“Transformers: The Last Knight” is a bad film – in fact, it’s one of the most ludicrous films ever made. Michael Bay is not so much a filmmaker but a figure whose internal thought processes resembles Peter Stormare standing alongside the wood chipper from “Fargo.” Instead of limbs being tossed in there, he’s throwing in movies and TV influences like “Force Awakens,” “Kingdom of Heaven,” “2012,” “The Fellowship of the Ring,” “The Abyss,” “Green Lantern,” “Indiana Jones and the The Last Crusade,” “The Da Vinci Code,” and “Game of Thrones.” That violently ground up excess is sprayed across the screen.
“Transformers: The Last Knight,” like each film of this amnesiac franchise, continues to retcon the history of the arrival of the Transformers to the Earth. “The Last Knight” begins with a Hasbro revision to Arthurian legend. Merlin – now a belligerent drunkard played with silly glee by Stanely Tucci – acquires a staff of power and his ‘magic’ is the technology gifted to him from the first Transformers that arrived on Earth. When Merlin dies, he takes his staff and its immense power to the grave.
In present day the collective international governments of the globe have outlawed Transformers (except Cuba – Castro is totally fine with Transformers sipping mojitos and puffing on cigars); and cities that formed robot battlegrounds in the earlier films have been quarantined. Optimus Prime has left Earth to find his maker and wave after wave of Transformers are arriving to Earth like meteors.
Amongst the late arrivals is an ancient Transformer with a talisman that can locate Merlin’s staff. His arrival triggers a convergence of the power hungry mechanoids featuring the so far un-killable Megatron, the newly formed paramilitary Transformers Reaction Force, and Quintessa (a metallic digital Gemma Chan) – the Lilith-esque mother of the “Transformers” race who sets the remains of Cybertron on a collision course with Earth.
Standing in their way is Mark Wahlberg’s returning Cade Yeager, the Rey-esque Izabella (Isabela Moner), Bay’s latest hyper-sexualised lady in the form of “Da Vinci’s Demons” actress Laura Haddock as Vivian Wembley, Bumblebee, and non other than Sir Anthony Hopkins phoning it in as Sir Edmund Burton.
The “Transformers” series is less sci-fi and more a disaster movie with robotic garnish. The great critical mind Roger Ebert observed that “disaster movies always have little vignettes of everyday life.” In Michael Bay films, the director finds these largely inconsequential; which makes the role of the four writers of “Transformers: The Last Knight” difficult.
Firstly they must use a stack of voice-over explanation, and targeted exposition scenes to (attempt to) frame, pace and make sense of Bay’s impulse. Their primary purpose though is to attempt to enrich what we’re seeing with authentic human moments in a film where no period of history, even ones centuries before the invention of gunpowder, is safe from explosions that propel bodies like debris in graceful slow-motion arcs. No country is safe from planetary collisions that erase cities, though they only seem to wipe out those locations that Bay was allowed to shoot in previously.
Characters speak in crass misplaced jokes from decades old gag books. Vivian Wembley’s sloshed mother’s group think her ransacking her father’s office with Cade Yeager is in fact a session of rough sex and they’re happy to not just listen in but offer play-by-play commentary. All the characters have the emotional intelligence of high school kids ribbing one another in a cafeteria.
Yeagar and Isabella ignore the possibility of imminent death to bicker incessantly calling one another “bro.” And it’s not much better when Yeager talks to an adult woman in Vivian telling her that she’s dressed like a “stripper.” There are scenes of scientists deliberating over the cataclysm of Earth’s impending impact with Cybertron using porn acting as the high water mark for sincerity.
“Transformers: The Last Knight” stars a group of wonderful actors like Hopkins, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Tucci, John Turturro, Omar Sy, Tony Hale and also Mark Wahlberg (that’s not fair he’s actually great in “The Gambler”); and evidence for that statement can be found everywhere else their collective bodies of work. The participation in this film hopefully is worth decades of taking lower wages to star in films by burgeoning filmmakers; or at the very least some impressive extensions to their homes.
There is almost no point making jokes about the rambling, incoherent “Transformers: The Last Knight” because you need only let the events of the films speak itself. You want to hate this movie. You want to hate every vacant, stupid, irrational moment of it. You hate knowing that Bay acquired approximately 173 times the budget than “Moonlight” for the FIFTH entry into an increasingly inane series which still somehow manages to make a billion dollars with each entry – ensuring its continuation. It’s a film able to conjure such levels of discomfort that you can’t help but laugh, but its mirth rooted in maddening disbelief because there is no joy to be found here.