When you sit down in the theater for a Transformers movie, you’re expecting a few things: Stunning visuals, state-of-the-art CGI, near-impossible-looking “how did they do that?” action sequences, and, of course, huge robots beating the crap out of each other.
Director Michael Bay and star Mark Wahlberg, the 2017 July/August Men’s Fitness cover man, absolutely deliver on all those expectations for Transformers: The Last Knight.
And although some audiences might expect the action sequences to be a bit old at this point—The Last Knight is the fifth film in the Transformers series—Bay finds new ways to choreograph the action. In one standout early scene, Bumblebee, everyone’s favorite scrappy Transformer, gets blown to pieces by some bad guys only to have all his parts re-assemble and take out an entire military unit in the process.
Wahlberg is back again with his Hollywood-tested everyman charm as Cade Yeager, the reluctant hero and inventor introduced in Transformers: Age of Extinction. That film was supposed to serve as a soft reboot of the franchise (adding a mostly new cast of characters, along with the Dinobots and other new Transformers), but it’s The Last Knight that takes the series in a new, exciting direction. It charts a new future for the franchise, conversely, by reaching back deep into the past, revealing the “secret history of the Transformers.”
The concept: The robots have been on Earth for thousands of years—fighting with King Arthur and his legendary knights in the American Revolution, alongside samurai in ancient Japan, in the trenches of World War I, and with the allied forces in World War II. Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) is an English Lord and “keeper” of all these myths and stories.
The film lives up to its Last Knight name right away; opening with a breathtaking battle sequence set in the Middle Ages, as King Arthur leads his men against overwhelming odds. Arthur’s pal Merlin (Stanley Tucci) reveals the existence of the Transformers using a mysterious, powerful, staff-like relic to unleash an Autobot dragon that helps win the war.
Flash-forward to present day, and the consequences of the Transformers’ presence on Earth continue to reverberate. Autobots and Decepticons alike are being hunted down by an elite military task force. Chicago is a sealed-off war zone after the events of Dark of the Moon. Yeager is hiding from the government, keeping good guys Bumblebee (Erik Aadahl), Hot Rod (Omar Sy), Drift (Ken Watanabe), Daytrader (Steve Buscemi), and Hound (John Goodman) off the radar.
It’s a grim enough scenario—and then Autobot leader Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) finally arrives at his home planet, Cybertron, only to be manipulated by the evil Quintessa to destroy Earth to re-establish their destroyed world.
When Yeager saves a feisty girl, Izabella (Isabela Moner), from the military task force—which includes familiar face Josh Duhamel as Col. William Lennox, who returns after a one-movie hiatus—he ends up with an ancient Transformers amulet that’s connected to Merlin’s staff. Yeager’s discovery draws the attention of Hopkins’ Burton, and Vivian (Laura Haddock), an Oxford professor and expert in Arthurian legend.
It turns out that both Yeager and Vivian are essential to stopping Cybertron from destroying Earth—a real blockbuster shocker, we know—and must lead Bumblebee, Lennox’s forces, and the rest of the Autobots to stop the plan.
And while any Transformers movie will always feature the obligatory CGI-driven action, The Last Knight’s story takes a fresh step forward (even if it’s just for the sake of even better action) by weaving the robots into the past. In one flashback, Bumblebee sneaks Allied soldiers into a Nazi compound and wreaks havoc in a scene that can only be described as totally badass.
The Last Knight does have a few notable scratches in its paint. The action seems to stop at times just so a character can explain more random robot alien mythology. As a result of Optimus Prime’s heel turn, he’s not on screen quite as often as some audience members might prefer. There are also a few too many jokes at Vivian’s expense—it’s 2017, and somehow people still find it hard to believe that a beautiful woman can be a brilliant professor? But overall, The Last Knight is a strong step up from the overstuffed Age of Extinction.
Hopkins isn’t just a big name cashing a check with a cameo appearance, either. As Burton, the legendary actor gets to fight some giant robots, lead a car chase through the streets of London, and deliver some of the funniest lines of the movie; the lines come mostly through his banter with Cogman (Jim Carter), a human-ish Transformer butler with a talent for getting on Yeager’s nerves. Wahlberg and Haddock spark with plenty of chemistry, and if he returns for the next film—which gets set up with a mysterious post-credits teaser scene—the production team would do well to re-sign her as well.
With the ability these days to watch films through streaming services, on phones, and on big-screen televisions with surround sound, you can basically get a movie theater experience at home. But if there’s a movie that exemplifies why you should see popcorn flicks on the big screen, it’s Transformers: The Last Knight. The action has never looked more beautiful and visually stunning, and the film’s wild ride through history is as fun as anything at the movies this summer.
Transformers: The Last Knight is now in theaters.