Transformers: the Last Knight review: “Whirling, metal-crunching mayhem”

Director Michael Bay takes no prisoners in this even more bombastic and complicated entry in the hit sci-fi series

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★★★

Phew, I think I need to lie down! It begins in the Dark Ages with hints of Monty Python and the Holy Grail and ends up at the Stonehenge monument in an “Oh, so that’s why it was built there?” flash of enlightenment.

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In between, Michael Bay, helming his fifth and supposedly final Transformers movie (who shouted “hooray”?), takes you into outer space, back in time to Nazi Germany, outside 10 Downing Street, into every far-flung corner of the globe for another super-sized slice of incomprehensible action and deep down into an ocean abyss to solve the convoluted mystery that lies at the heart of this quite overwhelming spectacle. Nothing seems to have changed in that mind-numbing aspect endemic to this franchise. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Vtf0MszgP8?ecver=2

Bay takes no prisoners as he exits the series (unless of course its a massive success and the end teaser sting translates into another transformation) literally pulverising the spectator into dazed submission.

This isn’t the worst in the series, that’s still Revenge of the Fallen, or the best, which is Dark Side of the Moon, but it sure has the most complicated plot to get to grips with.

Thank heavens for Sir Anthony Hopkins who arrives at just the right juncture to explain it all – well, sort of – so everyone can relax into another elongated finale of whirling, metal-crunching madness, mayhem and manipulation.

Put simply (something the scriptwriters fail to do) Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) has ended up back on Cybertron, the Transformers home planet. There he’s turned into evil Nemesis Prime by ruler Quintessa (voiced by Gemma Chan) and charged with returning to Earth to obtain a mystical staff buried with Merlin the Magician (Stanley Tucci).

Yes, drunken Merlin was real, so was King Arthur – his Round Table was an alien metal disc – and covert Transformers have played their part in every major and legendary upheaval in Earth’s history.

Why? Because Earth is really malevolent cosmic entity Unicron in disguise, ready to become the Transformers’ nominated safe haven when Cybertron collapses and dies.

Which is happening now, and that’s why the good Transformers’ friend, inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Whalberg), is chosen to be the Last Knight needed to help Oxford University Professor Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock), Merlin’s descendant, find the staff talisman before bad guy Megatron (voiced by Frank Welker) and his band of Decepticons do. 

Sir Edmund Burton (Hopkins) is the keeper of the Transformers family tree and the one who brings Cade and Vivian together and points them in the direction of how to save the world from total annihilation.

Quite what returning Agent Simmons (John Turturro) is actually up to in Cuba or what street kid Izabella (Isabela Moner) and her robot sidekick Sqweeks have to do with the over-stuffed proceedings is anybody’s guess.

Superfluous to requirements would be the correct answer but with so much going on in a flurry of different tangents – blink and you’ll miss X-Files regular Mitch Pileggi as a TRF (Transformers Reaction Force) group leader – you can’t concentrate on one single detail for a second as the overdriven action zips by. 

When he’s on screen and clearly having a ball – with dialogue that includes “What a bitchin’ car she is!” – Hopkins also brings a much-needed aristocratic gravitas to the scattershot logic.

And while the pairing of Whalberg’s rough-and-ready hero with posh fish-out-of-water English Rose Haddock must have looked good on paper, they generate zero chemistry together, and the much hinted at post-credits romance feels a non-starter.

By far the wittiest and funniest character in the exhausting mess is Sir Edmund’s robot butler, Cogman. Voiced by Jim Carter, this C3PO’d “headmaster” (a Transformer fused with organic life, do keep up!) with anger-management issues is virtually the actor’s Carson character from Downtown Abbey in sleek Aston Martin disguise.

Someone somewhere knows their stiff-upper-lip stuff, and Cogman supplying background music at certain key dramatic junctures is the one joke that works in the litany of failed comic relief – hang your head in shame Cade’s buddy Jimmy (Jerrod Carmichael).  

But no one goes to see a Transformers movie looking for story subtlety. Perhaps that’s been the main problem all along.

The technically astounding, bombastic set-piece sprawl continues in Bay’s overkill format where he doesn’t seem to be directing as much as marshalling cinematic manoeuvres.

A pyrotechnic display from Bumblebee (Erik Aadahl) kicks off the action in high style and the frenetic hyperkinesis continues relentlessly through junkyard wipe-outs, frantic driverless car chases, drone-hopping acrobatics, titanic underwater odysseys, extravagant Autobot face-offs and abstract, Escher-type dimensional battles. 

Add bodies exploding everywhere in artful slow-motion and the painterly sight of horn-shaped intergalactic spacecraft jutting through the Namibian and Jordanian deserts and you still won’t have a clue about how completely over-the-top this movie is.

The Last Knight is all too much, yet not nearly enough to count as fun entertainment in anybody’s blockbuster lexicon. It may not be an easy watch, but the awesome visual benefits will keep you in your seat.

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Transformers: the Last Knight is released in cinemas on Thursday 22 June