TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Michael Bay

Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Laura Haddock, Josh Duhamel, Isabela Moner, Glenn Morshower, John Turturro, Tony Hale, Mitch Pileggi, Santiago Cabrera, Jim Galligan, Stanley Tucci, voices of Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Erik Aadahl, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Ken Watanabe, Jim Carter, Omar Sy, Reno Wilson, John DiMaggio, Jess Harnell, Gemma Chan.

Michael Bay makes more robot porn for 13-year-old boys.

Transformers: The Last Knight is the fifth instalment in Michael Bay’s series of big budget special effects driven movies based on a cartoon and a popular line of action figures created by Hasbro in the 80s. Basically, it follows on from Age Of Extinction, Bay’s own reboot of the franchise in 2014. And it offers up more of the same – lots of pyrotechnics, crash, bang, boom, and an overdose of CGI special effects.

Mankind and the transformers have been at war. The autobots have been banned from Earth. A newly created taskforce known as the Transformers Reaction Force has been charged with hunting down and destroying transformers. Many of these shape-changing robots have found sanctuary in the junkyard run by Cole Yeagher (Mark Wahlberg, returning from Age Of Extinction), a failed inventor and single father. He also rescues a feisty young girl Izabella (Isabela Moner) who is sympathetic to the Transformers. During the rescue and subsequent standoff with the TRF he is given a powerful talisman.

Yeagher links up with haughty Oxford English literature professor Viviane Wembly (Laura Haddock, lots of tv work, and also in Guardians Of The Galaxy, etc), a descendant of Merlin’s, and eccentric historian Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins), who has a deep personal knowledge of the arcane history of the transformers. Burton is the last member of a secret organisation known as the Witiwiccans, who have throughout history sheltered the transformers from humans.

Burton’s lengthy exposition gives us a brief history of the transformers, whose interactions with humans throughout the millennium have seen them help the legendary King Arthur defeat a vicious enemy and the allied defeat the Nazis during WWII. (Between Michael Bay and Guy Ritchie, King Arthur has come in for a bit of a cinematic hiding this year!)

When the film opens in earnest, Optimus Prime (again voiced by Peter Cullen) has been reprogrammed by the evil Queen Quintessa (Gemma Chan) and sent back to Earth to help save their dying planet Cybertron by plundering the earth and its valuable resources. Cybertron is hurtling towards Earth. The secret to stopping the destruction of the Earth lies with an ancient artefact that was buried with Merlin. Yeagher and Wembly have to find Merlin’s burial site, using Burton’s specialist knowledge of this secret history, and the talisman he was given earlier.

The action moves at a fast pace from the heartland of America to England and to outer space and an alien space ship lying at the bottom of the ocean. But the narrative that leaps all over the place and very little of the convoluted and nonsensical plot makes sense. Six writers, including Art Marcum and Matt Holloway (Iron Man, etc) and Ken Noland and Akiva Goldsman have laboured over the script, and it lacks cohesion. The film is all over the place in its attempts to add more to the mythology of the Transformers and their history. According to this film the Transformers have played a role in many of the key events in the history of mankind over a millennium. And it seems that they even established Stonehenge as a portal to another world. The cheesy dialogue is often quite hackneyed and trite, but there are liberal doses of humour here as well. Transformers: The Last Knight explores themes of heroism, terror, the bonds of brotherhood, common themes that have coursed through the DNA of most of Bay’s films.

As is his wont, Bay throws a lot at the screen, and some of it sticks. The over the top climax overdoses in CGI effects; the special effects are undoubtedly state of the art and it’s easy to see where much of the film’s rumoured $260 million budget was spent. He’s also borrowed ideas from a variety of genres, including the epic medieval battle scenes that come across as Lord Of The Rings lite; there’s a bit or WWII adventure here, as well as elements of the overblown special effects driven sci-fi adventure as two worlds collide and some undersea adventure a la James Cameron. There are even a couple of robots that seem to have been modelled on C-3P0 and Wall-E.

Wahlberg has a strong screen presence, and there is plenty of sexual tension between his Yeagher and Haddock’s Wembly. Wahlberg has said that this will be his last Transformers movie as he wants to move on. Hopkins seems to be the only one in the cast who realises that this is rubbish, but he hasn’t had an opportunity to chew the scenery like this for ages, and he makes the most of it. There is also plenty of humour in this offering, especially through the character of Cogman (voiced by Downton Abbey’s Jim Carter), Burton’s annoyingly pedantic robotic manservant, who seems blatantly modelled on C-3P0, who provides the bulk of the comic relief.

There are some new Transformer character here, including one called Hot Rod, who is voiced by French actor Omar Sy, from The Intouchables, etc), while Hugo Weaving no longer voices Megatron, the leader of the Decepticons: those duties have fallen to Frank Welker. The vocal casts also includes Steve Buscemi, John Goodman, Reno Wilson, Erik Aadahl and Ken Watanabe. Some characters from earlier films in the series also reappear here, including Josh Duhamel’s Colonel Lennox, who now works for the TRF, and John Turturro’s enigmatic agent Simmons, who is doing God knows what in Cuba.

But Bay lacks any sense of subtlety. At an overly generous 149-minutes, the film is bloated and over long and loud, and almost bludgeons the audience into submission. The film has also been edited in that highly kinetic style that betrays Bay’s background as a director of music videos but leaves mosy of us feeling dizzy. Ultimately Transformers: The Last Knight is an all-out assault on the senses, full of sound and fury, signifying very little. This fifth film in the series has not done as well at the box office, so signs of franchise fatigue may well be setting in. This is purportedly Bay’s last time helming a Transformers movie, even though there are several more films apparently in the works.

★★☆

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