Empire (UK) - - ON.SCREEN - IAN FREER VERDICT Bay’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to give you a good time doesn’t re­sult in fun. Over­long, over­stuffed and soul­less, for fans who grew up with Op­ti­mus, The Last Knight will st­ing like a bee.

DI­REC­TOR Michael Bay CAST Mark Wahlberg, Josh Duhamel, Stan­ley Tucci, Is­abela Moner, Laura Had­dock, An­thony Hop­kins

PLOT The war be­tween Transformers and the TRF (Transformers Re­ac­tion Force) is rag­ing. In a last-ditch ef­fort to save hu­man­ity, in­ven­tor Cade Yea­ger (Wahlberg) and Bum­ble­bee join forces with an English earl (Hop­kins) and Ox­ford pro­fes­sor (Had­dock).

BE­LIEVE IT OR not,transf orm­ers, in its live-ac­tion movie it­er­a­tion, is ten years old. For its first hour at least, there was some­thing hu­man, re­lat­able and — whis­per it — charm­ing in Michael Bay’s orig­i­nal, a boy (Shia Labeouf ) who loved his car (Bum­ble­bee) and wanted the unattain­able girl (Me­gan Fox). Now, fifth time out, the knack of com­ing up with any­thing so sim­ple and like­able has eluded Bay. As in

Re­venge Of The Fallen, Dark Of The Moon and Age Of Ex­tinc­tion, The Last Knight is bogged down in back­story, lacks a real feel for its char­ac­ters and still can’t find a way to make its ro­bot-on-ro­bot ac­tion ex­hil­a­rat­ing. The first project to emerge from the

Transformers writ­ers room, The Last Knight starts well in the Dark Ages. After fire­balls wit­tily fly over the Para­mount moun­tain, Bay mounts a full-on Arthurian bat­tle far more ex­cit­ing than Guy Ritchie’s, fea­tur­ing tre­buchets, knights blasted sky-high into the air and a three-headed me­chan­i­cal dragon. This pro­logue gives rise to the Macguf­fin, a tal­is­man that will lead you to the staff that gives you ul­ti­mate power in the uni­verse. Of course, the tal­is­man quickly falls into the hands of in­ven­tor/au­to­bot sym­pa­thiser Cade Yea­ger (Wahlberg) who has saved Iz­abella (Moner), a Rey-from-the-force-awak­ens-alike who fixes things along­side Bb-8-alike ro­bot Sqweeks and now hides out in a junk­yard.

The plot, as it is, sees var­i­ous par­ties hunt Yea­ger to find the tal­is­man: the hard­nut mil­i­tary TRF, De­cep­ti­cons, Op­ti­mus Prime — who goes rogue after a visit to Cy­bertron — and An­thony Hop­kins as bat­shit-crazy earl Sir Ed­mund Bur­ton, keeper of Transformers lore, who whisks Cade and Bum­ble­bee to Eng­land (you’ll note Iz­abella has been for­got­ten about). Here, Cade is in­tro­duced to Laura Had­dock’s polo-play­ing Pro­fes­sor of Seem­ingly Ev­ery­thing at Ox­ford Univer­sity, Vi­vian Wem­b­ley, who turns out to be a de­scen­dant of a so­ci­ety of lu­mi­nar­ies who have worked over the ages to keep the transformers a se­cret on Earth: other mem­bers in­clude (spot the odd one out) Shake­speare, Mozart, Ein­stein and Sam Witwicky.

If you are play­ing Transformers Bingo, you can tick off mil­i­tary porn, tin-eared ex­po­si­tion, Josh Duhamel as Colonel Thingamy, oned­i­men­sional char­ac­ters, painful ban­ter, John Tur­turro as Agent What­sis­name, sun­sets, slow-mo ev­ery other shot and a bom­bas­tic score. The com­edy ro­bot du­ties this time are car­ried by Bur­ton’s so­cio­pathic but­ler Cog­man (voiced by

Down­ton’s Jim Carter) who is brazenly de­scribed as a “C-3P0 rip-off” and quickly grates.

This is re­put­edly Bay’s (as a di­rec­tor at least) last go-round on the se­ries. Few film­mak­ers work harder to en­ter­tain, throw­ing in drone chases, car chases, sub­ma­rine shenani­gans as well as robo-ac­tion, all be­fore a third-act cli­max at Stone­henge. ILM’S work re­mains peer­less — Bum­ble­bee re-piec­ing him­self back to­gether again is im­mac­u­late — but the ef­fect is of­ten dead­en­ing. It is amaz­ing how a se­ries with so much nos­tal­gic good­will, tech­ni­cal fi­nesse and be­hind-the-scenes tal­ent has led so of­ten to ex­pe­ri­ences that are so joy­less. Bay has many tal­ents; smart, sharp bouncy sum­mer fun isn’t one of them.

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