The “Transformers” franchise should encapsulate everything that is wrong with summer blockbusters. It’s a story based on a line of toys, it values spectacle over story and the paper thin characters feel more like place holders for the action than real people and yet, here we are on episode five, with (according to director Michael Bay) fourteen more in the pipeline.
In fact, they do make ‘em like they used to. You could be forgiven for experiencing déjà vu while watching “Transformers: The Last Knight.” The “Transformers” movies are remarkably consistent. They are heavy metal filmmaking, all bluster and retina roasting visuals and people eat them up.
People go see “Transformers” for the robots—their transformation scenes remain the coolest thing about the series—and the new movie doesn’t disappoint, creating a new backstory for its mechanical stars. According to the new movie the Transformers were friendly with King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable and fought the Nazis during World War II.
A decade into Bay’s franchise good guy leader of the Autobots Optimus Prime has high tailed it back to his home planet Cybertron. Humans are at war with the Transformers—“Two species at war, one flesh, one metal.”—and the future of the world is at stake. As a short prologue with King Arthur suggests, the key to Earth’s survival lies in the secret history of the Transformers and a 1600-year-old secret artefact. To unlock this mystery enter Autobot ally, inventor and single father Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), Transformers historian and English lord Sir Edmund Exposition (Anthony Hopkins)—he’s got some mansplainin’ to do!—Oxford University Professor of English Literature (and descendant of the most famous wizard of all time other than Harry Potter) Viviane Wembly (Laura Haddock) and Autobot Bumblebee (voice of Erik Aadahi).
Director Michael Bay has finally taken the Transformers where they always should’ve been, to the Realm of the Ridiculous. Any movie based on a line of toys is bound to be silly but this may be one of the silliest films ever made. From a prologue set in the Middle Ages and robots hanging out on Cuban beaches to a wisecracking Merlin the Magician and a 700-year-old opera singing robot, this is wacky stuff.
Is it good stuff, you may ask? It doesn’t take itself as seriously as some of the other entries in the series, so that’s good but like the other “Transformers” movies, it’s too long and gets lost in an orgy of action and gravity defying stunts.
Hopkins seems to be having fun cavorting with his sassy C-3PO wannabe Cogman (Jim Carter) but it’s a thankless job. He’s there mostly to provide the convoluted backstory. As a member of the secret society to protect the history of Transformers, which also includes suck luminaries as Harriet Tubman and Stephen Hawking among others, he’s the keeper of the info and boy, does he over share. He scrolls through hundreds of years of nonsensical Transformers history but at least he does says thing like, “It was alien power or as they knew it in those days, magic,” in his distinctive Hannibal Lecter voice.
It’s all a bit much. With a story this convoluted why bother with the story at all? Those who want to see the Transformers battle will not be disappointed. The chunks of metal are cooler and than ever before and when Hopkins isn’t explaining what’s going on the robots are going at it.
“Transformers: The Last Knight” is Bay’s farewell to the franchise as director (he’ll stay on as a producer) and he has not held back. It’s heavy metal filmmaking, loud and proud, like a drum solo that goes on for just a hair too long.