Movie Review: Transformers reboot exhaustingly in ‘Age of Extinction’

Optimus Prime in
Optimus Prime in "Transformers: Age of Extinction"

‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’
★★ 1/2

“Some mysteries in the universe were not meant to be solved,” good-guy autobot Optimus Prime informs us near the end of the action-saturated fourth installment in the “Transformers” series. Such as why these exercises in overkill continue to be so popular.

It’s no mystery why director Michael Bay keeps cranking them out since “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” racked up more than a billion dollars at the box office world-wide three years ago. But it’s hard to understand why people keep lining up for what amounts to an all-spectacle-all-the-time cinematic assault on the senses.

Clearly, though, there are a lot of people out there who just can’t get enough punishment. So they’ll happy to hear that “Transformers: Age of Extinction” contains more running, screaming, wanton destruction, shape-shifting racecar robots, epic explosions and overall pandemonium than ever.

Part sequel and part reboot, “Age of Extinction” takes place five years after the ultra-destructive Battle of Chicago.

Mark Wahlberg replaces flesh-and-blood audience identification figure Shia LaBeouf — a big improvement — as Cade Yeager, an eccentric inventor who, because he’s from Texas, is action-hero-ready. Cade discovers the battle-scarred cab of a 16-wheeler in the lobby of the Uptown Theatre, which is now located in some small Texas town.

Never mind how the truck got into a movie theater or how he gets it out. The important thing is that Cade tows it to his ranch, where he discovers the truck is really Optimus Prime, leader of the good-guy autobots, who is now being hunted down by a rogue CIA chief (Kelsey Grammer) in league with an evil bounty-hunting transformer named Lockdown.

Of course the forces of evil attack Cade’s ranch, endangering his short-shorts wearing teenage daughter (Nicola Peltz) and her secret Irish racecar-driving boyfriend (Jack Reynor), putting Cade on the side of Optimus Prime and the autobots in a global conflict with the fate of the mankind at stake.

Or something like that.

There’s lots of additional plot involving alien terra-forming, an egomaniacal billionaire industrialist inventor (Stanley Tucci providing much-needed comic relief), a new breed of man-made Transformer/Decepticons and The Seed, an alien bomb that could destroy the planet.

Mostly, though, there are lots and lots and lots of explosions, chases and massive, mind-boggling, brain-rattling Transformer battles, which knock the bejabbers out of Chicago again before moving on to an even bigger throwdown in Hong Kong. That’s where the much-ballyhooed dinosaur Transformers make their appearance, by the way.

You can’t fault Bay anymore for the incoherence of these movies. He threw out rational plotlines a couple installments ago and nobody missed them except the critics. And you also can’t say he’s bad at staging this sort of super-gargantuan mega-extravaganza, because there are plenty of set pieces here (including an escape down the anchor chains of an alien spaceship tethered to a Chicago skyscraper) that really deliver the goods.

The trouble is that there are way too many of them and Bay rolls them out way too often in this nearly three-hour saga. Any one of them could serve as a climactic story-ender, but there’s always another right around the corner. Awesomeness piles on top of awesomeness to truly exhausting effect.

Whether or not it’s too much of a good thing, it’s still way, way too much.

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