“This is what the end looks like.”
Certificate 12A 149 mins
Director Michael Bay
Cade Yeager Mark Wahlberg
Sir Edmund Burton Anthony Hopkins
Colonel William Lennox Josh Duhamel
Vivian Wembley Laura Haddock
Santos Santiago Cabrera
Izabella Isabela Moner
Jimmy Jerrod Carmichael
Merlin Stanley Tucci
Arthur Liam Garrigan
Lancelot Martin McCreadie
Percival Rob Witcomb
Gawain Marcus Fraser
Tristan John Hollingworth
[1.86 : 1]
In 2D and 3D
That line comes in the opening sequence of Transformers: The Last Knight, as men in armour fight a ferocious battle in a field in England, sometime in the Dark Ages. As King Arthur’s small band is overwhelmed by enemy forces, a drunken Merlin (Stanley Tucci) rides in with an alien staff and a fire-breathing dragon formed of fallen Transformer knights.
As bonkers openings go, this is typical for the Hasbro toy-based franchise. After all, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) featured a prologue set in 17,000 BC, while Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) began in the Cretaceous period. Now director Michael Bay is merely proving that Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is not the only big-budget daftfest of 2017. Arthur lives to fight another day, so ‘the end’ here is in fact merely a turning point in the history of human-Transformer relations – which will become relevant in the rest of the film’s more contemporary Bayhem.
The Last Knight, however, is the end – not of the franchise itself, whose continuity, reforged in a mid-credits coda, is already planned in further sequels and spin-offs, but rather, according to Bay himself, of the director’s involvement in the franchise. If this really is Bay’s last Transformers film, he clearly plans to finish as he started, with a confusing, apocalyptic battle involving Earthlings and alien ‘robots in disguise’, in a climax that loudly echoes his four previous instalments.
The Last Knight is also an end of sorts to cinema. A brash, often incoherent and relentlessly dull postmodern hodgepodge of images and ideas pilfered from other epics (from Arthurian legend to Star Wars) and even more nonsensical connect-the-dots plotting, the film regularly blows stuff up in an explosion (or seven) of overwhelming effects, while dumbing down the exposition at every turn – even, at one point, having a scientist describe the end of the world via a popcorn analogy seemingly readymade to be noisily swallowed by the film’s ideal audience. There are three macguffins – a talisman, a staff and a book – the last of which is there purely to let John Turturro literally phone in his performance as recurring character Seymour Simmons. The only real novelty is a contingent of English stereotypes, from preserver of secret histories Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) to his sociopathic, expressly C3PO-like robot butler Cogman (Jim Carter) and Oxford Arthurian scholar Vivian Wembly (Laura Haddock).
If the film is concerned with destruction on a global, nay interplanetary scale, it nonetheless resorts constantly to a puerile mode of ‘grounded’ humour that always feels tonally misjudged and is seldom actually funny. The result is an exhausting distillation of everything that can possibly go wrong with a blockbuster, and will no doubt make a mint. Still, once you have seen what the end looks like, you will only wish it had come sooner.