‘The Last Knight’ Bludgeons Audiences With ’Transformers’ Action (Movie Review)

I’ve never been one to shy away from my appreciation for what Michael “Boom Boom” Bay does with the Transformers films. Regardless of how well they may or may not work overall, these wacky blockbusters offer an over-the-top level of spectacle best seen on an IMAX screen. Somehow that all comes to a screeching halt this time around, as Transformers: The Last Knight seems a lot less interested in having as much fun as the previous films. It’s a weird place to be in, as I’m now in the position of arguing in favor of the utter ridiculousness that is Revenge of the Fallen over this film, simply to make a point that some good does come out of these silly films about robots that turn into cars.

There is no real way to properly do justice in explaining the story put together by Akiva Goldsman and the team of writers involved in what is now the setup of an expanded Transformers cinematic universe. To give it a shot though – Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), hero of the Autobots, left earth in the last film in search of his creator. He finds what he’s looking for in the form of Quintessa, a Cybertronian god who convinces Prime that he must help destroy earth to save his kind.

Back on earth, Texas-born Bostonian Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) is now a fugitive who helps the Transformers, as the robots are now an illegal presence on the planet. Cade is then wrapped up in a plot concerning a secret league of heroes dating back to the time of King Arthur, which we learn thanks to mountains of exposition provided by Anthony Hopkins’ Sir Edmund Burton. Basically, Cade is the chosen one who will be helped by Laura Haddock’s Vivian Wembly to save the planet from impending doom by locating Merlin’s staff.

All of this is as outrageous as it sounds and yet for a film that begins with a medieval battle featuring a three-headed dragon Transformer, the actual delivery of such a fantastical film loses steam early on. Say what you will about the other Transformers films, but even at their worst (think racist caricatures in robot form) there was a sense of goofy fun that ran through them. Bay and his team could balance the time spent between humans and Transformers in a way that worked in building acceptable enough characters and a crude sense of humor that may have been crass, but kept things watchable. That’s mostly gone this time around. Save for a cameo by Stanley Tucci and a very lively performance by Hopkins, the humans are much more of a drag to watch.

It’s strange how this happened, but potentially due to the fallout that comes from catering to the desire for upcoming spin-offs and sequels. The biggest example is embodied by Isabela Moner, who plays the teenaged Izabella. She’s an orphan thanks to the Transformer battles and pals around with Sqweeks, an attempt to cash in on what people loved about BB-8 in The Force Awakens. One would naturally think she’d be a co-lead with Wahlberg, given how the character is setup, but she’s abandoned midway through the film. It’s as if the writers gave up on the aspect of the film that was making things more family-friendly this time around so Izabella could be in her own film in the years to come. Meanwhile, the film then decides to give Wahlberg a love interest and add other Transformers that seem to curse a whole lot more than before.

Not helping is the other major absence in this film, Optimus Prime. Once we get the scoop on where things are headed with him, he disappears for a good 100 minutes of this 149-minute film.  Given that Prime is the only interesting Transformer as a character, this doesn’t help in having us enjoy the constant presence of other Transformers who have little beyond a celebrity voice or stock personality types to go on. Even worse is how the remaining Transformers do little in creating memorable action.

While others may point out what doesn’t work in the previous four films, I’m happy to at least mention the memorable fights among robots in disguise. The first film had a highway battle and a general sense of wonder, the second had a glorious forest fight, the third film invaded Chicago for an all-out war and the fourth had Dinobots. There are other moments scattered among those films, but I can’t say the same about this one, beyond the opening scene. Perhaps the bout between Bumblebee and a brainwashed Prime that’s featured in all the trailers, but it’s fairly short and has an absurd conclusion.

It’s worth noting because Bay is a director who puts all of his efforts into his movies. You don’t have to like him or what he stands for, but the Transformers franchise is far from lazy. Bay may not be attempting to fix what he doesn’t believe is broken (given the box office results and general audience approval), but he also does his damnedest to deliver on the sort of spectacle you want in a Transformers film. This is why it’s somewhat confusing to see him go all in on constant explosions and everything else that comes with his distinctive style, yet fail to create a more memorable event out of this experience. Bay is practically restrained by comparison to his previous efforts, as the film features little “real” action or Transformers battles that have higher stakes.

Within all this is a film that looks glorious. Shot with newly crafted IMAX 3D cameras, each location looks stunning, as do the visual effects. Only in these films do you get brightly lit scenes full of battling robots. As opposed to other blockbusters, there’s no sight of rain and darkness to hide half-completed CG creations. That’s the sort of spectacle one wishes could be applied to a more coherent film instead of a forgettable blockbuster.

The Last Knight has no T-1000, an epic car chase through an apocalyptic desert or wonderfully snarky characters there to ease you along through a superhero’s journey. It’s a lengthy experience that shows off the talents of many in ways that will get them further employment while leaving audiences with the memory of watching an indistinguishable entry in a series that has had a lot more personality in the past. Big, loud and dumb are keywords that seem like fun merit badges for these films. Sadly, The Last Knight earns a badge for being boring. This is almost impressive until you remember it took two and a half hours to sit through so much relentless chaos.

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