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Mark Wahlberg
Mark Wahlberg
Paramount Pictures
 149 Minutes
Rated: PG-13
Directed by: Michael Bay
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins 
Transformers: The Last Knight

Later this year, Anthony Hopkins will play King Lear in an all-star BBC production of the Shakespearean tragedy that is already shaping up to be a classic. I mention this fact because Hopkins is currently on display in about as un-Shakespearean and non-classic a production as possible, Michael Bay’s Transformers: The Last Knight, an effort for which he is probably making substantially more than he will garner for playing Lear. If films like Transformers: The Last Knight, are the price we have to pay for another glimpse of Hopkins at his best, then so be it. And, having said that, I’ve just about exhausted all the compliments I can toss at this latest Transformers project.


Unlike many braindead summer action films that are completely lacking in plot, this latest Transformers film has enough for about three movies, none of them any good. It starts with a puzzling prologue in the days of King Arthur, when a group of Transformers (who have apparently been on this planet for far longer than that) make a deal with Merlin (a nearly unrecognizable Stanley Tucci) to defeat the invading barbarians and allow Arthur to form the Round Table. The Transformers gives Merlin a magic staff that somehow gets lots for the next 1500 years or so.


Fast forward to the present day, and that staff (better known as McGuffin #1) is the last item needed by the evil Quintessa (voiced by Gemma Chan), ruler of the Transformers’ home planet of Cybertron, who wants to restore her home to its former glory by using the staff to drain the Earth of its vital essence and thereby rejuvenate Cybertron. She enlists the help of Megatron, the head Decepticon (the evil robots who are the arch enemies of the good guy Autobots) to locate and steal the staff. Quintessa has an ace in the hole as well. In a plot twist straight out of the last Fast and Furious movie she has brainwashed the Autobots’ leader, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) into helping her.


Fortunately for the inhabitants of Earth, the rest of the Autobots, who have been in hiding since being outlawed by the various Earth governments after trashing half the planet in the last Transformers film, join up with Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), their human buddy, to try to stop the Decepticons. More fortunately, Cade finds an ancient Autobot amulet (McGuffin #2) that bonds itself to his body, signifying that he is the chosen one needed to carry out the final mission. Even more fortunately, Cade runs into Sir Edmund Burton (Hopkins), one of the last members of a centuries-old secret society dedicated to helping the Transformers, and whose past members have included Shakespeare, Mozart, Harriet Tubman, and Stephen Hawking. Burton’s knowledge and lineage enable him to deliver the enormous amount of ridiculous backstory the plot requires in a manner that manages to be convincingly authoritative and mildly amusing.


In order to find the staff, Yeager has to go to Merlin’s tomb, which is located at the bottom of the ocean, a task that requires Yeager to commandeer a vintage submarine which Burton has procured for the voyage. Yeager is accompanied on his mission by historian Viviane Wembly (Laura Haddock), who, during the first hour of the movie consistently pooh poohs the existence of King Arthur, Merlin, and friends. However, she eventually changes her tune when Burton informs her that she is a descendant of Merlin, and that only descendants of the wizard can wield his staff.


It actually took the efforts of four different screenwriters to come up with this overly elaborate nonsense, the only purpose of which seems to be to occupy the thirty minutes or so of screen time between the various seemingly unending and virtually indistinguishable set pieces. There are about four different types of giant robots lumbering around in Last Knight and at various times blasting and smashing each other and the various soldiers and civilians that get in their way. It soon becomes almost impossible to tell the various Transformers apart, so the audience is reduced to attempting to enjoy the spectacle on a visceral level, much like watching a wildlife documentary video of animals fighting to the death. I might add, that unlike animals fighting to the death, the robots in these many battles seem to have the ability to take a licking and keep on ticking, so they rarely suffer any permanent damage.


However, watching set piece after set piece soon becomes boring, and, with the sound effects cranked up to eleven, acutely annoying. Despite having directed all five of the Transformer films, director Michael Bay still doesn’t have a feel for this material. We see robots or other metallic structures keep getting blasted to bits (invariably in slow motion) and reformulating almost immediately, while humans get knocked around and blown considerable distances in explosions, also without evident injury. The ability of the various Transformers to regenerate (and almost all of the humans to avoid serious injury) robs Last Knight of any emotional impact, while the wholesale confusion and random nature of the violence makes these set pieces almost impossible to follow. Indeed, despite the overall decent (and obviously expensive) CGI, the overall effect of watching The Last Knight is the equivalent of spending two hours at a demolition derby where Anthony Hopkins performs at intermission.


Hopkins is, in fact, what little saving grace there is in Last Knight. I get the distinct feeling that director Bay pretty much turned him loose to handle his lines any way he saw fit, and his mix of gravity and bemusement when mouthing utter pretentious nonsense makes his scenes mildly entertaining. He gets good support from Downton Abbey’s Jim Carter, appropriately providing the vocals for Hopkins’ robot butler, who is equally good at dispensing dry, deadpan wit. The same cannot be said for some other quality talent, both voice actors and live action, including the aforementioned Tucci, as well as John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Ken Watanabe, and John Turturro. Transformers: The Last Knight has the distinct air of a paycheck project for them, not to mention star Wahlberg who seems worn out by the effort of battling green screen CGI robots for two movies.


Worn out is probably the best way to describe the entire Transformers franchise. Originally a mildly entertaining, if overblown, method of bringing some vintage children’s toys to the big screen, it has now become far too ponderous and overwrought for its own good. Plus, the franchise is in the hands of a director not known for finding ways to lighten up material and also not known for streamlining movies. Thus, Last Knight lumbers on for well over two hours, eventually transforming much of its audience into empty seats. Last Knight deserves to be the last hurrah for this franchise.

In this scene, Anthony Hopkins brings Mark Wahlberg to his castle to explain the history of the Transformers.

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Transformers: The Last Knight (2017) on IMDb