New “Transformers” feels like Michael Bay made it on a dare

Justin Jones

Michael Bay has made good movies in the past. “Bad Boys,” “The Rock” and even the first “Transformers” are fun, visually appealing and competently told. His newest addition to the Transformers series is none of those.

“Transformers: The Last Knight” takes two hours to get to the series’ trademark large-scale robot battles and gives hero Optimus Prime roughly 15 minutes of screen time. Though not without enjoyable moments, the entire film is a test of patience that should be forced on no one.

The film opens in the dark ages, as King Arthur (Liam Garrigan) — yes, that King Arthur — fights a losing battle against an invading enemy’s forces. Just as it seems they might lose, Merlin (Stanley Tucci) awakens an ancient Transformer and summons a robot dragon that saves the day.

Fast forward a few thousand years to Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), a Texan who resembles Texans in neither stereotype nor reality. He lives in a secret junkyard of Transformers, keeping them safe from a government that has outlawed all Transformers. The motley crew of robots around him include the voiceless Bumblebee, Daytrader (Steve Buscemi), Hound (John Goodman), Drift (Ken Watanabe) and some dinosaurs.

Just the initial setup raises many questions — what does it mean to “outlaw” Transformers, a living race of aliens? Why does Tucci, who was in “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” play two different characters in the same series? Why is nearly the entire cast of “The Big Lebowski” here?

From here, the film spins entirely out of control. An englishman, Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) brings Yeager together with Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock) so he can provide 30 minutes straight of exposition. The plot begins to resemble “The Da Vinci Code,” as it turns out Merlin left a magical staff behind, and only one of his descendants can wield it.

In an extremely odd choice, Bay incorporates Shia LaBeouf’s character from the first three Transformers films in “The Last Knight.” Though LaBeouf does not appear in person, it implies he was in Merlin’s line of ancestors and died offscreen. The film even uses his character’s name, Witwicky, as the namesake of the secret order — the Witwiccans.

Predictably, Wembley is the last remaining ancestor and therefore this film’s “chosen one,” but Bay doesn’t stop there. Wahlberg’s character is also a “chosen one,” the only person able to wield Excalibur, King Arthur’s sword. This plot point makes very little sense and is given much explanation that still makes nothing clear.

Though entirely unhelpful, Burton’s extended explanation of the plot is one of the film’s best moments. Hopkins remains one of the best actors working today and really devotes himself to the movie. Playing a quirky old British man who will sometimes say “dude,” he’s a delight to watch and makes a groan-inducing script into something bearable.

However, Hopkins’ screentime is shortlived, and we’re left behind with his annoying robot butler Cogman (Jim Carter) to assist Yeager and Wembley’s journey. At this point, almost two hours into the movie, very little has happened. Most of the scenes with Transformers consisted of discussion rather than action, and outside of maybe five minutes of screen time, Optimus Prime remains absent.

Thankfully, the movie picks up in the last 30 minutes or so, as Prime returns to the series and Bay returns to action filmmaking. There is a particularly wonderful moment involving Prime slashing a horde of mindless enemies and delivering a cheap one-liner, the type of moment that should define this movie instead of being an outlier.

“Transformers: The Last Knight” is difficult to recommend to anyone outside of diehard series fans and people who do not have enough money for Ambien. Those looking for mindless, enjoyable action should seek out this year’s “xXx: The Return of Xander Cage” or “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,” and those looking for intelligent action filmmaking should eagerly anticipate next week’s “Baby Driver.”
“Transformers: The Last Knight”
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 149 minutes
Score: 0.5/5 stars