"Transformers: Age of Extinction" (PG-13) **(out of four)
There's more than meets the eyes – and ears – in "Transformers: Age of Extinction," director Michael Bay's overly loud and overly long fourth film in the big-screen saga about transforming alien robots based on the popular Hasbro toy line.
In typical Bay style, the out-of-control filmmaker pulls out all the stops for this bloated action adventure, and in the process creates what may be the loudest movie in cinematic history. The crash-boom-bang factor is off the charts, and easily higher than any previous "Transformers" movies, with endless robot clashes, vehicle and robot chases, and explosions, explosions, explosions. The film will leave your ears ringing and numb your mind, to boot.
After a fantastic start to the film series in 2007 – followed by the dreadful sequel "Revenge of the Fallen" in 2009, and much-improved "Dark of the Moon" in 2011 – "Age of Extinction" starts anew by sweeping away the memories of all human characters in the original film trilogy. Most notably gone is the increasingly-annoying Shia LaBeouf, who's been replaced by a new protagonist confidently played by Mark Wahlberg.
Wahlberg, who previously starred in Bay's crime comedy "Pain and Gain," plays hardworking widower Cade Yeager, an enterprising inventor on a crumbling Texas farm who's trying to maintain the tricky balance of keeping his business afloat while tending to the needs of his daughter, Tessa (Nicola Peltz), a feisty 17-year-old fresh out of high school.
But Cade soon finds bigger problems on his hands, as a beat-up old semitruck he's acquired for parts happens to be Optimus Prime, the Autobot leader and public enemy No. 1 following his race's battle with the Decepticons in Chicago at the end of "Dark of the Moon." Branded terrorists by a corrupt, cold-blooded CIA heavy (Kelsey Grammer), the few remaining Autobots are relentlessly being hunted down and destroyed, paving the way for a scheming industrialist (an amusing Stanley Tucci) to create Transformers of his own to take place of human soldiers and secure the ultimate defense contract.
"Age of Extinction" starts with tremendous promise (there's even a bit of commentary on the state of filmmaking), and the likable Wahlberg immediately engages you in his plight as an over-protective dad who's trying to find a better life for his daughter. Wahlberg is quite funny, too, as he discover Tessa's got a hotshot race car-driving boyfriend (Jack Reynor), and in no uncertain terms he lets her new beau know how he feels about their secret coupling.
T.J. Miller provides some comedy relief early on, too, but once Cade and company are exposed as aids to Optimus Prime and a chase ensues, the movie devolves into a silly, formulaic, visual effects-laden romp where the human characters matter less and less.
Bay and screenwriter Ehren Kruger can at least be credited for trying to shake up the narrative a little bit with "Age of Extinction," where, instead of giving us another head-to-head clash between the Autobots and Decepticons, there are a few twists layered in to make this story a bit more interesting.
Of course, it's hard to concentrate on what's happening because Bay incessantly batters your senses with noises and effects – so don't expect any thread of character development or subtext. This movie was clearly made with the popcorn movie audience in mind; audience members who after the first three films know exactly what they're going to get.
How soon they'll get tired of the franchise is a different question, though, and if "Age of Extinction" (and its running time of 2 hours and 45 minutes) doesn't test their patience, nothing will. As of right now, the "eyes"—and the Transformers that meet them – still have it, even if the film leaves our ears bleeding.
Tim Lammers is a veteran entertainment reporter and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. He annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he reviews films for BringMeTheNews, “KARE 11 News at 11” and various Twin Cities radio stations.