TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT Gets 3/10 Yeager Bomb

Director Michael Bay
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Laura Haddock

3/10

Just in case you’ve been buried in an alien spaceship since prehistoric times, and have only been recently reactivated, here is a quick run-down of Transformers. Originally launched as a cartoon to sell the Hasbro toy line back in 1984, the series gained its own cultural cache spawning various animated series, and a much loved theatrically released animated film (1986).

In 2007 Michael Bay brought the property to the big screen in a live action version creating a rather unique version of the “robots in disguise” (a style dubbed Bayformers), and a multi-billion dollar action franchise was launched. Like it’s cartoon predecessor, it follows a race of cybernetic lifeforms trapped on Earth after a viscous civil war destroys their home-world of Cybertron. Disguising themselves as vehicles, the heroic Autobots seek to protect humanity from the evil machinations of the Decepticons.

Unless you’re in Chicago – in which case, prepare to be blown up every couple of films.

Transformers: The Last Knight marks the fifth instalment in the franchise, revealing that Transformers have been amongst us for centuries longer than we thought. After a brief introduction set in the time of King Arthur, we cut to the present where Transformers are showing up on Earth with increasing regularity and are hunted by the military. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) has formed a resistance, that along with others (a plucky daughter substitute played by Isabela Moner) seeks to hide the Autobots from the murderous authorities. However an encounter with an ancient Autobot knight, sees Yeager gifted with a mysterious talisman that is prophesied to be one of the signs of the end of the world.

Meanwhile Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), after having jetted off into space to meet his maker in the finale of the previous film, finally arrives on Cybertron. Here he discovers Quintessa (Gemma Chan), the apparent creator of the Cybertronians, and a being of god-like power. She has plans for planet Earth, and seeks to use Prime as her agent in this regard.

All of which covers about half of an over-stuffed plot. Suffice to say it follows a similar structure to the previous films, in that the Autobots and their human allies have to chase a Cybertronian McGuffin (this time the Staff of Merlin) to prevent the end of the world. Cue slow-mo CG generated robot acrobatics, and various explosions.

It’s hard to deny the appeal of the Transformer films. I’d like to, but I can’t. The box office proves how attractive these films are. Why? Well that remains a mystery, as after the first film they have all been pale imitations. Here unfortunately is more of the same. Perhaps not as outright awful as Age of Extinction, but certainly within spitting distance. The script reeks of design-by-committee, with multiple elements being hurled in, with no time or effort spent to develop anything.

In fact, there’s not a whole lot here that makes any sense. Exotic locations and action sequences are strung together by the flimsiest reasons, and there is little to motivate any decisions from the characters. Instead it is just an action extravaganza, with little sense of genuine threat to anyone (everyone can survive being thrown about like a rag-doll by explosions), and a lot of mechanical fetishization. Yet, despite the complaints, it’s clear that Bay can create a huge computer generated spectacle for the screen.

Wahlberg once again reprises his role of inventive every-man Cade Yeager, handling the confusing plot and awful dialogue with as much dignity as he can muster. Laura Haddock struggles to demonstrate that Michael Bay doesn’t just sexualise young college girls. However, through no fault of her own, in stretching for an educated action heroine, instead falls into the sexy librarian/ strict school teacher trope (the script lampshading it doesn’t help). Veteran actor Anthony Hopkins handles much of the exposition of the “secret history of Transformers on Earth”, with a great deal of aplomb. For an actor of his obvious gravitas, he seems to be having a lot of fun slumming it. In fact, there are a lot of good actors here, either returning to the franchise (John Tuttoro, Josh Duhamel), or voicing a 20 foot tall robot (Omar Sy, Steve Buscemi). None of that really makes for a better film, but it is nice to see them earning a living.

In short, this is everything we’ve come to expect from a Transformers film. A big spectacle, strung together by the thinnest thread of plot, yet somehow still bloated and long. AllSpark and no substance.

DAVID O’CONNELL

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