‘Transformers: The Last Knight’
Director: Michael Bay
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Laura Haddock
2 (out of 5) Globes
Give “Transformers: The Last Knight” credit: It opens with King Arthur. This summer’s other lumbering, endless fivequel, the latest “Pirates of the Caribbean,” simply began with some more ships. You can never expect what "The Last Knight" will do next. From stem to stern, it's the rantings of a madman, even for a franchise that once featured a robot with wrecking ball-sized testes. Within its first minutes, we’ll see a drunk Merlin (Stanley Tucci!), who the film treats like a historical figure. Later there will be a diss on Raul Castro. (Or does Michael Bay think Fidel’s still alive?) There’ll be a flashback to Nazi Germany, Marky Mark will paraphrase Arthur C. Clarke and Michael Bay will solve the mystery of Stonehenge. All that, and a robot voiced by “Downtown Abbey”’s Jim Carter quoting Ludacris while Anthony Hopkins chuckles, too.
Bay’s “Transformers” movies have always come off like a fratboy playing with toys, but “The Last Knight” goes next level, turning 149 minutes (the series' second shortest entry!) into relentless white hot nonsense. It has more plot than usual, some of it followable, all of it deranged. Among its nuttier ambitions is revealing the “secret history of Transformers on Earth” — how giant space robots have apparently played a helping hand in wars going back to Charlemagne, all the way up through Vietnam. This doesn’t make much sense; were millions of soldiers across the centuries mind-wiped a la “Men in Black”? It’s not Bay’s fault; he has the mind of a goldfish. He comes up with ideas then forgets about them minutes later. At one point, Bay dramatically introduces a new gang of psychotic Deceptacons, each one afforded one of those dramatic freeze frames while their name blasts onto the screen in big letters. Then he doesn’t remember to give most of them anything to do, even the one named “Nitro Zeus.”
Oh, yes, the plot. There’s one of those in there, somewhere, buried under miles of wreckage. The gubmint has declared war on Transformers, falsely painting them as all bad. Maybe you think this is stealth commentary on immigration. Don’t bother. You can sense Bay trying to be a little progressive, then getting bored and reverting to classic him. One of his heroes is an orphan girl, Izabella (Isabel Moner), who teams up with crackpot inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) to save the Autobots from military stooges, and later the Deceptacons, and also a floating robot lady who wants to destroy Earth. Early trailers teased Izabella as a hero for teen girls, as though Bay were atoning for a lifetime of introducing female characters ass-first. Then Bay swaps out Izabella for a hot grown-up woman (Laura Haddock) who dresses in, as Cade puts it, “stripper clothes.” Asking Bay not to be a pig is like asking fish not to swim.
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What follows plays like Bay dragged some writers to the desert, fed them acid, wrote down their batshit ideas for the next “Transformers,” threw those ideas into the air, then Scotch-taped them together at random. No wonder Bay has threatened “The Last Knight” as his final entry in the series; this is the equivalent of burning it all down then salting the ground. Combined, the “Transformers” cycle now runs longer than Jacques Rivette’s 12-hour epic “Out 1,” only it’s considerably less fun. But we’d be lying if we said this last one wasn’t gripping, even if it’s gripping the same way our president’s Twitter feed is gripping. If nothing else, it’s not boring — until its bulldozer climax of CGI vomit, which really doesn’t make any sense, and not in a good-bad way.
Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge