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Less than meets the eye – ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’

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Fifth installment in franchise lives up (or down) to expectations

It has become almost cliché to rail against the many failings of Michael Bay’s “Transformers” movies. Yes, he is the easiest answer to the question “What would you get if you threw nine-figure budgets at a B-movie director?” But let’s get real – just how high a standard should we have for movies starring giant robots that are based on bad 1980s cartoon shows that were themselves little more than glorified toy commercials?

Not that high – but higher than this.

“Transformers: The Last Knight” is the fifth installment in the increasingly-inane franchise, continuing the steady downward spiral of the series. Abandoning all pretense of narrative cohesion or continuity, this latest entry is content to simply offer clunky jokes and explosions and assume you either won’t notice or won’t care about its many, many flaws.

So it turns out that there were Transformers around all the way back in the Dark Ages. Apparently, the Knights of the Round Table – you know, King Arthur, Lancelot, Merlin and all that business – were assisted in repelling the invading hordes by a bunch of Transformers that, well, transformed into a three-headed dragon and saved the day.

Yes, really.

Anyway, in the present, Transformers are considered enemies and are hunted by government forces. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg, “Patriots Day”) is one of the few humans who still believe that there’s a difference between the Autobots and the evil Decepticons; he and his intern Jimmy (Jerrod Carmichael, TV’s “The Carmichael Show”) run a sort of Transformers refuge in the badlands of South Dakota.

His work leads to an inadvertent connection with a young girl named Izabella (Isabela Moner, “Legends of the Hidden Temple”); she lost her family and has devoted her talents to helping Transformers however she can.

Meanwhile, Optimus Prime is floating in space and winds up back on Cybertron, where he finally encounters the being that claims to be his creator. She then tells him that Earth is actually called Unicron and that for Cybertron to live again, Unicron must die.

Oh, and it turns out that there’s an ancient order that has been guarding the secret history of the Transformers for centuries. The last scion of that order is Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins, “Collide”); according to him and his robot butler Cogman (Jim Carter, TV’s “Downton Abbey”), the only hope is Cade, who has been selected as the Chosen One for some reason.

There’s also a historian named Viviane Wembley (Laura Haddock, TV’s “The Level”) who also happens to be the direct blood descendent of Merlin which is important because of reasons far too outlandish to go into. Other familiar faces include Josh Duhamel, John Turturro and Tony Hale; familiar voices such as John Goodman, Steve Buscemi and Ken Watanabe also turn up.

So yeah – inventor Mark Wahlberg, slumming Anthony Hopkins and Merlin-related historian have to team up with the Autobots and some of the government forces who kind of believe that some Transformers are OK in an effort to prevent Earth from being destroyed.

Or whatever.

“Transformers: The Last Knight” is an incoherent mess. It pays close attention to established canon until it decides it doesn’t want to and just ignores it. Things happen for reasons that don’t make any sense even after the film spends significant time explaining them. The mind-numbing 150-minute runtime is mostly spent on nonsense, with key developments glossed over or skipped entirely.

Wahlberg as a scientist is as laughable as ever; his default look of “mildly stunned” doesn’t play as well when you’re supposed to be the smart guy in the room. Anthony Hopkins has clearly embraced the notion of using his considerable reputation to cash even more considerable checks; he can barely contain his amusement at how stupid this all is. Beach houses aren’t cheap. Haddock has the thankless job of trying to look convinced of Wahlberg’s heroism. Carmichael and Moner are fine, but there’s no actual narrative need for either of them to even be in this movie. Duhamel, Turturro, Hale – all spouting varying degrees of nonsense, but you can’t fault them for wanting to get paid.

Perhaps no summer blockbuster franchise so perfectly inverts the rules laid forth in Aristotle’s “Poetics” as this one does (though many have tried). With spectacle firmly ensconced as the foremost priority and little things like character and plot left to litter the very bottom of the list, Michael Bay has crafted an exquisite antithesis to all that the ancient philosopher-dramatists held dear.

But hey – at least a lot of stuff blows up. And make no mistake, you can cram a TON of explosions into two-and-a-half hours.

“Transformers: The Last Knight” isn’t good. It’s absurd and ridiculous even for a film based on an animated toy commercial. But Michael Bay stopped caring about concepts like “good” and “bad” over a decade ago. He doesn’t care if this movie is good because he knows that people all over the world are going to see it anyway. Good doesn’t matter anymore.

You’d like to think that cratering quality would be enough to bring this series to an end, but the franchise will undoubtedly keep right on trucking.

[1 out of 5]

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