‘Transformers: The Last Knight’ opens in medieval England, with Merlin seeking aid from the mysterious Knights of Cybertron to defeat a barbarian horde. Eventually, the dulcet tones of Anthony Hopkins’ narration kicks in. “Magic was found long ago... inside a crashed alien ship,” he informs us. Along with an Academy Award, Hopkins has won three BAFTA Awards, two Emmys, and the Cecil B. DeMille Award. Not since Morgan Freeman narrated Marcus Nispel’s ‘Conan the Barbarian’ (2011) have I cringed so fucking hard upon recognising the voice of a legendary actor collecting a pay cheque for a lousy film.
After some bullshit about a magic staff and a three-headed robot dragon saving England, the film cuts to the present. We are reunited with Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen), left frozen and floating in space after the events of ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’. In his absence, a war has commenced between the human government’s Transformers Reaction Force and the Transformers.
To save their world, inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg, ‘Deepwater Horizon’, ‘Patriots Day’) and his Autobot chums form an alliance with astronomer Sir Edmond Burton (Anthony Hopkins, ‘The Silence of the Lambs’, ‘The Remains of the Day’), and a smoking-hot Oxford University professor named Viviane Wembley (Laura Haddock, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2’) to learn the secrets of why the Transformers keep coming back to Earth or whatever. As Hopkins says to Wahlberg: “But you want to know, don’t you, duuuude?”
As it turns out, Transformers have been with us all along, involved in everything from the civil rights movement to World War II. We get to see Bumblebee massacring Germans in a scene shot at Blenheim Palace in England, home of British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, the mansion dressed as a Nazi swastika-draped headquarters. We even briefly get to meet the transforming pocket watch that killed Hitler!
Oh yeah, there is a female baddie, Quintessa, a Cybertronian sorceress (?) who created the Transformers. She wants to destroy Earth and turn it into the new Cybertron. Fan favourite Hot Rod is here, too! As Sir Anthony Hopkins (knighted by Queen Elizabeth II for services to the arts) observes, Hot Rod is “a bitchin’ car”.
Films like ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’ aren’t worth the time spent on critical analysis. They make tons of money from audiences who justify attendance with reasoning like “I just want to switch my brain off”. The veteran actors know they don’t need to try too hard because this audience only wants to see explosions, huge edifices crashing down, toned bodies and big showers of sparks. Director Michael Bay has even less respect for this audience but girds himself against criticism by saying his films are “made for the fans”. The only people putting in any effort are the young actors for whom these mega-budget, high-profile projects represent a career break.
Three writers just to write dialogue like “I’ll suck your brains out” for characters with names like Berserker.
Also, these films are fucking long (‘Transformers: The Last Knight’ clocks in at around two and a half hours) because people who brag about switching their brain off equate the running time of a film with value for money. For those of us who don’t, these films are the equivalent of The Ludovico Technique from Stanley Kubrick’s ‘A Clockwork Orange’ – a mind-scrambling assault on the senses, minus the benefit of specula to force our eyes open, that will leave us nauseated and trembling.
‘Transformers: The Last Knight’ is so noisy and visually busy, with an achingly simplistic storyline, that children might appreciate it. But then parents would have to ignore the swearing (dickhead, bitch, etc) and innuendo-laced dialogue. There is also the familiar hyper-sexualisation of the female characters, like a young boy ogling a sweaty 14-year old street-wise girl and Wahlberg noting that a Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford “dresses like a stripper”.
A tell-tale sign of a rotten film is having many credited writers, indicating that the script has been thrown around until it has taken on a vague and ominous shape. This film has three credited screenwriters and four story credits. Three writers just to write dialogue like “I’ll suck your brains out!” for characters with names like Berserker. Has there ever been a screenwriter with more shitty film credits and an Academy Award on his filmography than Akiva Goldsman?
On the upside, Michael Bay and Mark Wahlberg have indicated that ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’ is their farewell to the franchise based on the Hasbro toy sensation. Maybe, with fresh creative blood, the upcoming Bumblebee spin-off set in the 1980s and the Transformers film set in ancient Rome have a chance of being less of an atrocity?
Probably not, though.