Review: Transformers: The Last Knight is Bloated, Dumb, Derivative – and Somehow Still Fun

Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeager in Transformers: The Last Knight (Paramount Pictures)

Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeager in Transformers: The Last Knight (Paramount Pictures)

“Overindulgent” is a complaint often levied at the films of the widely loathed yet equally successful action auteur Michael Bay— and with good reason. But that meager word does not even begin to describe the voluminous, almost-awe-inspiring bloat of his latest off-the-rails amusement park attraction, Transformers: The Last Knight. Largely incoherent, both visually and logistically, this fifth(!) installment of the franchise features what at times feels like hundreds of Transformers vying for screen time, alongside a seemingly endless cavalcade of disposable human characters, all mish-moshing their way through a convoluted slog of universe-trotting action sequences with only the most tenuous of through-lines to connect them.

With the above being true, describing the film’s story in full is tantamount to an exercise in futility, but, if one were to try, it would go something like this: Optimus Prime has traveled back to his home-world of Cybertron in an effort to destroy his evil, Medusa-like creator Quintessa. Meanwhile, back on Earth, society has devolved into a dystopian anti-Transformer furor, which sees tactical units descend into urban areas to hunt the embattled robots. Among the ruins, we find spunky orphaned moppet Izabella (Isabela Moner), who, through a series of plot machinations ends up in the company of the ludicrously named Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg, reprising his role from 2014’s Age of Extinction), who’s now living out his days in the company of various goofy Autobots in a Southwestern scrapyard. In parallel to all this, it turns out that the very first Transformers on earth helped Merlin and King Arthur’s knights defeat invading hordes during the Dark Ages (This is a weird movie.). Now, buried beneath the English Channel lies an ancient staff that holds the key to defeating Quintessa before she sucks up all of Earth’s energy in her giant, semi-circular mothership. Or something.

Now, if the above appears muddled or confusing, that’s because it is. Subplots lurch, shift and are discarded altogether. One minute, we’re supposed to accept the modern world as some kind of dystopian police state, the next it’s entirely normal. One minute, Cade is building a surrogate father-type relationship with young Izabella, the next, she’s forgotten for a good 50 minutes in favor of forgettable academic-cum-token-love-interest Vivian (Laura Haddock). By the time professorial exposition machine Sir Edward Burton (a slumming Anthony Hopkins) enters the picture, I was almost completely lost.

From the glazed over looks on their faces, most of the performers were, too. Wahlberg is supposed to be playing a Texan inventor here, but he attempts neither an accent nor any semblance of a “sophisticated” affect in his phoned-in portrayal. To their credit, Moner and Haddock are given little to do, but still manage to come out looking better than previous Transformers ladies such as Rosie Huntington Whitely and the truly dreadful Nicola Peltz. The film’s lone charm acting-wise comes in the form of the always-game Hopkins, who manages to inject a great deal of witty fun into his interactions with schizoid robo-butler Cogman. Cutaways to John Turturro screaming on a phone in “Cuba” (a Paramount back-lot) also function as pleasantly engaging distractions.

Of course, all Transformers movies are really about is the explosions. And here, the film delivers in spades. Transformers fight in space. They fight underwater. They fight on the streets of Chicago, and London and at Stonehenge. The level of spectacle on display in Last Knight easily outpaces any of the earlier installments in terms of sheer scope and bravura. The climactic showdown aboard Quintessa’s massive vessel is particularly eye-popping, but it underscores another deficiency in the filmmaking— it’s visually a rip-off of the ship from Avenger’s: Age Of Ultron. Similar cinematic biting abounds, with gags and whole sequences parceled (at least partially) from films such as Hellboy, X-Men: Apocalypse, Suicide Squad, Star Wars Episode VII, Prometheus and District 9. All that said, the pastiche is torqued up to such a garish degree that it can at times be quite enjoyable, like a massive-budget Scary Movie equivalent for tentpole action films.

Indeed, though it pains the critic in this reviewer to say so, a number of The Last Knights cinema sins are absolved by its ballsy, over-the-top bigness. In transcending self-parody, Michael Bay has managed to make his schtick exciting for what seems like the last time possible. With that in mind, let’s all hope the Transformers producers see the writing on the wall and swap out directors for a fresher, less maximalist mind for the next go-round. It worked by the skin of its teeth here, but the ol’ shock and awe routine doesn’t likely have another movie in the tank.

Transformers: The Last Knight
Paramount Pictures
Now in theaters

2.5 Stars

Films are rated on a scale of 5 stars (must-see), 4 stars (exceptional), 3 stars (solid), 2 stars (average) and 1 star (unworthy).

Dash Finley is a Staff Reporter for Living Out Loud - LA, covering entertainment.

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