It's fairly common for fantasy movies to ponder the imminent destruction of the Earth and all its inhabitants. Why we need outside (often alien) help to accomplish such devastation puzzles me. We seem to be doing a pretty good job of wrecking the planet ourselves.
Still, it's no surprise that Transformers: The Last Knight again puts the planet under extreme threat. Unfortunately, the movie -- directed by Michael Bay -- misses the point: We all probably should be wondering about the durability of a culture that has now produced its fifth movie based on a line of toys.
I'd like to tell you more about Last Knight, but that won't be easy because the plot stumbles its way through a variety of set pieces that span the movie's taxing two-and-a-half hour length.
If noise were art, Bay would be the Leonardo Da Vinci of movies. He specializes in a brand of visual and aural overstatement that can turn images into a form of cinematic shrapnel.
Bay tries to expand the series' reach by beginning in the Dark Ages, a time when knights fought with heavy swords and dodged streaking fireballs that were catapulted in their direction.
Having already been trashed in another summer movie, King Arthur returns to fight off a barbarous horde. On the verge of being decimated, the Knights of the Round Table only can be saved by Merlin (Stanley Tucci). Tipsy from alcohol in this telling, the fabled magician has a staff that can summon transformers to help vanquish the forces of evil -- or some such.
Don't hold me to every detail in this review because attempting to follow a movie as scattered as Last Knight can feel discombobulating, like trying to balance your checkbook while riding a rollercoaster.
After its Medieval prolog, the movie leaps ahead 1,600 years. The Earth faces grave danger. Among other things, savior robot Optimus Prime has returned to his home planet of Cybertron to search for his maker. Once he arrives home, Prime discovers that Cybertron has fallen on hard times. According to a sorceress named Quintessa, Cybertron only can be saved by sucking the life out of Earth.
If your head doesn't hurt by now, keep reading. If you'd rather stop and do something more constructive (rearrange your sock drawer, say), you have my blessing.
As part of its metallic furor, Last Knight also tells us that the US military has declared war on all robots. Not so fast, says Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), an inventor who remains loyal to his robot allies. Cade befriends Autobots, helpful to humans, as opposed to Decepticons, not helpful to humans.
Isabela Moner plays a young woman who also loves Autobots. She becomes an occasional tag-along partner for Wahlberg's Cade. She also drops out of the movie for extended periods.
I'll spare you a guided tour of the Transformer universe. Know, though, that about half way through, Wahlberg -- more or less the movie's lead -- joins forces with a British character named Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock). She's a Medievalist who knows how to recover Merlin's staff, which holds the key to ... well ... something or other.
Did I mention that there's also a talisman with mystical properties? Talismans are always helpful in movies because just about everyone wants to get hold of one.
The movie makes room for an extended appearance by the estimable Sir Anthony Hopkins. He portrays Sir Edmund Burton, an overly demonstrative nobleman who eventually tells us that Wahlberg's character is "the last knight" of the title.
I have to admit that the movie's final act contains some decent pulp imagery involving an attack on the Earth by what looks like a giant coral reef.
Every now and again, John Turturro, a refugee from the previous movies, makes a cameo appearance from Cuba, where his character presently is located. Turturro could be the first actor ever to have to make phone calls (really) to the main plot in order to make his presence felt.
There's also a small robot that seems to be a dilapidated, trash-can cousin of R2-D2. A late-picture underwater, submarine sequence that arrives after the movie already has sunk.
Attempts at humor are so ham-handed that they're easy to spot amid all the flying debris.
Bay doesn't whip up many edge-of-the-seat moments. Maybe that's because it's difficult to generate real suspense when the series -- like this movie -- feels as if it never will end.