Transformers: The Last Knight is a movie that transcends words like "good" or "bad."
Is a hurricane "bad"? I don't mean a hurricane's effects—the devastation it wreaks, the lives ruined, the monuments destroyed, the costs incurred—but the thing itself. It is amoral, a force of nature, an indifferent agglomeration of elemental forces bearing down on whatever happens to be in its path.
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As I woozily stood up from my chair in the IMAX-lite theater two-and-a-half hours after having sat down to watch The Last Knight, I felt … well, drained. And slightly sweaty. My legs a little jittery, my arms a bit numb. My eyes, which sat behind two pairs of glasses for the entirety in order to appreciate the 3D spectacle, were sore and had trouble focusing. My breathing had sped up. And it occurred to me that Transformers: The Last Knight is not a movie. It's an experience, an assault on the senses.
It's … kind of entertaining? In the way I assume riding a roller coaster while on meth is probably kind of entertaining? It's somewhat funny and it's somewhat exciting but, more than anything else, it's like stepping into a wind tunnel cranked up to Category 5. You don't soon forget a thing like that, and unforgettable moments at the theater are few and far between these days.
I'm not entirely sure I can recount the plot of The Last Knight. We open in "The Dark Ages," where King Arthur (Liam Garrigan) is waiting on a drunken Merlin (Stanley Tucci) to deliver a magical weapon that will help the Round Table beat back an invasion of skull-masked barbarians. Merlin's a fraud, but he has friends in high places: robots living in a wrecked spaceship who stole something or other from somebot or other (Quintessa, voiced by Gemma Chan) that turns into someweapon or other.
Fast forward to the present, where we learn that the planet's governments have formed a "new world order" (bad!) with which honorable American military men (good!) are forced to work (bad!) in an effort to imprison/exterminate the Transformers (good/bad, depending on whether or not the robots being wiped out are good/bad) that, for some reason, keep showing up on Earth. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) is working to save Autobots out of his secret base in a Badlands junkyard while Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) is on the way back to Cybertron to tell everyone there to chill out with the whole "coming to Earth to blow shit up" thing.
Or something. Also, there's a medallion from King Arthur's time that everyone wants for an indiscernible reason. There's a hot Oxford professor, Vivian Wembley, who spouts lines about how it's okay to be smart and dressed like a stripper's parody of an Oxford Don. She is played by Laura Haddock, an actress who was cast, as best as I can tell, because she can be made to look a bit like Megan Fox—with whom, of course, director Michael Bay had something of a falling out after she compared him to, uh, Hitler.
Anyway, Yeager and The Stripper Don team up with Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins, who brings a manic energy to the role one might not expect from the near-80-year old vet)—the last of the "Witwiccans," a secret order of humans entrusted with knowledge about the shape-shifting robots living amongst us—to save the world.
But none of that really matters. Like other varieties of porn, you're not here for the plot. I could probably craft an essay about the ways in which this film hews to Bay's nation-state populist sensibility—he loves the troops; he hates world government; he openly mocks those who whinge about the film's supposed sexism; he caustically derides oafish pseudo-intellectuals who tell the rubes to put away their magic and rely on The Science™ to save them—but that's neither here nor there.
One may feel the desire to intellectualize their enjoyment of this movie, making its nonsensical visuals a virtue, the scattershot nature of its plot a point of pride. But one would be missing the point. After all, Transformers: The Last Knight has a shot of a four-story robot that turns into a truck riding a three-headed dragon while worlds collide. For real: Worlds literally collide with each other in the background while a giant robot rides an even-more-gigantic dragon in the foreground. And such a shot is neither good nor bad.
It just is.
I don't like to do this—stars are so gauche—but I feel the need to give Transformers: The Last Knight four stars out of four. And I also give it zero stars out of four. This does not "average" out to two stars. It exists in both states of quality at the same time, a sort of Schrodinger's Movie. Transformers: The Last Knight is great and terrible all at once. Behold. Tremble. Consume.