Transformers: Age of Extinction is a bad film.
Right, now we've got that depressingly foreseeable statement out of the way, let's rummage through the latest Michael Bay mess for some positives. Surprisingly, there are actually a handful.
For all his faults past and present, Bay appears to have actually learnt from his previous Transformers trilogy whilst starting this new one. One of the series' many problems has been an over-abundance of comic relief characters that exist solely to be the butt of puerile jokes.
Mercifully Age of Extinction is lighter on these characters – two or three versus upwards of eight – and that's due to the new darker tone, which may be a cliché in Hollywood franchise sequels but in the case of Bay's Transformers means a lot less trying (and failing) to be funny and lot more trying (and failing) to be exciting.
It's a small mercy, but providing an exciting spectacle has always been easier for Bay than providing humour. Even here though, the action is just plain pedestrian - a cut and paste job from previous films with no invention or desire to differentiate.
Oh right, I was meant to be talking positives. While Bay should in no way be applauded for this, Age of Extinction is markedly less sexist than its predecessors – but still in possession of many leering shots of various women.
At least however, there are some attempts to make the women of this series more than just window dressing. Nicola Peltz's Tessa Yeager wants to go to college and is at one point seen reading a book – that, for Bay, is progress. Peltz is also a much better actress than previous leading ladies Megan Fox and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and looks like a real person to boot.
A final positive is that the human cast are a huge improvement over past films and each does the best they can with what they've been given. Mark Wahlberg is a much more likeable lead than Shia LaBeouf ever was, and he's supported well by Kelsey Grammer as the villain, Jack Reynor who bafflingly (perhaps to make Marky Mark look better) is portrayed as a bit of a wimp and Stanley Tucci, the best of the bunch, who plays a Steve Jobs-like figure.
So well done to the cast and congratulations to Bay for making a marginally better film than the last three. Now on to the negatives.
Any film editor worth their salt could easily cut 45 minutes from Age of Extinction, and bring it down to a tidier two hours. Were that to happen the film's barebones plot could even have been pretty good, but there an incredible amount of unnecessary scenes – action or no action – that did nothing but make me roll my eyes and look to the exits.
It says a lot that the best action scene (Wahlberg's fight with a black ops agent played by Titus Welliver) didn't have a single Transformer in it, and may not have even had any computer imagery depending on how the stunts were handled.
For the most part however it was just twenty foot robots beating the holy hell out of each, which should be more exciting than it is and yet there I was wondering what I should eat for dinner. How is that event possible?
Bay makes it possible with a style of direction perfectly suited to this franchise. Transformers could be something knowingly silly, but let's not forget it is a series that only exists to sell toys and that makes former commercial director Bay a perfect fit. It also makes the absurd product placement in the film as laughable as it is depressing.
His style is style over substance, but it's not even a style with some sense of invention or artistry like Zack Snyder's work. It's a hyper-kinetic, fast-moving and shiny style that one can only assume stems from an innate fear in Bay that he might ever lose the audience's attention for a second.
This mean's Bay is always in a rush to get to his next fight or car chase, and that comes at the expense of characters you care about. Granted it does – once again – do a better job than previous films, but Wahlberg and his on-screen daughter have nowhere to go after the initial set up of "tough Texan on hard times trying to do best by his child."
This is the Transformers series booting up for another trilogy, one that on this basis will be largely the same if perhaps deserving of a slightly more merit than the last. Don't take that as a compliment though, Transformers: Age of Extinction is still a bad film.