** (out of four)
Have you seen the annoying new TNT drama promos that end by saying “Boom”? “Transformers: Age of Extinction” is like that. Throughout the movie, which at a whopping 165 minutes is more than twice as long as “They Came Together,” comes a constant, pushy insistence that what you’re seeing is major.
Never mind that we’ve mostly seen it all before in the good first installment, the awful sequel and the mediocre third movie. “Extinction” isn’t director Michael Bay beating a dead horse; it’s him propping up the horse and re-enacting an equestrian “Weekend at Bernie’s.” And so the destruction continues, because in Bay’s world, more is never enough.
Chicago gets only partially demolished; it’s good to see the damage from the climactic battle in 2011’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” has been repaired. Though our city has no signage recognizing the death and devastation, a lone billboard in rural Texas asks that citizens “Remember Chicago.” Thanks, billboard. The seven people who see you surely will spend a lot of time honoring those squished by giant metal aliens.
Set five years after that mayhem, “Extinction” pretends Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) never existed and switches focus to Cade (Mark Wahlberg, always appealing). His goals include inventing something important (he looks like the guy who beat up Rick Moranis in “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”) and keeping the entire male population away from his 17-year-old daughter/cutoffs enthusiast Tessa. She’s played by 19-year-old Nicola Peltz (“Bates Motel”), who resembles Tara Reid if she could walk and talk at the same time. After Cade stumbles onto a truck that turns out to be Autobot leader Optimus Prime—during a sequence shot in the Uptown Theatre that’s identified as Texas—he, his daughter and, eventually, her secret boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor) run from a CIA heavy (Kelsey Grammer) who’s using the evil Decepticons to try to wipe out the friendly Autobots.
Stanley Tucci (as an ambitious billionaire) and the unexpected voices of John Goodman and Ken Watanabe are nicer to have around than T.J. Miller, tasked with weak comic relief as he is in the “How to Train Your Dragon” movies. Bay still has the power to create awe-inspiring scale; a few moments in “Extinction” are especially massive, more impressively towering above Chicago than “Divergent.” Even though your brain shut down two hours ago, the message to pop your eyes and drop your jaw still registers.
Those moments are extremely isolated, despite the presence of robo-dinosaurs and impressive special effects overall. The dialogue ranges from generic (“When I figure out who is behind this, he’s going to die”) to obnoxious (Cade calls Shane “Lucky Charms” because he’s Irish), and the action’s all smash-boom-pow-repeat ad nauseam. The film operates at three and 1,000, and nothing in between. All that’s left to blow up is Bay’s contract, passing the reins to someone who realizes that noise and boredom aren’t mutually exclusive.
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