It might be meager praise (or, more accurately, a sigh of relief) to say this, but the fact of the incoherence of the plot of Transformers: The Last Knight didn't bother me very much this time. The film is the fifth in the franchise borne of a child's plaything, and it's been clear for five movies that director Michael Bay has no interest in the plot of these movies. That sentiment doesn't seem to extend to the screenwriters, and we've had a litany of them from the first film to this fourth sequel (written by Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, and Ken Nolan). That's the problem here: There is so much plot that Bay's indifference to it finally seems like a refreshing attitude.
It's refreshing in two ways. One, it seems that Bay's attitude toward spectacle far outweighs any other activity on his mind. He isn't a director of actors: The performers here are all forced to recite dialogue of the dire sort, be they on-set characters or ones who required the actors to do voice work. He isn't a director of plot, per se: He seems to choose these projects based upon the amount of pyrotechnics that can potentially be rigged by his crew. He is, first and foremost, a craftsman of chaos, and craft chaos he does here, with his usual arsenal of photographic tricks, such as slow-motion photography and Dutch angles galore.
Again, this is the meagerest of praise, and the caveat is still there: This is not a good movie, and that is perfectly in line with the series' history. This one regards the very origin and nature of the Transformers (divided into the "good" Autobots and the "evil" Decepticons, although this film is the first time to use the moniker of "Transformers" to describe them as a species). We get some vague context in that regard by way of the main antagonist of the movie, Quintessa (Gemma Chan), who created the Transformers and now threatens Earth with extinction. To that end, she has turned chief Autobot Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen) against his former allies.
That would be two groups of allies, both familiar and new. The returning characters include Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), the hapless inventor turned fugitive who has been forced by the events of the previous movie to communicate with his daughter through discreet means, Lennox (Josh Duhamel), the Air Force captain who serves almost no purpose other than the tactical here, and Simmons (John Turturro), the disgraced Sector 7 agent who literally just talks on a phone for the duration of his scenes. The new characters include Vivian Wambley (Laura Haddock), a professor whose physical beauty is what the movie finds most interesting (and limiting) about her, Izabella (Isabela Moner), a 14-year-old with intense survivalist instincts, and Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins), the last of an incredible array of secret-keepers whose duty it is to conceal the truth about the Transformers.
Hopkins's character is the one of the greatest importance, of course, and that is to convey paragraphs of exposition as only Hopkins can. The film's elongated middle act, bridging the gap between a prologue (in which we learn that Merlin, played by Stanley Tucci, was gifted his magical staff by a Transformer) and the extended climax (which includes a ridiculously easy comeuppance for the villain by way of a nonsensical fail-safe), shifts between Hopkins's reiteration of plot points and the military's attempts to keep up. Transformers: The Last Knight is one of the "best" movies in this misbegotten series, but those relativity-denoting quotation marks are important.
Mark Wahlberg (Cade Yeager), Anthony Hopkins (Sir Edmund Burton), Laura Haddock (Vivian Wambley), Josh Duhamel (Lennox), Santiago Cabrera (Santos), Isabela Moner (Izabella), Jerrod Carmichael (Jimmy).
Featuring the voices of Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime), Frank Welker (Megatron), Erik Aadahl (Bumblebee), John Goodman (Hound), Ken Watanabe (Drift), Jim Carter (Cogman), and Steve Buscemi (Daytrader).
Directed by Michael Bay and written by Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, and Ken Nolan.
Rated PG-13 (violence/intense sci-fi action, language, innuendo).
Released on June 21, 2017.