In real life, Stonehenge can be found amid gently rolling green hills full of grazing sheep. There’s a small museum and a teashop nearby and tourists file dutifully under the highway to the path that will take them to the ancient stone circle, murmuring in appreciation and taking their holiday snaps. It’s all very genteel and British.
In a Michael Bay movie, Stonehenge gets a planet dropped on top of it.
Oh, and that’s while giant robots and fighter jets clang and explode together in the sky overhead, an alien robot race arriving on Earth to drain all our energy so their planet can survive while the hunky, shaggy haired hero and hot girl sidekick tumble and scramble their way to a magical staff given to the knights of the round table by the first Transformers on Earth so they could smite their enemies. And that’s just the climax. Does your head hurt yet?
If you go to a Michael Bay movie and complain about the noise, the big, dumb action, the explosions and the overstuffed plot that races past you too quick to make any sense, it’s like going to a strip club and complaining about all the naked boobs. “Transformers: The Last Knight” does exactly what it says on the tin.
After ten years of the franchise so far, it’s hard to remember which enormous, globe-beating set piece came from each movie, but Bay’s consistently one-upped himself every time, and one wonders how much bigger he can go than the reforming planet of Cybertron (home to the Transformers) colliding with Earth in a sequence that looks startlingly realistic even while giving you whiplash. Say what you want about Bay, he knows how to compose a frame and create an indelible image.
It’s the continuing story of Cade Yaeger (Mark Wahlberg), now a fugitive from justice and who apparently makes a living driving all over America rescuing Autobots before a nasty military unit finds them and wipes them out, taking them back to his desert junkyard to live out peaceful lives.
When some kids break into the ruins of a Chicago stadium – the city apparently a quarantine zone after the climatic battle of a few movies back – they meet street urchin Izabella (Isabella Moner) inside, who leads them away from the attacking grunts when they zero in on her Transformer friend.
Cade swoops in, rescues everybody and takes the now-alone Izabella back to the scrap ranch, but not before a seemingly ancient Transformer gives him a metal disc, saying something about a knight.
Somehow Lennox (Josh Duhamel) is involved, but he and his mainstream military unit are enemies of the Transformer hunters. We also meet an English professor of philosophy and history, but this being a Michael Bay movie it’s not a musty old man in a tweed jacket with a pipe but a hot young supermodel (Laura Haddock), so implausible the movie itself pokes fun at the idea when a character comments on her ‘stripper dress’.
Then there’s the doddery but plain speaking old Earl (Anthony Hopkins) who lives in a castle, has an abrasive Transformer helper and knows more about the history of the Transformers’ presence on Earth than anyone. Also there’s the matter of Optimus Prime finding Cybertron, now in ruins, and deciding for some reason to turn evil and restore his home by destroying Esrth. And there’s also…
You get the idea. The plot is as overstuffed as the visuals, and if you’re not paying incredibly close attention you’ll be lost after the first half hour.
If you don’t like Bay movies “The Last Knight” not only won’t change your mind, it’s everything you hate about his signature style turned up to eleventy hundred. But if you don’t have a principled stance of hatred for him like a lot of critics and cineastes do there’s some pleasures in Transformers: The Last Knight. The visuals, while bordering on incoherent, are expertly staged, and all the digital characters and sets are given real weight and interaction with their environments.
But there’s something else probably nobody will comment on but which is a distinct pleasure for its own sake. For the last 15 years or more Anthony Hopkins has had one job on screen in movies like Thor, Noah, Alexander, Beowulf and The Wolfman – to play the eminent, regal senior figure who shows up here and there and delivers exposition in poetic tones whilst dressed in a silly costume.
In “Transformers, The Last Knight”, he looks like he’s having the most fun he’s ever had, a serious but batty old professor type whose occasional exclamations of anger and profanity stop everything around him (and the whole movie, in a good way) in its tracks.
But it might be too late for Hopkins, Bay and everyone else – with very soft early tracking in North America, audiences might finally be getting as tired of Bay’s earth-shattering ways as critics are. Of course, with the recent establishment of a “Transformers” brains trust led by screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, at least two more films are in planning and after hoovering up the usual billion or so in China, we won’t see the end of Optimus, Bumblebee or Megatron for a long time yet.