POPCORN DIRECTOR AND pyrotechnics fetishist Michael Bay once defended his style of filmmaking by arguing that he caters to “teenage boys”. It occurred to me not long into Transformers: The Last Knight, just as yet another explosion sent bodies flying through the air, that Mr. Bay might have been a little hopeful in saying so.
A more suitable audience, I later thought (this time attempting to distract myself from some insufferable inter-Transformer “banter”), might be the inhabitants of the monkey enclosure at London Zoo. After all, monkeys tend not to be too bothered if something lacks a coherent or compelling narrative (as those troublesome teenage boys can be) and at any rate, if they don’t like what they see they can hurl excrement at the screen in a way that cinema audiences are generally frowned upon for doing.
This latest monstrosity begins as you might expect it to––that is, with explosions, frantic jump-cutting and gratuitous slow-mo. The setting is England, and the time is the Dark Ages; a local army is attempting to repel an invading Saxon force, and they eventually succeed with the help of a little wizardry. In the modern day, inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) accumulates a pulpy and pint-sized sidekick (Isabel Miner) after a run-in with the new anti-Transformer police, and flees to the scrapyard where he and a handful of Transformers are in hiding. The human race is now at war with all Transformers, which makes Yeager a fugitive.
The story revolves around the interspecies war and a mysterious artefact that can save Earth from destruction by the Transformer planet, Cybertron, and its Medusa-like sorceress ruler, Quintessa. You can probably gather from that preamble that the story is lacking.
Now, for the purpose of those who had the good sense to skip the first four movies but are inexplicably reading a review of the fifth, the Autobots, usually led by Optimus Prime (a Transformer who turns into a gaudy red-and-blue truck), are at constant war with the Decepticons who, as I’m sure the keen linguists among you will have guessed, aren’t to be trusted. In this latest offering in the series, the King Arthur myth––bear with me here––is reimagined to have involved several very old Transformers. The wizard Merlin’s “magic”, meanwhile, is in fact advanced alien technology passed on by these Transformers. The story revolves around the interspecies war and a mysterious artefact that can save Earth from destruction by the Transformer planet, Cybertron, and its Medusa-like sorceress ruler, Quintessa. You can probably gather from that preamble that the story is lacking.
Art Marcum, Matt Holloway and Ken Nolan’s script sends the story backwards and forwards in time and from Dakota to Havana to London; at each stage they punctuate the explosions and slugfests with hilariously abrupt and slushy attempts at making the characters seem human. In doing so, they simply remind us that while Wahlberg can do comedy and action perfectly well, he cannot do sadness or sympathy or sincerity.
Much of the story, while we’re vaguely on the subject, takes place in England, which of course implies a Norman castle, Oxford University, cut-glass received pronunciation, an eccentric Lord in a tweed jacket and a butler, albeit a robotic one. (Look to the skies, dear reader, and you might just see Mary Poppins flying by).
Stanley Tucci, playing a hook-nosed Merlin, squeezes something vaguely resembling a laugh out of his lines. Academy Award-winner Anthony Hopkins, who plays the ditsy historian and astronomer Sir Edmund Burton, provides needless exposition not too different from his narration in Thor, while Laura Haddock plays the no-nonsense English Literature Professor Viviane Wembly and is the female lead and love interest. Much of the story, while we’re vaguely on the subject, takes place in England, which of course implies a Norman castle, Oxford University, cut-glass received pronunciation, an eccentric Lord in a tweed jacket and a butler, albeit a robotic one. (Look to the skies, dear reader, and you might just see Mary Poppins flying by).
The film goes on and on (and on). Six editors receive credit for the film, and yet between them they fail to establish anything resembling a rhythm. The shots are cut together so quickly that half the time you find it difficult to know what the hell is going on. Some of the action scenes are engaging enough, however, and there are, if we are to be fair, several arresting shots of cityscapes and the depths of outer space. In most cases, what you see on screen blows up shortly afterwards.
The highlight of the film was the surprisingly good glass of wine I was served before, thought it sadly did little to numb my senses against what was to follow; in Transformers: The Last Knight, Bay offers his audience noise and explosions, but no depth, no nuance and absolutely no hope. Maybe I’m not quite the target market for Bay’s bearing of his soul, but if you’d rather not feel like you just witnessed and assisted in your own mugging, I’d see something else.