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'Transformers: The Last Knight' collapses into another incoherent CGI-heavy mess
Mohawk in Transformers: The Last Knight." - photo by Josh Terry
TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT 2 stars Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Duhamel, Laura Haddock, Isabela Moner; PG-13 (violence and intense sequences of sci-fi action, language and some innuendo); in general release

Five movies in, youve probably already made up your mind about Michael Bays Transformers franchise. The battle lines were drawn long, long ago, and Transformers: The Last Knight isnt going to change them now. Applying a laundry list of criticisms to Bays latest two-and-a-half hour symphony of CGI mayhem feels almost beside the point, if not an exercise in futility.

Then again, a little futility never hurt anyone. The Last Knight once again pits the good alien robots (Autobots) vs. the bad alien robots (Decepticons) over a magic MacGuffin. This time the key to the universe is a powerful staff that ancient Transformers gave to the wizard Merlin (a Medieval Stanley Tucci) back in the Dark Ages. (In the Transformers universe, the 50-foot robots have been intimately involved in human history for centuries they even fought Nazis in World War II but didnt go public until about 10 years ago.)

Everyone wants the staff. Thats the driving centerpiece of a plot that weaves various human and robot characters together towards a final showdown in England that will decide the fate of the Earth. Stick to that, and you might find a glimmer of focus in all the chaos.

After four previous films' worth of city-smashing carnage, the relationship between the human population and the towering alien robots has become strained. Thats why, when The Last Knight opens, all the Autobots are hiding out in a junkyard in the American Midwest, protected by ex-Texas inventor and soon-to-be chosen knight Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg). Most of the Decepticons are incarcerated, but an anti-Transformer military unit called TRF recruits bad guy leader Megatron (voiced by Frank Welker) and several of his robo-friends into a Suicide Squad-style deal to find the staff.

Out in outer space, a brainwashed Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) the Autobot leader is literally bringing the ruins of the Transformers home planet Cybertron to eat the Earth. His specific target is England, where a professorial Megan Fox lookalike named Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock) apparently has the exclusive lineage to wield Merlins old staff. She learns this through Sir Anthony Hopkins, who, as Sir Edmund Burton, essentially acts as a narrator who just happens to recite exposition to The Last Knights characters directly. But at least he makes the exposition sound fantastic.

For the first hour or so, The Last Knight is pretty watchable, and actually goes pretty light on a lot of Bays usual style cues. Theres still lots of slow motion and lots of explosions, and plenty of awkward jokes one bit about Autobot Bumblebees repaired voice is pretty funny but even though Haddock looks a lot like her predecessor, Bay doesnt sexualize her with the camera near the way he went after Megan Fox.

Unfortunately, the characters and plot pieces begin to pile higher and higher until the onscreen spectacle eventually turns the last 45 minutes of The Last Knight into a dragged-out, incoherent mess. Part of the problem is trying to shoehorn too many pieces into a limited space for example, the chosen nature of both Wahlberg and Haddocks characters make them feel redundant. But mostly its just a symptom of letting the big screen spectacle override the story, then dragging that spectacle out an extra half-hour. Seeing cool things happen on the screen is a lot less satisfying when youve lost any context for them.

Still, if you enjoyed the previous Transformers movies, you probably wont care, and will probably cheer when Bays film hints that an even bigger and more universe-critical adventure is still on the way. But its hard to sit back and embrace the chaos of The Last Knight when you can think about similar big-budget action tentpoles Captain America: Civil War, Rogue One, last months Wonder Woman and reflect on how even in all their craziness, they just made a lot more sense, and frankly, were just a lot more fun to experience.

Transformers: The Last Knight is rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of sci-fi action, language and some innuendo; running time: 149 minutes.
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