It will come as no surprise if audiences no longer give a damn about another bombastic Transformers movie, especially now that it seems director Michael Bay no longer does.
It’s not evident at first, but as the 149-minute slog of giant CGI robots pounding the holy bejeezus out of each other again starts to drag on a creeping sensation sets in. At first there’s the impression that Bay has mellowed with age: The action is less Saving Private Ryan-on-crank, the camera work is less swoopy, the music doesn’t swell as much, the editing is a little more chill, and the explosions aren’t as explody. But then a realization hits — the plot is more incoherent than ever and the characters are even flatter than usual — and it becomes clear that Bay’s heart just isn’t in this crap anymore, and that does not bode well for a shallow franchise that he somehow turned into a global box office juggernaut.
The story is a busy, unnecessarily convoluted mishmash of tangled plot lines that picks up a couple of years after the events of Age of Extinction — well, after a clunky prologue set in sixth-century England in which Merlin (Stanley Tucci) beseeches a hidden order of robotic knights (possibly the first Transformers to arrive on Earth) to aid King Arthur in a desperate battle against an invading army.
After being treated to Michael Bay’s Excalibur (which still better than Guy Ritchie’s recent King Arthur: Legend of the Sword), we fast forward to the present day. Optimus Prime (voiced again by Peter Cullen) has gone walkabout in outer space in a bid to locate the Transformers’ home world of Cybertron and meet his maker. She turns out to be a sinister self-styled robo-goddess called Quintessa (voice of Gemma Chan), who in no short order corrupts Prime and declares her desire to rebuild Cybertron by consuming the Earth, which has apparently been the hiding place of her nemesis, Unicron.
Meanwhile, on Earth, the Transformers are being hunted by a shady paramilitary force called the TRF, regardless of their moral alignment. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) maintains a secret Autobot refuge of sorts in the Montana badlands. The TRF makes a deal with Megatron (voice of Frank Welker) to release a few Decepticons in exchange for help with capturing Yeager and his allies. A separate branch of the armed forces led by Col. Lennox (Josh Duhamel) wants to work with Cade in retrieving a pseudo-magical staff that is the key to Quintessa’s plan. An eccentric British nobleman, Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins — no, seriously) wants to lead Yeager and sexy historian Viviane Wembly (Laura Haddock) to the staff and also their true destinies. Or something.
Bay’s never really shown much interest in character or plot development, but this time around he doesn’t even bother to fake his way through it. The plot commits the cardinal sin of looking too far down the road to the planned sequel instead of first doing what it takes to get there. The characters barely register. Yeager is even more generic than in the previous movie, and this time out he’s saddled with a Chosen One plot that doesn’t fit and a tween moppet (Isabela Moner) substitute for the college-bound daughter he had in Age of Extinction. Wembly is the umpteenth version of Bay’s particular style of eye candy masquerading as an empowered woman, and Jerrod Carmichael’s role as comedic relief is dead on arrival. Even the robots seem bored with having to do the same old shit again. Only Hopkins comes through this ordeal unscathed, and that’s because he’s the supremely talented Sir Anthony Freaking Hopkins.
Will this be the movie that kills the franchise? Doubtful. The previous four have pulled in a combined $3.8 billion to date, most of that coming from the last two. It will be interesting to see how well Last Knight does in comparison. Either way, Bay has stated that this is his last, which is a good thing — the series may finally get the creativity oil change it’s been needing.