- - Thursday, June 26, 2014

It is sometimes said that certain massively expensive summer movies are “critic proof.” The label, given to films unlikely to be impacted by negative reviews, implies a form of resistance, a defensive shell against critical judgment and thinking.

It’s useful enough for some movies, but in the case of “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” it’s not enough.

The fourth installment in director Michael Bay’s series about a series of shape-shifting robots does not merely resist critical interpretation, it seems purposefully designed to actively thwart it.

Mr. Bay’s garish, violent, incoherent, repetitive, exhausting, and punishingly loud movie goes straight for the viewer’s lizard brain, the part that does not think or feel, but merely reacts as if poked repeatedly with a stick (and that’s before the robot dinosaurs appear).

It is a movie made to tap into base, subhuman instincts. Like the giant robots it features, it is precision-designed to crush, kill and destroy.

In some respects, then, it merely follows in footsteps of its predecessors. The first three Transformers films were all exercises in unchecked cinematic excess, $200 million vehicles for playing out adolescent adventure fantasies on the big screen.

But the first film in the series was carried out with a genuine sense of joyful, childlike enthusiasm. There were giant robots that transformed into cars, and explosions that looked like fireworks, and it was awesome and silly and ridiculous and wonderful.

As the series has progressed, however, the movies have lost their early sense of youthful glee. The third movie was cynical to its core, a marathon of mindless destruction that culminated in the gruesome destruction of much of downtown Chicago.

The new movie at least acknowledges the human toll of the last one, using it as a setup for a story in which the alien Transformers are hunted for their role in the Chicago showdown. But then it proceeds to replicate the mass urban damage in its final stretch. There’s no remorse here; the plodding mega-destruction of the last film is little more than a handy plot device.

The Chicago connection is the film’s closest link to the previous three films. The main cast of humans, including former star Shia LaBeouf, has been discarded and replaced.

“Ago of Extinction” now follows out-of-work robotics expert Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), his daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz), her boyfriend Shane (Jack Reynor), tech company titan Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci), and CIA baddie Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) as they scream and run and crack wise near the movie’s metallic main attractions.

Mr. Bay shows little interest in his cast of feeble humans — they are tiny props in his universe of fantastically rendered robot warriors, to be threatened and exploited and killed off whenever the spectacle of the moment demands. He even seems to extend his disdain to the audience.

More than occasionally, “Age of Extinction” plays like a bombastic parody of a Michael Bay movie, with its crude humor, adolescent stereotypes, calculated outrageousness, never-ending explosions, pummeling soundtrack and extra-long running time. It’s as if he is testing the audience to see what he can get away with.

Judging by the sneering joylessness of his newest creation, he seems to think the answer is quite a bit.

½

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