Transformers Series Reaches Rock Bottom In "The Last Knight"

When the best your $215 million summer tentpole has to offer is a brief cameo from Stanley Tucci as a drunken Merlin the wizard (notably not the character he played in the previous film in the series), you just might be doing something wrong.

After a pleasantly silly opening that attempts to link its titular transforming alien robots to the legendary King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, “Transformers: The Last Knight” plays out like a compendium of all the worst parts of Michael Bay’s now five-film toy-based franchise: Bad comedy, boring characters, unintelligible plotting, and action sequences that are preposterously hard to follow. Only this time, it all feels like it’s been cobbled together by a 12-year-old who just discovered Final Cut Pro.

Mark Wahlberg returns to headline as Cade Yeager, an inventor who’s done so little inventing over the course of two films that referring to him as an inventor is in itself wildly inventive. Yeager now walks the Earth protecting both children and innocent Transformers, the latter of whom have become personae non gratae in most countries of the world. Everyone’s favorite Transformers do figure into the story – Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), Bumblebee (Erik Aadahl), Megatron (Frank Welker), and more – but the pic’s crack team of screenwriters has forced them into various narrative nooks and crannies so that the true stars of Transformers universe can shine: the humans.

The series has wasted time on good-for-nothing human characters before, but Wahlberg’s Yeager has an interminable talent for having nothing interesting to say. Ever. Whether it’s in the presence of screen legend Anthony Hopkins slumming it as Sir Edmund Burton, a Transformers historian, or Laura Haddock (“Guardians Of The Galaxy”) as Yeager’s romantic interest Vivian Wembly, a shell of a character with a Bay-approved “hot librarian” look, Wahlberg and the film’s writers find a perfect harmony of un-charisma for their lead, sucking the life out of every one of his scenes – scenes that add up to comprise most of the picture.

As the story skitters across the screen without a lick of rhyme or reason, actor Josh Duhamel serves as the film’s unlikely connective tissue. Reprising his role from the series’ first three films, William Lennox, Army Ranger and new member of the Transformers Reaction Force, it’s telling that he, a dramatic weak link in the original film, is the stand out here. Duhamel imbues his character with the kind of screen presence that’s completely absent everywhere else, a little gray in his hair and gravel in his voice providing more gravitas than a battalion of Cade Yeagers could ever dream of.

Even Hopkins, who rarely brings less than his A-game to the big screen, has so little to do in “The Last Knight” – his character is constantly one-upped by Cogman, his sociopathic robot butler – that he feels purposefully painted out as to not interfere with the insipidness of it all. John Turturro, reprising government agent Seymour Simmons, it similarly disconnected from the rest of the film, as if he agreed to shoot his two minutes of screen time while on vacation. “Transformers” films aren’t where great actors go to die; it’s just where they go on holiday.

It’s hard to imagine even fans of the previous four movies caring about or faintly comprehending what’s going on in ‘The Last Knight” – something about the Transformers’ home planet Cybertron being used as a projectile weapon to wipe out life on Earth, with an assist from a brainwashed Optimus Prime – its big emotional beats uniformly undermined by either unwelcome punchlines or woeful plot mechanics. To wit, Bumblebee gets a grand moment toward the end of the film that is immediately overshadowed by the revelation that – Surprise! – Cade Yeager is the eponymous last knight, complete with a stupidly oversized sword and no real explanation of his relation to King Arthur.

Michael Bay, who remains a master of the moving image but can’t attach himself to a decent screenplay to save his life, doesn’t make movies anymore; he makes migraine auras. “Transformers: The Last Knight” is his most disheartening work to date, a motion picture so useless, so screamingly terrible that movie theaters playing it shouldn’t offer concessions, but counselors.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ out of ★★★★★ (Very Bad)

Release Date: June 21, 2017
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director: Michael Bay
Screenwriter: Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, Ken Nolan
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Josh Duhamel, Anthony Hopkins, Laura Haddock, Jerrod Carmichael, Isabela Moner, Santiago Cabrera, Liam Garrigan, Stanley Tucci, John Turturro
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence and intense sequences of sci-fi action, language, and some innuendo)