Michael Bay is the kind of filmmaker who has always understood machines better than people. In his films, chrome hurtles through space with a sensual weightiness; the clangs and thuds of metal against metal send a frisson down the spine. “Transformers: The Last Knight” does not stray from this formula, except that it is more; it is the most. It’s shinier, louder, crazier.
The humans are another story; they’re not even an afterthought. That has never been more apparent than in this finale of the five-film franchise about alien robots inspired by a cartoon from the 1980s.
The plot is a series of increasingly baffling events, proceeding from the Dark Ages in England, to outer space, to modern day Cuba, to Chicago, to South Dakota, then back to England in the first 25 minutes. That relentless pace never lets up. The swirling melee gets tiresome in the third hour, when it’s nearly impossible to determine which way is up, whether we’re underwater or in space, and which robots are fighting which other robots.
There is no character development. Only Optimus Prime is given a proper arc, and he disappears for the middle hour. Standing in for wit and humor is a pastiche of meaningless pop culture references, tooted by Bumblebee’s scanning radio voice, or chirped in a proper British accent by new transformer butler Cogman.
The many credited writers attempt a poorly executed gesture at girl power through Vivian (Laura Haddock) and Izabella (Isabela Moner). Vivian is a professor who is badgered by her mother and colleagues about her love life, and costumed as if she’s in the video for Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher.” Izabella is a scrappy orphan mechanic who fulfills the daughter role for Cade (Mark Wahlberg). Though she’s only 14 and declared a “little girl,” Bay’s camera leers at her, too.
“Transformers” could have been a camp masterpiece if not for the misguided humor, misplaced self-seriousness, and jokes that become increasingly sexist. Star Mark Wahlberg seems to be in a “Saturday Night Live” sketch about himself — you half expect him to tell a Decepticon to “say hello to ya motha for me.”
This is Bay’s world, and when faced with the end of the world, there’s only one message to be gleaned from this finale of the “Transformers” franchise: The Mack trucks and the muscle cars will outlive us all.
‘Transformers: The Last Knight’
Rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of sci-fi action, language, and some innuendo. 2:26. Fayette Mall, Frankfort, Georgetown, Hamburg, Nicholasville, Richmond.