The latest entry in the in the live-action series based on the Hasbro toy line is every bit the sort of bombastic spectacle we’ve come to know and loathe from director Michael Bay; it’s also less of a beating to sit through than the previous entries thanks to a tiny amount of restraint. Granted, that’s like saying it’s the leper with the most fingers.
At 156 minutes, it’s also way longer than it needs to be for such a straight-forward story. This time around, the heroic Autobots have settled on earth and are helping humans mop up the remaining Decepticons and occasionally making raids on unsavory human endeavors (such as trashing an illegal nuclear facility in the Middle East).
Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is struggling to find a job, even though he got a medal from the President for saving the world twice, and wrestling feelings of inadequacy thanks to his rich and freakishly attractive girlfriend (British model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) and her slimy boss (Patrick Dempsey). The wreckage of a lost Autobot ship is found on the moon, their long-lost leader Sentinel Prime (voiced by Leonard Nimoy) is revived, human collaborators start turning up dead, the Decepticons launch an elaborate (read; confusing) master plan, and downtown Chicago gets trashed like Tokyo does when Godzilla goes on spring break.
LeBeouf does what he does best — play sensitive and brash simultaneously — while fellow returning cast members Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson are little more than window dressing this time around. John Turturro continues to chew more of the scenery, though he has to compete with John Malkovich for his fair share of the meal.
Megan Fox, famously fired from the series after comparing Michael Bay to Hitler, should consider herself lucky to be free of it all. Female characters rarely fare well in Bay’s work; they’re either shrewish ball-busters (in this case, Oscar winner Frances McDormand as a no-nonsense National Security Chief) or they’re eye candy felt up by the camera lens.
As usual, the final third is devoted to a titanic robot rumble, though, thankfully, it stops well short of the orgy of mass destruction and almost-pornographic display of military hardware that overloaded Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
Nevertheless, the climax — like the series in particular and Bay’s work in general, is so relentless and numbing that it quickly runs itself into the ground.