot dinosaurs that wind up helping the Autobots rid the world of Lockdown, and the Decepticons, including the man-made Galvatron. The Dinobots were on the screen for maybe 20 to 25 minutes and had no lines. (Me, movie reviewer, not happy about this one). They weren't even introduced as Dinobots, rather as legendary warriors, who are set free at the end of the movie. Why would you just set free robot dinosaurs to roam the Earth? Doesn't seem like the wisest decision to me.
Clocking in at 2 hours and 45 minutes, the movie probably could've been cut down by 20 minutes, if not more, with unnecessary scenes such as longer chase scenes involving Tucci and Li Bingbing, and not missed anything. It seems as if Bay was appealing to fans with a longer movie, but it's the wrong content on screen. Giving Galvatron, voiced by Frank Welker (a nod to Generation 1 fans) more screen time and more development, would've been a better choice than having Miller shown on screen incinerated by a grenade for a good 15, 20 seconds.
There were several plot holes, like why were the Dinobots on Lockdown's ship, and how come Optimus can all of a sudden fly, but with most Bay movies, the action makes up for plot holes, even if they are noticeable.
Even though there were several glaring negatives to the movie, Bay does show improvement as a director, and it's noticeable. The cinematography is much, much better than the first free. Bay finally allows scenes to be more than half a second, and there was a drastic cut down on the bathroom humor, though some of it still seemed out of place.
The CGI, as always is top notch, and there is no better director in Hollywood than Bay when it comes to filming action scenes. There were quite a few nice touches to G1 fans aside from Welker voicing Galvatron, including Galvatron's color scheme, Optimus Prime's old truck mode, a text message sound that's the old theme song, and the transformation sound, making it an enjoyable experience for fans, both young and old alike.
The movie certainly sets up a sequel, with Galvatron leaving Earth, and Optimus Prime going into the stars looking for his Creators (the Quintessons?), but the film could've done so much more before getting ahead of itself.
Alien robots, Wahlberg, Kelsey Grammar, cars and attractive women should be the greatest combiner of all time, nicknamed Moneytron. However, this one seems like it's stuck still trying to figure out how to put the pieces together.
Final Grade: 6.5/10
--Written by Chris Ciaccia in New York