"You can't keep spending money on junk to make new junk!" tanned teen Tessa (Peltz) pleads with her pops. Clearly, she doesn't realize she's in a Michael Bay movie, specifically Transformers: Age of Extinction, his fourth and longest yet effort to give Hasbro's line of shape-shifting robots some semblance of a cinematic universe.
Taking place five years after the Battle of Chicago, Age does away with its predecessors' supposedly beloved human characters. (Even Linkin Park had to hand off angsty anthem duties to Imagine Dragons.) With screaming Shia LaBeouf and his dopey parents vanquished, our attention turns instead to struggling small-town inventor Cade Yeager (Wahlberg), who has unwittingly recovered and revived Autobot leader Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen).
It seems that CIA stooge Harold Attinger (Grammer) has formed a black-ops mission to eliminate Autobots and Decepticons alike, working in league with intergalactic bounty hunter Lockdown (voiced by Mark Ryan) and biotech giant Joshua Joyce (Tucci) to rid our planet of its alien threat. Harboring this otherworldly fugitive consequently puts Cade, Tessa, and secret boyfriend Shane (Reynor) right in the thick of danger.
But who really cares about the protective-father subplot straight out of executive producer Steven Spielberg's wheelhouse, not to mention countless sitcoms? Or that Tessa and Shane's statutory relationship is all too eagerly defended with a laminated legal precedent kept in his wallet? Or that Cade's aggressive condemnation of his college-bound daughter's Daisy Dukes hardly prevents from Bay leering at them from low angles?
No, what really matters is that – having filmed in Austin, Elgin, Lockhart and Taylor – the blast-happy auteur captures our region in all its flag-waving, golden-hued splendor, solar continuity be damned. What matters is that Chicago gets destroyed all over again as the Autobots wrangle with Lockdown and Joyce's snazzy new prototypes, and that our heroes then journey to Hong Kong and dig up a few Dinobots for the sake of maximum global appeal.
Much like 2011's Dark of the Moon, using the 3-D format has forced Bay to compose his cacophonous action sequences with relative coherence, even if no one dogfight or melee here rivals that entry's hourlong finale. However, to parse the differences at this point is akin to splitting the hairs atop a mannequin's hollow head. With each vehicle’s upgrades repeatedly met with positively postcoital awe, Age remains chiefly engineered to sell shiny toys to little kids and flashy cars to big ones.
Such incredibly basic desires seem all the more appealing amid scenes of grown men begging for the Seed (this entry's much-sought doodad) – a magnetic metropolitan threat awfully similar to that of last summer’s Man of Steel – and the sight of a muscular protagonist intimidating a bespectacled dweeb while swigging a Bud Light in front of a Goodyear billboard and asking for his gun. So long as Bay keeps throwing his junk in our faces, plenty of people will keep throwing their money right back.
Transformers: Age of Extinction, Michael Bay, Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Titus Welliver, Bingbing Li, T.J. Miller, Sophia Myles, Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Mark Ryan, John Goodman, Ken Watanabe