I'll go ahead and say that this movie isn't going to be popular with the critics. First off, it's a Michael Bay film. Second off, it's a Transformers film that isn't the first one. Because of the disaster that was the second and third movie, a fourth installment had a completely insurmountable hole to dig out of. I have a strong feeling that Bay was sitting in his private Transformers branded jet NOT caring about this problem when he decided to go forward with a "relaunch" of this worldwide juggernaut.
Transformers: Age of Extinction was a reboot within a sequel. It takes place about 5 years after the events that nearly decimated Chicago in Dark of the Moon. Crazy Shia LaBeouf (Sam Witwicky) is nowhere to be seen and the only real major familiarity returning is the voice of Peter Cullen as a defeated Optimus Prime. Though a major cast overhaul in a later sequel is usually the stuff of straight-to-DVD fair (or straight-to-Torrent for you kiddies), it only aided in helping a franchise that was spiraling out of control. Mark Wahlberg (whom Bay used in his previous film, Pain & Gain) plays Cade Yaeger, the new human hero that is aided by the Autobots. The movie immediately sets a darker tone, interweving the character arc of the down-on-his-luck Yaeger, his daughter Tessa (Bates Motel's Nicola Peltz) and their comic relief friend Lucas (Silicon Valley's T.J. Miller) while updating us on the aftermath of the Chicago robot wars with Bay's usual lazy narrative storylines.
The war led to a career C.I.A. black ops leader, Harold Attinger (played by the brilliant Kelsey Grammer) charged with hunting and destroying all of the Decepticons while having the hidden agenda of also taking out the Autobots to rid the world of all the aliens that started the war. Attinger partners with new robot baddie Lockdown (and he is a badass), an intergalactic bounty hunter that is neither Autobot nor Decepticon but is all bad and defense contractor Joshua Joyce (the always entertaining Stanley Tucci).
The movie had reboot written all over it. It recycled characters (Miller takes the place of Anthony Anderson, Tucci takes the place of John Turturro, Wahlberg takes the place of Josh Duhamel but in a lead role, Peltz takes the place of Megan Fox, Jack Reynor takes over for LaBeouf only in the backup rolle and Grammer is the much more evil version of Jon Voight). It shares some similar storylines and jokes with the first, including a few in-jokes for those of us that watched the original cartoon. The issue is that it also shares a few things with the dreaded sequels, including humorless appendages on robots. In Revenge of the Fallen it was Devastator's testicles and in this one it's Hound's (voiced by John Goodman) beard and cigar. It also had the borderline racist robots with Drift (voiced by Ken Watanabe) and his "samurai" design and cliche Japanese lines.
With all of that said, I actually enjoyed the movie. Not nearly as much as the first, but far more than the last two. What people have to remember here is that this is a movie based off of a cheesy cartoon that was made simply to sell some plastic toys, in the 80s no less. The Dinobots (who are only in the movie for about 20 minutes or so) were not the world-ending inclusion that I thought they would be (thanks in large part to the decision to not have them talk), the comedy was placed well and the new cast was a very welcome addition as the original was getting quite stale. The opening story was interjected enough with Walhberg's usual charm and the action of the Transformers hunt and, once Prime made his first appearance, the action was heavy and non stop. It could have used a trimming of about 30 minutes (it clocks in at a series-record 2 Hours and 37 Minutes) but, overall, I didn't have a whole lot to complain about when comparing it to the first. There was a lot of talk of a new director for this "reboot" and ultimately Bay decided to stay on board and I think it actually helped in the long run. Afterall, it's a movie about giant robots who use earth as their battle arena. What other director should helm such a ridiculous and explosive-laden idea? It's absolutely ridiculous, but it's still fun.