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  1. Life & Culture

Somehow, 'Transformers: The Last Knight' isn't as painful as others

Optimus Prime has gone to the dark side in the fifth installment, which also travels back to the Dark Ages.
Optimus Prime has gone to the dark side in the fifth installment, which also travels back to the Dark Ages.
Published Jun. 20, 2017

Lord Megatron help me, Michael Bay has finally pummeled this viewer into submission.

That's the only way to explain the feeling that Transformers: The Last Knight isn't nearly as painful to sit through as Bay's four previous exploding toy boxes. All that destruction, from Soldier Field to Shia LeBeouf's career. Nearly 10 hours of cacophonous action wrapped around insipid dialogue over the past decade has broken me, hands lowered in masochistic surrender. Just take the beating. It'll be over soon, although with Transformers' brand of Bay-hem never soon enough.

Perhaps The Last Knight just looks better by comparison, not only to Transformers before but a flop from May with some coincidental plotting. This movie employs the King Arthur routine better than Guy Ritchie's Legend of the Sword, tossing in Stanley Tucci as Merlin for good (well, better) measure.

Yes, that's where the winding, must-be-made-up-on-the-fly Transformers myth has landed, in the Dark Ages where Sir Lancelot's forces need a three-headed fire breathing flying dragon to defend Camelot. Merlin knows a Transformer who can do the trick, setting up a medieval battle royale that's a fresh look for the series, a different reason for fireballs and wire stunts. So far, so tolerable.

Merlin takes an enchanted wooden staff to his grave, warning that the evil will seek it and only his descendant can wield it. Cut to 1,600 years later when ripped inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) is defending the honor of Autobots who have been technologically profiled as bad robots, lumped in with those nasty Decepticons. During one obligatory skirmish Cade is handed a medallion that will lead him all the way to Stonehenge and his destiny as the last knight Merlin foretold, defending Earth against the ultimate Decepticon.

The job would be easier if Autobot messiah Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen, body by Hasbro) hadn't turned to the dark side. Getting him back to normal figures into the plot, along with the appearance of artifacts around the globe that will materialize into mankind's biggest threat ever.

"I don't do this s--- for money!" Cade yells at a tense moment. "It's for a higher cause!" Funniest line in the movie, coming from Wahlberg's mouth in these circumstances.

Cade's former ally Col. William Lennox (Josh Duhamel) now leads the TRF, a military agency hunting Transformers. He's replaced at Cade's side by a scrappy girl named Izabella (Isabela Moner) who's a whiz at fixing robots. Of course since this is Bay's joint there's a hotter-than-logical Oxford professor (Laura Haddock) tagging along as window dressing until she improbably figures into the myth.

But millions of people won't buy tickets to watch the humans. Bay's action seems a bit more decipherable this time around but that could be part of my submission. The Last Knight brings back the popular sidekick Bumble Bee of course, adding a Big Lebowski reunion of sorts with John Goodman and Steve Buscemi voicing Transformers. Goodman's cigar-chomping Hound resembles his Raising Arizona ruffian, to boot. It's the little pleasures in mediocre movies that mean a lot.

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Contact Steve Persall at spersall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-9365. Follow @StevePersall.

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