What’s ‘good’ got to do with it for fran­chise?

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - Showtime - Palm Beach - - MOVIES - By Michael Phillips

Of course it’s not good. “Good” would only get in the way. The new “Trans­form­ers” movie sits right on the beam, qual­i­ta­tively, with the pre­vi­ous three se­quels (the first one was a mite less … I don’t know, some­thing). So be warned or be en­cour­aged, depend­ing on your al­le­giance to the ear­lier movies.

Of course it’ll be prof­itable. The pre­vi­ous four “Trans­form­ers” films made more than $3.7 bil­lion world­wide. Time to throw another bil on the fire.

“Deep down in­side, you be­gin to won­der: Has my life been wasted?” This is Academy Award-win­ning An­thony Hop­kins talk­ing, as he shov­els another steam­ing load of mytho­log­i­cal ex­po­si­tion for the ben­e­fit of Mark Wahlberg, who plays the subti­tle of this fifth “Trans­form­ers” movie: “The Last Knight.” Or “Knight of the Liv­ing Dead.” Or is it “Trans­form­ers: Re­venge of the Fid­get Spin­ners”? I can’t say. The film wiped my mem­ory, my fac­ul­ties and my wind­shield clean around minute 40 of its 146 min­utes.

I’m not sure how bent up we can get, re­al­is­ti­cally, about spoil­ers re­gard­ing “Trans­form­ers: It Hap­pened One Knight,” be­cause di­rec­tor Michael Bay’s ex­er­cise in ex­treme BRRAAAAUGGHGGH and KRRRAAANNNGGG and KA-RRRRRRRRUNCH!!! ar­rives pre-spoiled by the trail­ers. Hop­kins is the most con­spic­u­ous new­bie to Bay’s Has­bro-de­rived fran­chise. He plays an ec­cen­tric English lord, one of the keep­ers of the “se­cret history of Trans­form­ers” through the ages.

The ear­lier movies toyed with this no­tion of metal­lic res­i­dents of the planet Cy­bertron and en­vi­rons trav­el­ing to Earth many years ago, then work­ing un­der­cover in ser­vice to Mark Wahlberg reprises his role of Cade Yea­ger, only this time he’s pit­ted against his Au­to­bot buddy, Op­ti­mus Prime. hu­mankind. One of the good bots killed Hitler, we’re told in the mid­dle of a par­tic­u­larly weird ex­po­si­tion dump.

Op­ti­mus Prime, the last movie’s no­ble sacri­fi­cial metal lamb, lands back on his home orb and is im­me­di­ately turned “bad” by Quintessa, ruler of Cy­bertron and hater of Earth. The wiz­ened old pro must re­turn to Earth to re­trieve the mighty, all-pow­er­ful staff of life, hid­den for cen­turies. It spells eter­nal ever-af­ter for Cy­bertron and eter­nal nev­er­more for Earth. It’s one or the other. Ei­ther they win, or we win.

Wahlberg re­turns as the Amer­i­can Joe leader of the re­sis­tance; Laura Had­dock, lat­est alum of the Michael Bay School of Haughty, Full-Lipped Fe­males, is the skep­ti­cal Ox­ford pro­fes­sor with an in­trigu­ing lin­eage; Is­abela Moner plays a 14year-old Chicago sur­vivor of an at­tack on the city, taken un­der the Wahlberg char­ac­ter’s wing. For just a minute, in the fifth-cen­tury se­quences, Stan­ley Tucci yanks a few laughs out of some bizarre line read­ings call­ing at­ten­tion to the fact that no­body else pro­vid­ing comic re­lief in “Satur­day Knight Fever” or what­ever it’s called is re­motely funny. Not even John Tur­turro. And he tries. Hard.

The script by Art Mar­cum, Matt Hol­loway and Ken Nolan zigzags in and out of the re­vi­sion­ist history of King Arthur, a heroic archetype who’s hav­ing a big movie sum­mer with this film and “King Arthur: Leg­end of the Sword.” (Bay was sup­posed to di­rect that one, which ended up in the mitts of Guy Ritchie.) “Big,” in this in­stance, does not mean “You should see it.” It means sim­ply “large” or “leaden.”

“Trans­form­ers: Knight at the Mu­seum” skit­ters ner­vously from a Dakota Bad­lands auto junk­yard, in­hab­ited by Au­to­bots in hid­ing, to London to Stone­henge to Ha­vana to Cy­bertron. Op­ti­mus Prime runs into trou­ble when he’s forced to adopt a “Cy­bertron first” policy of sur­vival. He learns his les­son, and po­lit­i­cally this devel­op­ment marks a slight shift to­ward the cen­ter (from the right, that is) for Bay’s fran­chise. Few MPAA rat­ing: Run­ning time: 2:26 Opened: Wed­nes­day will no­tice. The smack­down se­quences are es­pe­cially masochis­tic, though Bay and cin­e­matog­ra­pher Jonathan Sela shot most of the pic­ture on Imax dig­i­tal cam­eras, in 3-D, so it looks bet­ter than the av­er­age post­pro­duc­tion 3-D con­ver­sion job.

No fewer than six edi­tors re­ceive screen credit for their work here, and I sus­pect that’s why the tech­ni­cal and bud­getary bravura comes to so lit­tle in “Trans­form­ers 5.” To para­phrase Irv­ing Ber­lin para­phras­ing Ira Gersh­win, it ain’t got rhythm. The rhyth­mic as­sur­ance of truly brac­ing screen ac­tion, even if it’s just a bunch of metal beat­ing up a bunch of other metal, or clob­ber­ing hu­mans, never gains trac­tion. The cross-cut­ting sug­gests the edi­tors took care of things via group text.

The thing about Bay is that he has tal­ent, of a sort, and a dogged eye for what sells. He also has a piledriver sen­si­bil­ity, along with the most heart­less brand of “heart” in mod­ern movies. (The makeshift­fam­ily pathos ri­vals “The Fate of the Fu­ri­ous” for ro­botic sen­ti­ment.) As for the cen­tral con­ceit of the “Trans­form­ers” mythol­ogy: I can work up only so much en­thu­si­asm for the idea of Trans­form­ers hav­ing dic­tated the course of hu­man history from the Dark Ages on­ward. On the other hand, that ex­plains why we’re on the fifth “Trans­form­ers” movie. Michael Phillips is a Tri­bune critic.


PG-13 (for vi­o­lence and in­tense se­quences of sci-fi ac­tion, language, and some in­nu­endo)

Op­ti­mus Prime, who has trans­formed into a bad Au­to­bot, bat­tles for­mer pal Bum­ble­bee.

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