Transformers: The Last Knight

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There's a lot of this.

Much of what you hear about “Transformers: The Last Knight” makes it sound more watchable than it is. Stanley Tucci hamming it up as Merlin the wizard? Marky Mark employing a small robot pterodactyl to bring him bottles of Bud Light®? A World War II flashback where Transformers help the Allies defeat Hitler? A sociopathic robot butler with a “Downton Abbey” voice??

Yes, all that and more can be found in this, the fifth chapter in the timeless franchise about alien robots that occasionally are also cars. But you have to remember: Michael Bay and his team of 13-year-old boy writers aren’t as smart as you are. (I say that with confidence despite not knowing you.) So whatever campy awesomeness you’re imagining, it’s dumber, clumsier, and more exasperating than that.

I didn’t see part four, “Age of Extinction,” so I don’t know the in-universe explanation for why Shia LaBeouf is now Mark Wahlberg (a lateral move in my opinion), but other than that I felt no more lost watching this one than I did watching the first three.

Wahlberg plays a guy somehow named Cade Yeager, a fugitive from the law because of whatever he did in the last movie (did he kill Shia? Let’s go with that) who lives in a trailer in a junkyard/ghost town in South Dakota that is also the hiding place of numerous Transformers, who are illegal now. Among them is the beloved Bumblebee, who can only speak in snippets of radio signals, never in his real voice, except for when he can.

Cade Yeager and his robot friends, along with a feral girl (Isabela Moner) who attaches herself to the group like a barnacle, must stop the bad alien robots from getting a magic staff of power. This staff belonged to Merlin (the one from Camelot), who got it from Transformer aliens, who it turns out have impacted human history for centuries, like the Minions. The reason nobody knows is that everyone who witnessed it kept it a secret, generation after generation. Related to this staff is a talisman that affixes itself to Cade Yeager — the talisman is a Transformer, because everything is a Transformer — and gives him powers, sometimes.

The descendants of King Arthur’s knights are somehow involved, as explained by chief expositor Sir Anthony Hopkins, playing a dotty old earl named Sir Edmund Burton, a member of the secret group that keeps the secret history of Transformers secret. Burton is the one with the robot butler-henchman, Cogman (voice of Jim Carter), who’s supposed to be funny because he has that plummy English butler voice but says vulgar things.

But wait, you’re thinking. Shouldn’t there be a hot chick? There is, in the form of Oxford history professor Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock), who gets dragged into all of this because she’s the last descendant of Merlin. She is written about as well as most women are in Michael Bay movies, and is wearing a tight cocktail dress for much of the film. Burton tells her and Cade Yeager to find the staff, which they are able to do because Vivian’s father knew the location and left obscure clues to it hidden in his study before he died, so that only someone who liked solving puzzles could find it.

And what of Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen), last seen embarking on a mission back to his home planet of Cybertron to find his creator? Well, he gets there, and the place is a mess, and the slithery robot in charge, Quintessa (Gemma Chan), says she’s his creator. To restore Cybertron to health, she says, O.P. has to go back to Earth and find that stupid staff. And where is the staff? Inside a labyrinthine, city-sized alien spacecraft hidden deep in the ocean for hundreds of years, obviously.

The film quickly devolves into undifferentiated shooting, yelling, and exploding. It’s overstuffed; there are several more characters played by recognizable actors that I haven’t even mentioned, like John Goodman voicing an Army sergeant robot that can turn into a jeep (but, like all of the Transformers, mostly stays a robot). From a visual standpoint, little effort is made to convince us that the computer-generated robots with vividly animated faces and expressive limbs are or could be the same physical matter as the factory-made vehicles they change into, which is what I always thought was cool about Transformers in the first place. And Stanley Tucci’s only in the first five minutes! You shouldn’t introduce hammy Merlin unless you’re going to keep him around.

D (2 hrs., 29 min.; PG-13, a little profanity, a lot of action violence, graphic depiction of transforming.)