England. The Dark Ages. The opening prologue to Transformers: The Last Knight might briefly convince you that Part 5 is going to serve up something very different. But before long, the MacGuffin is established and the robotic parts are mechanically stomping along to exactly the same template as ever. So while fans are likely to rejoice over the explosively staged Bayhem and impressively CGI-ed behemoths, five films in there’s little to convert anyone not already committed to the franchise’s trademark brash and brawny style.
Adhering so closely to formula means that, like previous films, it starts strongly, before the regular problems become apparent. The aforementioned prologue shows what a medieval Michael Bay movie might look like (pretty awesome, actually), as King Arthur, Lancelot and their armies face down a legion of non-specific barbarian invaders before a Transformer intervenes. It’s a fun sequence that establishes a mystical staff as this film’s sought-after, all-powerful artefact.
Jump forward 1,600 years, and robot-sympathiser Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) is living off the grid, providing a refuge of sorts for wandering Autobots (good Transformers), as the war between flesh and metal rages on. Cade picks up a spirited sidekick in the form of Izabella (Isabella Moner), but she disappears for the most of the film, a victim of the film’s too-dense call sheet.
During one of many inventively shot skirmishes with the Decepticons (bad Transformers), Cade is gifted a talisman that brings him to the attention of Anthony Hopkins’ eccentric English lord, and his robot butler, Cogman. It takes a while to learn how Laura Haddock’s Oxford professor fits in, but given the film’s bladder-straining length, there’s plenty of time for her to become crucial to the plot’s complicated mythology.
As the unconvincing ‘chosen one’ stuff is playing out, a corrupted Optimus Prime sets out to do something unthinkable to save his homeworld, and Megatron reassembles his Decepticon crew, Suicide Squad (opens in new tab)-style, in a fun but illogical sequence that flaunts the series’ disregard for internal rules.
True to form, TLK sidelines its robo-protagonists to put the far less interesting humans up front. Stanley Tucci (one of Age of Extinction (opens in new tab)’s saving graces) thankfully returns in a brief alternative role, bringing a much-needed injection of funny that’s a breath of fresh air compared to the rest of the mostly mean-spirited humour.
The Transformers films have always been critic-proof, and TLK is unlikely to be any different. But for everyone not entirely sold on the concept, it’s something of an endurance test, tacking on another climactic set-piece just as it feels like it should be drawing to a natural conclusion.
A generous trim of the flabby middle act would’ve helped the pace, but better yet would’ve been to shift the focus on to the robots, and particularly their historical counterparts, which would’ve provided a welcome respite from the same-iness of this entry. But judging from a reveal in the credits sequence, we’re in for more of the same all over again.