Bad, bad fun

Transformers: The Last Knight, the fifth instalment in Michael Bay’s film franchise, is just bad. It’s as simple as that. In the spirit of absolute fairness, however, I must admit that it is also probably the most fun I’ve had with the franchise in years.

It’s definitely as random and stupid as ever, with a schizophrenic plot that seems to only be interested in shunting audiences from one set-piece to another, but there is also a palpable attempt by Bay and Co to present a more cohesive story and pacing, giving the film some initial momentum in the first half.

But alas, by the time the third act roles around, the film devolves into yet another barely-coherent slug fest between the titular robots, before wrapping itself up in the same lazy, uninspired ending found in every single Transformer film before it.

The film opens on a familiar note, suggesting that the Transformers have actually been on Earth far longer than most imagine and have had a hand in the making of human history.

This time, it’s during the period of King Arthur, who as it turns out got a little help from a three-headed-dragon Transformer (which is made up of 12 individual Transformers combined) in driving away the invading Saxons. Merlin, who is actually a drunk con-man, is bestowed a Transformer relic that looks like a staff, which turns out to be capable of draining Earth’s energy to restore Cybertron, the Transformers planet.

Fast forward to the modern day, where we are reunited with Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), who is now living with a small group of Autobots in a junkyard, hiding from the TRF (Transformers Reaction Force), a military unit tasked with rounding up all Transformers, good and bad.

He learns via Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) of the staff, who as it turns out is the last member of a secret society that studies the Transformers through history.

He says that the staff can only be wielded by a member of Merlin’s bloodline, the last surviving member being history professor Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock). The three (along with their posse of Transformers disguised as very expensive cars) then race against the Decepticons, as well as a mind-controlled Optimus Prime (it’s complicated) in order to find the staff and save the world.

First off, let me say that a film about good robots slugging it out with bad robots has no business being almost 150 minutes long, which leads into the film’s first glaring issue: there is simply too much going on for no apparent reason.

Story threads like the talisman given to Cade by that dying knight (how the heck did he get there, since the knights are supposed to all be buried under the sea?), Izzy (Isabela Moner) and Squeak or even the entire hubbub about Merlin’s bloodline itself ultimately amounts to nothing as the film goes on.

There are so many logical inconsistencies in the story it’s actually laughable (I actually laughed out loud). We get told multiple times how valuable and crucial Cade’s talisman is, but all it does in the story is turn into a sword once, as well as create some sexual tension between Cade and Vivian in a submarine (again, it’s complicated).

Over the course of the story, we’re reminded again and again how crucial Vivian is, being Merlin’s bloodline, as she is the only one who can wield the staff. That turns out to not matter at all. Meanwhile Izzy, the girl mechanic Cade took under his wing, is treated like she could turn out to be an important character, and then disappears for a good hour-and-a-half, before coming back and doing pretty much nothing, begging the question of why include her at all besides adding another pretty face to the film.

Her beat-up robot buddy Squeak (who looks like the product of the union between Wall-E and an electric scooter) ends up getting one good shot in, but can ultimately be replaced by literally any Autobot or even human soldier already in the film.

Meanwhile, Optimus Prime takes a page out of Batman’s book in Batman V Superman, pretty much making a one-eighty change of heart (and goes right back to acting like he didn’t just try to kill all his friends) pretty much immediately and without explanation.

It helps that the Transformers — and CGI — are mostly fun to watch, even if they do all start to look the same in the heat of action. Transformers still jump back and forth between robot and car form as elegantly as ever, and the fight choreography — while loud and chaotic — can have it’s good moments, especially during the Bumblebee and Optimus battle so heavily advertised.

While decent performances from Hopkins (watchable as ever) and Haddock do add some enjoyable moments to the film, they ultimately can’t hold up the entire film alone. Supporting cast members like Burton’s hilariously schizophrenic Transformer butler Cogman (voiced by Jim Carter) are often under-utilised and end up feeling like unnecessary characters in the overall plot.

Transformers: The Last Knight may have been the most enjoyable Transformers film in years, but that’s a low, low bar, and it certainly doesn’t put it on a level to be called anything but bad.

Transformers: The Last Knight Starring Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Duhamel  Directed by Michael Bay