“TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT” — 2 stars — Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Duhamel, Laura Haddock, Isabela Moner; PG-13 (violence and intense sequences of sci-fi action, language and some innuendo); in general release
Five movies in, you’ve probably already made up your mind about Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise. The battle lines were drawn long, long ago, and “Transformers: The Last Knight” isn’t going to change them now. Applying a laundry list of criticisms to Bay’s latest two-and-a-half hour symphony of CGI mayhem feels almost beside the point, if not an exercise in futility.
Then again, a little futility never hurt anyone. “The Last Knight” once again pits the good alien robots (Autobots) vs. the bad alien robots (Decepticons) over a magic MacGuffin. This time the key to the universe is a powerful staff that ancient Transformers gave to the wizard Merlin (a Medieval Stanley Tucci) back in the Dark Ages. (In the Transformers universe, the 50-foot robots have been intimately involved in human history for centuries — they even fought Nazis in World War II — but didn’t go public until about 10 years ago.)
Everyone wants the staff. That’s the driving centerpiece of a plot that weaves various human and robot characters together towards a final showdown in England that will decide the fate of the Earth. Stick to that, and you might find a glimmer of focus in all the chaos.
After four previous films' worth of city-smashing carnage, the relationship between the human population and the towering alien robots has become strained. That’s why, when “The Last Knight” opens, all the Autobots are hiding out in a junkyard in the American Midwest, protected by ex-Texas inventor and soon-to-be chosen knight Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg). Most of the Decepticons are incarcerated, but an anti-Transformer military unit called TRF recruits bad guy leader Megatron (voiced by Frank Welker) and several of his robo-friends into a “Suicide Squad”-style deal to find the staff.
Out in outer space, a brainwashed Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) — the Autobot leader — is literally bringing the ruins of the Transformers’ home planet Cybertron to eat the Earth. His specific target is England, where a professorial Megan Fox lookalike named Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock) apparently has the exclusive lineage to wield Merlin’s old staff. She learns this through Sir Anthony Hopkins, who, as Sir Edmund Burton, essentially acts as a narrator who just happens to recite exposition to “The Last Knight’s” characters directly. But at least he makes the exposition sound fantastic.
For the first hour or so, “The Last Knight” is pretty watchable, and actually goes pretty light on a lot of Bay’s usual style cues. There’s still lots of slow motion and lots of explosions, and plenty of awkward jokes — one bit about Autobot Bumblebee’s “repaired” voice is pretty funny — but even though Haddock looks a lot like her predecessor, Bay doesn’t sexualize her with the camera near the way he went after Megan Fox.
Unfortunately, the characters and plot pieces begin to pile higher and higher until the onscreen spectacle eventually turns the last 45 minutes of “The Last Knight” into a dragged-out, incoherent mess. Part of the problem is trying to shoehorn too many pieces into a limited space — for example, the “chosen” nature of both Wahlberg and Haddock’s characters make them feel redundant. But mostly it’s just a symptom of letting the big screen spectacle override the story, then dragging that spectacle out an extra half-hour. Seeing cool things happen on the screen is a lot less satisfying when you’ve lost any context for them.
Still, if you enjoyed the previous Transformers movies, you probably won’t care, and will probably cheer when Bay’s film hints that an even bigger and more universe-critical adventure is still on the way. But it’s hard to sit back and embrace the chaos of “The Last Knight” when you can think about similar big-budget action tentpoles — “Captain America: Civil War,” “Rogue One,” last month’s “Wonder Woman” — and reflect on how even in all their craziness, they just made a lot more sense, and frankly, were just a lot more fun to experience.
“Transformers: The Last Knight” is rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of sci-fi action, language and some innuendo; running time: 149 minutes.
Joshua Terry is a freelance writer and photographer who also teaches English composition for Weber State University. You can also find him on https://www.youtube.com/moviereviewsbyjosh' target='_blank'>YouTube.