It's been four years since the battle of Chicago. The Autobots have gone into hiding and the Decepticons are no longer a group. Sadly, the CIA group known as Cemetery Wind is hunting down the good guys and making it seem to the public that they are actually runaway Deceptions. They are doing this with the help of a bounty hunter transformer known as Lockdown, who is neither Autobot nor Decepticon. Eventually Optimus Prime is brought back to life thanks to an inventor named Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) and goes on a mission to rally all Autobots. Things turn really bad however when Cemetery is able to make their own Transformers, one of which is called Galvatron, who contains some of Megatron's soul...
Before we get into the many negatives, let's talk about what the film does right. The action scenes are the best of the series, and probably the greatest from all movies this year. Sadly there are too many background shots of them and cutaways to what the human characters are doing, but when the camera focuses on those fights it's amazing. Gone are the days when the viewer couldn't tell what was happening because every bot looked the same. Peter Cullen delivers another fantastic voice performance for Optimus Prime, who is easily once again the primary highlight. Sadly most of the notable characters died in Dark of the Moon, so a good majority of the Autobots and all the Decepticons are new. Galvatron is nicely established, though doesn't get nearly enough screen time. Since this is the start of a new trilogy, it's forgivable.
Lockdown is the new antagonist established. Unlike Shockwave in Dark of the Moon, he's given adequate screen time and an interesting character. Aside from Prime, he was easily the most engaging Transformer. Sadly with Starscream, Soundwave, Shockwave and all the other notable Decepticons dead, new characters are established. They can't talk so basically they're just a bunch of one-shots. It's been stated otherwise, but hopefully a way is found to bring back those aforementioned characters because new ones just aren't going to cut it. Interestingly, Bumblebee is given a rather small role in comparison with the previous three movies. His character portrayal is also much more annoying. Drift and Hound bring something to the table and make for a fine Autobot team. (Crosshairs on the other hand not so much.)
One of the primary things that destroyed the previous movies is the awful human cast. With Shia LeBeouf gone from this movie, some hope was that the main lead would actually be likable and engaging. Mark Wahlberg's character is definitely an improvement. For the most part he's the epitome of what a decent character in a Michael Bay Transformers film looks like. Sadly, it's the directing and writing that kill what could be a very good character. The film's tone is half comedy, which is a real shame and typical Bay-fare. Too often in these movies the story revolves around the humans with the robots in the background; it should be the opposite. (For a great example, check out the Transformers Prime TV show, which is more competently written than all four movies combined.)
Perhaps the worst thing about the Transformer films is the heavy reliance on sexual appeal. Megan Fox wasn't there for her acting skills in the first two movies, and Rose Huntington-Whiteley might have even been worst in Dark of the Moon. (There's something wrong if the very first scene with a lead actress in a movie that is supposed to be about a robot conflict is barely dressed.) This time however instead of being an adult what we have is a 17 year old senior in high school. Nicola Peltz's character (Tessa Yeager) could have been okay if this movie was from a different director. Her very first line to her friends, "After school girls in the summer we're going to get wasted whoohoo!" destroyed any chance of her being likable. From there forward she's displayed as some sort of super model. (Keep in mind again that in-movie she's underage.) Then we have her boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) who is one mediocre character. "I'm not helping you save your daughter, I'm helping you save my girlfriend." "I like to be fresh when I'm making out with your daughter." The writing in this movie needs some serious help in producing likable characters and competent dialogue.
There are a few other notable (in a bad way) characters. We have Cade's assistant Lucas who is there just to provide comedy relief. (Thankfully he dies early on, I wonder if that was supposed to be a sad scene because I can confirm no viewer was feeling emotional.) There's Joshua Joyce, who's a decent character until after the middle where he replaces Lucas for comedic relief. The acting is extremely over the top, no one would be acting like this considering what's going on. The human antagonist would be Harold Attinger, who is definitely one of the best human characters, maybe even the best. Moving on to arguably the most hyped aspect of the film: Grimlock and the Dinobots.
For some odd reason, the word 'Dinobot' isn't used and none of them are referred to by name. If the viewer isn't a long time fan, how will he or she know who they are? The actual portrayal is decent. The CGI is absolutely stunning and the rampage into the city destroying the bad guys was easily one of the film's highlights. Sadly, they seem to lack the personality which is present in almost all other continuities. Grimlock in particular if you read some of the comics can see that he was one of the most engaging Transformers. (Hopefully this is fixed in the sequel.) The soundtrack is pretty strong, having plenty of great themes and even some emotional ones when appropriate.
Overall, Age of Extinction suffers from many of the same problems the previous three Transformers movies has. It does improve in some areas, such as action scenes and plot progression. Optimus Prime is the highlight once again, and Lockdown ranks as one of the most interesting antagonists of the movie series. The human characters are very miss, which is in big part due to the mediocre writing. (The day Michael Bay actually has an engaging female lead in one of these movies will be a day to remember.) It's still a pretty fun film for the most part, and might be the best of the movie series aside from the first one. (Not that that's saying much of course.)