Film Review: Transformers: The Last Knight

It's an all-out war between planets as Michael Bay says farewell to the Transformers franchise with some of the best sustained filmmaking of his career.
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Leaving a franchise he shepherded for a decade, director Michael Bay brings humor, an epic sense of scale and insane filmmaking skills to Transformers: The Last Knight. Loud, derivative and overstuffed, it's also unabashedly silly and incredibly entertaining.

What started as a kids' story with the 2007 Transformers became increasingly rote and bloated as three sequels laid waste to casts and entire cities. The Last Knight unfolds on an even larger canvas, stretching back to the Middle Ages to posit a "secret history" in which Transformers save humanity from Saxons, slavery, Hitler and other ills.

Yes, Transformers have always been here, arriving on a ship that looks like a copyright infringement on Prometheus and unleashing robot dragons controlled by a staff, one that's brandished by Merlin (Stanley Tucci) in an opening battle that is simultaneously nonsensical and riveting.

Transformers have been outlawed on present-day Earth, but aliens keep coming, crashing into China and other sites like Pacific Rim outtakes. Although Optimus Prime has departed, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) has kept the faith, rescuing Transformers from penitentiary settings in Chicago. That's where he meets Izabella (Isabela Moner), a teen orphan who wants to become part of the Transformer family. (She's a lot like Laura in Logan, minus the claws.)

Meanwhile, Optimus is enslaved by evil queen Quintessa (Gemma Chan) on his ruined home planet of Cybertron. Soon the brainwashed Optimus is leading an onslaught that will restore Cybertron by sucking the life out of Earth—just like Star Trek Into Darkness.

Bits and pieces of everything from Arrival to Fast & Furious 6 pop up in The Last Knight, but resistance to Bay is futile. His London car chase is every bit the equal of rival hot-rodders, the King Arthur battle is overpowering, and believe it or not the romantic interludes are light-footed and witty.

It turns out Viviane Wembly (Laura Haddock), a polo-playing Oxford antiquities professor, is key to defeating Quintessa, which is why doddering aristocrat Sir Edmond Burton (Anthony Hopkins) summons her and Cade to his castle outside London. As Burton explains the plot, Viviane and Cade engage in spirited bickering several levels above previous entries in the series.

Bay isn't afraid to poke fun at himself. Cogman (voiced by Jim Carter), Burton's valet, mutters withering asides like Popeye and provides musical accompaniment to make his master's pronouncements more "epic." The character works because Bay consistently delivers the goods, whether it's an Interstellar-style cataclysm or a Da Vinci Code run-through of spurious historical "facts."

So much is going on in The Last Knight that entire subplots are cast aside. Megatron frees some of his most dangerous buddies from prison, then drops out of the story. At one point nuclear missiles are about to be unleashed; in the next moment they're forgotten. A sweaty, jittery Agent Simmons (John Turturro) phones in some meaningless data from Cuba. And there's a romantic sushi dinner aboard a World War II-era submarine.

Don't worry about the plot, which kind of winds up making sense. Or the gung-ho jargon, which Bay goes out of his way to question. Think of The Last Knight as an amusement-park ride, a fever dream of a blockbuster, corporate-financed delirium that occasionally slips into pretention. Love him or hate him, Bay has some of the most formidable filmmaking chops of his generation, all on display here in fabulous native 3D.

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