Age of Extinction (12A, 165 mins)

Director: Michael Bay

1 star

Perhaps as some sort of penance for being allowed to enjoy a relatively strong summer movie season so far, here is the return of Michael Bay to test our patience, our wills and our bladders with his fourth entry in the increasingly unwatchable Transformers series.

This is cinema as endurance test, an at-times almost physically arduous assault of clanging metal that has to beg the question of how something where so much is happening on screen, that's so busy and so unrelenting can be so boring. It's quite the achievement.

Following on five years after the events of the third Transformers movie, Dark of the Moon, this dispenses with any previously seen cast members and sets up a new storyline.

We all thought Dark of the Moon was the end of it, but oh the money kept rolling in, and this is the first of a proposed new trilogy, with hints dropped at a bigger mythology to come.

The alliance that existed between humans and the good Autobots who once saved earth from the naughty Decepticons is over.

A handful still remain on earth, on the run or in hiding, with the Decepticons hunting for Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots, while Kelsey Grammer's CIA black ops chief also plots their destruction.

In the Arctic, there's a discovery of the metal from which the Transformers are made.

This is the opportunity a billionaire scientist (Stanley Tucci) has been waiting for to make his own bots that he can control.

We spend an unearthly amount of time in his labs and boardrooms as he schemes with Grammer, but these two almost manage to keep it bearable in places, largely because they seem to be starring in their own film during their scenes together.

Meanwhile in Texas, Mark Wahlberg is Cade Yeager, a single father to a 17 year old daughter. He's a robotics expert who finds and fixes junk, and the abandoned truck he buys for scrap turns out to be Optimus.

With the CIA after them at the end of a lengthy and largely irrelevant preamble, the film devolves into an endless series of scraps between giant robots.

There's every chance you might believe it's as good as over come a massive central battle involving Optimus and the Decepticon Tucci has created, but we haven't even got to the big finale in China yet, and there's at least an hour still to go.

It's a life-sapping hour that mistakes gruelling for entertaining, and which utterly abandons any pretence at coherent narrative.

All the establishing shots in the world (and there's every chance that this film contains literally all the establishing shots in the world) can't disguise the fact that not one single scene follows on logically from the one before it.

Every once in a while the action will toss up an image of mayhem that will make you nod with appreciation at its clarity and scale and the brilliance of the effects.

Photo-real and stunningly realised it may be, but in editing, in sense of place and space, and in basic logic, it's impossible to follow.

Scenes occur more or less at random all through the wayward and unfocused plotting, populated by characters with whom it's impossible to form a connection.

The antagonism between Cade and his daughter's boyfriend is the extent of human relationships in a film packed with woeful dialogue and attempts at light relief that are just sad.

It's thoroughly poor storytelling, plain and simple, but don't forget the bonus of an impossible-to-justify running time. Nearly three hours of incomprehensible, headbanging gibberish isn't entertainment, it's not much more than a punishment.

See it if you liked: Transformers, Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Boyhood (15, 166 mins)

Director: Richard Linklater

4 stars

A remarkable experiment in filmmaking has paid off handsomely for writer-director Richard Linklater, who shot Boyhood in short bursts every year for 12 years so that one actor could play the same boy from the ages of 6 to 18.

That boy is Mason (Ellar Coltrane), who we follow from school to college, taking in fragments of him and his family, like a photo album given exhilarating life.

Mason isn't a movie character in the traditional sense, and any real drama going on is to be found around him, in particular through his mother (Patricia Arquette), whose upheavals in work and relationships are the catalyst for key events.

And though it's called Boyhood, the whole family is in the picture, with Linklater mainstay Ethan Hawke popping up regularly and doing terrific work as Mason's estranged father.

Major change is presented without fanfare, with anything that may have happened in between what we see left to be filled in by the audience.

What we see are wonderful snapshots of everyday existence and the natural passing of time, which just flows naturally from one year to the next, often marked by new haircuts or cultural and historical events.

There's little repetition of events, with Linklater managing to focus on new elements of Mason's life as we progress, the advantage being that things can be learned, by him and us, over time, seeing the world from his point of view, with all the confusion and disappointment and realisations that come with growing up.

Long but never testing, even though the drama could sometimes be said to be routine, Boyhood is a camera into life and a wholly unique film experience.

See it if you liked: Tree of Life, Before Midnight, The Descendants

Begin Again (15, 104 mins)

Director: John Carney

3 stars

The director of the much-loved Once returns with this similarly musically-inflected romantic drama that proves to be a perfectly pleasant but not very memorable diversion.

Mark Ruffalo is the A&R guy for a small indie music label who is sick of hearing nothing but the same generic rubbish until he hears Keira Knightley singing in a club.

A smart structure fills us in on how they both came to be there - he let go from a label struggling against the dying music industry, alcoholic and pretty much a deadbeat, she in the country with her rock star boyfriend from whom she's just split.

He thinks with proper arrangements her songs could be special, and so they set out to record an album guerrilla style around New York in a way that's a little bit hipster-mobile-phone-advert but engaging nonetheless.

The stuff in between is hit and miss, with the goings on between Knightley and her boyfriend especially uninspired, and Ruffalo doesn't convince at first, trying just a bit too hard to be dishevelled like he's auditioning for a Columbo remake.

But Knightley shines, and her natural sweetness is enough to carry a lightweight film that's at its best when it focuses on the joy of making music.

See it if you liked: Once, Good Vibrations, Almost Famous