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It’s not just that the Autobots look more distinctive and easier to tell apart than ever in “Transformers: Age of Extinction”  as Optimus Prime never tires of reminding us, these robots have actual souls. So who cares if the human characters are even more dispensable and the plot even more scattershot than usual? Resurrected to take on man-made knock-offs of themselves, these metallic superheroes cause so much destruction, it’s as if they’re trying to find a literal new definition for the term “blockbuster”  and indeed, as in the 2007-11 trilogy, which raked in $2.6 billion globally, helmer Michael Bay continues to evolve ways to make robotic shape-shifting look increasingly seamless and realistic in 3D. Extensive location shooting in Hong Kong and China provides a colorful new battlefield as well as an opportunity to cash in on the franchise’s second most lucrative market, and boffo B.O. is expected globally following the pic’s world premiere in Hong Kong and its public unveiling at the Shanghai Film Festival.


Set to be released in 2D, 3D and Imax 3D worldwide, the $165 million mega-production will reportedly kickstart a brand-new trilogy with a complete change of human cast (Mark Wahlberg steps in for Shia LaBeouf here) and the introduction of a new species, the Dinobots, which may have some crossover appeal for fans of another soon-to-be-rebooted franchise, “Jurassic Park.” Paramount is eyeing especially sky-high returns in China, where “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is the fourth highest-grossing film of all time with nearly $180 million, and where “Age of Extinction” received mainland production assistance from 1905 (Beijing) Network Technology Co., China Movie Channel and Jiaflix Enterprises. Still, it’s Hong Kong that gets the lion’s share of the attention onscreen, taking up about 30 minutes of the film’s 165-minute running time (a franchise record).


The plot, as scripted by Ehren Kruger (who penned the last two “Transformers” movies) bears more than a passing resemblance to that of the recent “X-Men: Days of Future Past.” Just as the X-Men are hunted by Sentinels engineered by a paranoid government using mutant DNA, so the Autobots, after siding with humans in an apocalyptic clash against the evil Decepticons, are being targeted for elimination by a second generation of human-designed Transformers. The project is spearheaded by FBI agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer), who’s commissioned tech corp KSI, founded by Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci) to do the R&D, using the severed head of Decepticon leader Megatron as a blueprint.

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