Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Duhamel
Released: 22nd June 2017 (UK)
Reviewer: Van Connor
One decade and four films on from the onset of the cinematic Transformers series, fifth instalment The Last Knight sports a scene early on that threatens to finally pull the rug out from under us and offer us something different. It’s a sequence evoking the tone and demographic skew of recent Netflix hit Stranger Things, and – for about two solid minutes – lulls you into the false belief that the Transformers series – a series based on children’s toys – might at last be focusing on and aiming itself towards kids.
Alas, master of incoherent disaster Michael Bay swiftly puts paid to this notion with the reintroduction of the world’s least convincing inventor – Mark Wahlberg’s hilariously named Cade Yaeger – and assures us that this fifth go around really is nothing more than that. Albeit with a faintly engaging National Treasure element and the addition of the franchise’s first fully-fleshed out female character – something, again, it’s taken five movies to get around to.
Optimus Prime, you see, has been off in space trying to track down his race’s creators, leaving fugitive Cade as the human protector of the remaining Autobots in a world that has declared them illegal and routinely hunts them to the death. Except for in Cuba, where Castro has granted them asylum and Bay presumably has a vacation home. Coming into possession of an ancient Cybertronian relic however, Cade quickly finds himself and the Autobots on the run and in search of an all-powerful weapon that not only dates back to Arthurian times, but – with the help of an English lord (Anthony Hopkins) and a history professor (Laura Haddock) – will finally answer the question of why the Transformers are so attached to Earth to begin with.
Arguably one of the series’ better instalments – provided you’re grading on an extremely charitable curve – The Last Knight flickers to life on occasion in a manner displayed by no other instalment bar the 2007 instigator. Here, the fleeting use of a historically-fuelled scavenger hunt almost threatens to make proceedings somewhat enjoyable, though any hopes of it doing so are continually shot down by its script’s falling back into its default setting with the endless reliance on what can only be described as R-rated humour for children and borderline incoherent action sequences invariably involving yet more vehicle chases and the large-scale demolition of conveniently deserted locales.
Wahlberg offers up a second (and, reportedly, final) round of shouty bewilderment, while Haddock makes for a surprisingly likeable and (for this series) refreshingly developed co-star. Haddock’s at once representative of both the best and worst attributes of the film, offering up a woman of intellect, agency and femininity, yet simultaneously showing off that Michael Bay’s idea of a female academic looks like a Victoria’s Secret model in a pencil skirt and a pair of specs. Hopkins, for what it’s worth, livens up proceedings rather nicely, his outwardly old-school British lord quickly emerging as something of a snarky delight. That he’s paired though with an Autobot butler who could easily rank in the top three most annoying characters of the entire series, does dampen enjoyment of his presence more than you’d like.
Not that enjoyment is really much of an option with The Last Knight, which feels just as narratively flat as the series has ever been. Frivalous concepts such as character arcs are dealt out and cast aide like beer mats to the endless serving of mechanical carnage, the outward and internal logic of the film are finally on the same page as regards outright ridiculousness, and the continuous flickering between aspect ratios (hey, IMAX…) becomes even more annoying when it comes by way of a director who uses as many superfluous shots as Bay does. That it has no sense of geography and ends with an eye-rolling sequel set-up, ultimately, feels almost inconsequential in the weight of the sheer awfulness of the film already pushing critical mass. Worse, The Last Knight is merely another Transformers sequel to tantalise audiences with the notion of what it could be, before simply offering up more of the same – albeit with about 5% more interesting a story by way of half-inching one of this century’s better Nicolas Cage movies.
Tellingly, the film actually begins with a static page actually listing the various Chinese companies funding it, and it’s a statement that you can’t help but feel echoing throughout your otherwise unoccupied mind for the first hour of this nuts n’ bolts mecha-smash ’em up. In fact, it genuinely begs the question of what kind of aftermarket modifications the Chinese production houses are making to the storylines and dialogue of these movies in the dub and/or subtitles that any audience so quite could willingly lap this nonsensical rubbish up. The internet churlishly refers to its overriding mentality as “Bayhem”, though – if The Last Knight proves anything – it’s that this term only exists because “the fetishisation and pornographisation of a children’s property” is at once both a mouthful and makes for a terrible acronym. It’s staggering to believe that we’ve now sat through a decade of this series, a series in which its characters (be they human and/or robot) can legitimately be regarded as spending more screen time sliding and skidding on their asses than they do actually walking upright. It’s exhausting, physically and psychologically draining to sit through, but with all the smug arrogance of a film series that really believes its better than anyone except the habitually lobotomised does.
That being said, if you’ve grown up with this (cinematic) series, odds are you’ll see nothing to complain about here – lord knows the franchise has a gargantuan global (re: Chinese) fan base. If you’re going to even try to view it as a work of cinema however, good luck – and remember to pack the Dramamine. Supposedly the start of an entire Transformers cinematic universe, The Last Knight is a tiring, headache-inducing bore of a movie that somehow – at two hours and twenty-five minutes – ranks as the second shortest of the lot. And that’s really it’s biggest saving grace – that, as bad as it is, at least it’s not as long as the last one.