“Armageddon” director Michael Bay’s extravagant, but preposterous, sci-fi, fantasy yarn “Transformers: The Last Knight” (**1/2 OUT OF ****) constitutes the fifth entry in the Hasbro action figures inspired film franchise. Although this fourth sequel boasts little of the spontaneity of Bay’s first “Transformers,” this PG-13 rated installment tries to set itself apart from earlier outings. “The Last Knight’s” larger-than-life shenanigans occur not only in the Medieval kingdom of King Arthur’s Britain, but also on the Transformers’ native planet Cybertron at the fringes of the Solar System. In a sense, Bay’s fifth “Transformers” saga doubles as both a prequel and a sequel. Nevertheless, the film suffers from convoluted plotting that virtually defies synopsis. A quartet of scenarists–“Iron Man’s” Art Marcum & Mark Holloway, “Black Hawk Down’s” Ken Nolan, and “I, Robot’s” Akiva Goldsman overwhelm us with too much hokum. Michael Bay veers from slapstick comedy to straightforward heroics and the two often clash. Everything revolves around an outlandish scavenger hunt on Earth as well as in Outer Space. Indeed, Bay and his writers wear out their welcome as they wallow for almost two-and-a-half-hours setting up and then concluding their predictable plot.
Mark Wahlberg makes an encore appearance as Cade Yeager, an intrepid but unkempt Texas inventor who sympathizes with the Autobots. Promoted from Captain to Colonel, William Lennox (Josh Duhamel) returns to the franchise after sitting out the third sequel “Transformers: Age of Extinction” (2014). Things have changed alarmingly since “Age of Extinction.” Basically, mankind has branded the Transformers—both the honorable Autobots and the dastardly Decepticons–as ‘undesirables.’ The governments the of world have assembled a multinational Transformer Reaction Force (TRF) to eradicate these shape-shifting aliens. Mind you, things went sour for the Autobots during the cataclysmic battle of Chicago in Bay’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” (2011). While the Windy City was devastated, Chicago wasn’t reduced to complete rubble. Afterward, the authorities dissolved their military alliance with the Autobots against the wicked Decepticons. “Transformers: The Last Knight” picks up where “Age of Extinction” ended, with Autobot commander Optimus Prime plunging into space to find his creator.
Whereas “Age of Extinction” opened during the Jurassic Age, “The Last Knight” unfolds in 484 A.D. The legendary King Arthur (Liam Garrigan of “The Legend of Hercules”) and his outnumbered troops are waging a desperate war against the bloodthirsty Saxons. Indeed, things look perilous for Arthur, until the sozzled magician Merlin (Stanley Tucci of “The Hunger Games”) makes a pact with the Knights of Iacon, twelve Transformers who sought refuge on Earth, who entrust him with a secret weapon. If Merlin will remain mum about their presence, the Autobots will reward him. Meantime, King Arthur’s own knights ridicule him for his confidence in Merlin. Just as everything appears doomed, a gargantuan, fire-breathing, dragon with three-heads swoops in over the battlefield and scorches the Saxons!
Sixteen-hundred years later, a Transformer spacecraft crashes in a ruined sector of Chicago. School kids gather at the crash site, but a man-made Sentinel robot patrolling this forbidden zone opens fire on them. At this point, we’re told that all Transformers have been outlawed, and the Transformer Reaction Force (TRF) has been formed to exterminate all Transformers. This heavily-armed, SWAT-team style force tangles with a spunky, orphaned, 14-year old hellion, Izabella (Isabela Moner of “Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life”) and her small adorable robot Sqweeks. Sqweeks and she trip up the Sentinels, and the kids elude the authorities. They stumble across another Transformer, Canopy, who relies on wreckage as camouflage. While the TRF deploy to blast Canopy to pieces, Cade Yeager careens out of nowhere like the cavalry to save them. He inspects the crashed Transformer spacecraft but he cannot help the unfortunate Transformer. Nevertheless, the dying Transformer gives him a medallion before it dies. Although the TRF know nothing about this magical talisman, a Decepticon scout named Barricade spots it and informs the villainous Megatron, the ringleader of the Decepticons. Cade scrambles back to an inconspicuous hideaway, a sprawling junkyard in South Dakota. The tenacious TRF track him down, and Cade abandons it. Several friendly Autobots who have been lying low with him vamos, too. Izabella surprises Cade with her impromptu arrival and persuades him to let her accompany him. Naturally, Sqweeks follows.
Meanwhile, Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen) learns that Cybertron has broken into fragments and the debris is drifting toward Earth. He locates the sorceress Quintessa (voice of Gemma Chan), and she convinces Prime that she created him. Quintessa resembles a giant necklace fairy flittering about like a malevolent Tinker Bell. According to Quintessa, a group of Transformer knights robbed her of a magical staff and entrusted it to Merlin for safekeeping. Quintessa brainwashes Prime, and he becomes her errand boy. She alters his name to “Nemesis Prime” and reveals that the Earth is actually Unicron. Unicron is an age-old enemy of Cybertron. At the same time, sinister incidents are occurring on Earth. Huge horns have emerged from the surface all over the globe, and scientists are mystified.
Enough of this nonsense! Bay and his writers will keep your head spinning with all the action and exposition and foreshadowing going on in this slam-bang, over-the-top, robo-demolition derby. They also have too many characters, particularly Izabella and Sqweeks. Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins plays the noble, but loquacious Sir Edmund Burton, a crackpot who amuses Cade and Oxford scholar Viviane Wembly (Laura Haddock of “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2”) with the clandestine history of the Transformers on Earth. Of course, only Hopkins could make all the information in his dialogue sound intriguing. According to Burton, Ms. Wembly is none other than a descendent of Merlin, and she must get her hands on the staff to thwart Quintessa’s scheme to annihilate Earth. Bay introduces new Autobot and Decepticon characters. Moreover, Bay surprises us with Bumblebee’s resilience in one scene where the TRF blast him to ribbons, but he reassembles himself and triumphs over his adversaries. Cade Yeager and Viviane Wembly pair up to find the staff, and find themselves in the usual number of cliffhanger predicaments. Altogether, Michael Bay proves he is still the maestro of mindless mayhem with this improbable but high-octane opus. The best way to watch this spectacle is in the IMAX/3-D format. The dogfights between massive robots as well as the trigger-happy soldiers look truly awesome because they appear to be towering over us.