Believe it or not, Transformers, in its live action movie iteration, is now ten years old. For its first hour at least, there was something human, relatable and — whisper it — charming in Michael Bay’s original, a boy (Shia LaBeouf) who loved his car (Bumblebee) and wanted the unattainable girl (Megan Fox). Now fifth time out, the knack of coming up with anything so simple and likeable has eluded Bay. As in Revenge of The Fallen, Dark of The Moon and Age of Extinction, The Last Knight is bogged down in backstory, lacks a real feel for its characters and still can’t find a way to make its robot-on-robot action exhilarating.
Overlong, overstuffed and soulless.
The first project to emerge from the Transformers writers room (where it is permanently twilight) The Last Knight starts well in the Dark Ages. After fireballs wittily fly over the Paramount mountain, Bay mounts a full-on Arthurian battle far more exciting than Guy Ritchie’s, featuring trebuchets, knights blasted sky-high into the air and a three-headed mechanical dragon that lays waste to an entire battlefield. This prologue gives rise to the McGuffin, a talisman that will lead you to the staff that gives you ultimate power in the universe. Of course, the talisman quickly falls into the hands of inventor/Autobot sympathiser Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) who has saved Izabella (Moner), a Rey-From-The-Force-Awakens-alike who fixes things alongside BB-8-alike robot Sqweeks and now hides out in a junkyard.
The plot, as it is, sees various parties hunt Yeager to find the talisman; the hardnut military TRF, Decepticons, Optimus Prime who goes rogue after a visit to Cybertron and Anthony Hopkins as batshit crazy Earl Sir Edmond Burton, keeper of Transformers lore, who whisks Cade and Bumblebee to England (you’ll note Izabella has been forgotten about). Here, Cade is introduced to Laura Haddock’s polo playing Professsor of Seemingly Everything at Oxford University Vivian Wembley (happily Haddock is saved the ogling foisted on Fox and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) who turns out to be a descendant of a society of luminaries who have worked over the ages to keep the transformers a secret on Earth: other members include (spot the odd one out) Shakespeare, Mozart, Einstein and Sam Witwicky (to illustrate the point there is a laugh out loud funny shot of LaBeouf).
If you are playing Transformers Bingo, you can tick off military porn, tin-eared exposition, Josh Duhamel as Colonel Thingamy, one dimensional characters, painful banter (there are dialogue exchanges in Yeager’s junkyard that are given the screen time and respect of Dorothy Parker’s roundtable), John Turturro as Agent Whatsisname, sunsets, slow-mo every other shot and a bombastic score. The comedy robot duties this time are carried by Burton’s sociopathic butler Cogman (voiced by Downton’s Jim Carter) who is brazenly described as a “C-3P0 rip-off” and grates very quickly.
This is reputedly Bay’s (as a director at least) last go-round on the series. Few filmmakers work harder to entertain, throwing in drone chases, car chases (through Oxford and London), submarine shenanigans as well as robo-action, all before a third act climax at Stonehenge. ILM’s work remains peerless — Bumblebee re-piecing himself back together again is immaculate — but the effect of a lot of it is deadening. It is amazing how a series with so much nostalgic goodwill, technical finesse and behind the scenes talent have led so often to experiences that are so joyless. Bay has many talents; smart, sharp bouncy summer fun isn’t one of them.