Transformers: The Last Knight

Okay, so I saw this last night, because at this point I feel it’s some kind of duty or tradition. I am strong and mentally resilient, and I can take it. Someone has to do it, and as someone who has not only seen and critiqued hundreds of movies in his time, but also suffered through the worst of Transformers fiction through the years (and that is a statement, believe you me), I feel I am uniquely equipped for the task. So once more I sallied forth into Bayhem, this time alone, because literally nobody I know would go with me, for they lack conviction, and are perhaps smarter than I am.

The quick capsule review, for those who do not want to read the extremely long Spoilers section: The Last Knight is an incredibly boring and stupid movie. It’s slightly better than 2 and 4, about on par with 3, and not as good as 1. That said, ranking these films is a bit like ranking your top 5 root canals. Sure, the experience varies, but in general you would not want to repeat any of them, nor wish them inflicted on another person. What I’m saying here is that you should not see this movie. Ever. It’s not “embarrassingly funny” bad, it’s not “so bad it’s good” bad, it’s just boring and stupid. Spend 2 1/2 hours of your life doing literally anything else, including having a root canal.

So with that, let’s get to it.

SPOILERS BEGIN

The Good

– Hoo boy. Really? Can we skip this section? No? Okay, hang on.

– Think… think… think…

– How about this? The Transformers actually transform in this movie. In Age of Extinction I think we got maybe two full transformations, and everything else was that ridiculous “morphing” effect the human-built robots did that really felt like some kind of “ILM doesn’t have time to do all these intricate conversion sequences” patch. The Last Knight features legitimate transformation sequences aplenty.

– As always in these movies, the quality of ILM’s work, and that of the other VFX studios involved, is top notch and far better than the material deserves. The effects people give Bay 110% every single time, and there are some jaw-dropper shots in The Last Knight. There’s zero reason to care about any of them in the context of the film itself, but if you appreciate top tier VFX work, it will make you want to hire everyone who worked on it.

“The incredibly convoluted Arthurian backstory invented for this film isn’t all that bad a premise for a Transformers story.”

– Frank Welker returns as Megatron (no longer Galvatron and now in a new body; neither of these changes are explained or even acknowledged), and gets a chance to ham it up nicely in the role he originated. I’m also semi-convinced whoever was in charge of Megatron’s animation is a TF fan or at least really studied the original character, because there are some seriously legit Megatron shots in the movie.

– The incredibly convoluted Arthurian backstory invented for this film isn’t all that bad a premise for a Transformers story. Unfortunately they’re already five films deep into this cesspool of a series and it’s far too late to save anything. Maybe prying Michael Bay off the hull of the franchise like a barnacle (Baynacle?) will improve things, but so would just not doing this to us anymore.

– We only see one Transformer horribly killed in this film, which I guess is an improvement of sorts.

– At the junkyard Cade and the Autobots are hiding out in, there are three baby Dinobots, who are utterly adorable. Cade treats them like pets, and they take a liking to Isabela Moner’s character, then promptly vanish from the film, never to be seen again, but presumably they’ll be back in Transformers 6 to sell more toys. At this point, vanishing/reappearing characters is practically a Bay trademark. Barricade, the Decepticon police car who disappeared after a group freeway shot in the first film, is back in this one (what has he been doing for 10 years?), mostly to get his ass kicked by Bumblebee again, and to sell more toys, as though these movies are for kids and not teenagers stoned to the point of braindeath.

– The classic transformation sound effect is heard exactly once, when Anthony Hopkins transforms his cane into a gun of some kind that’s strong enough to damage Megatron.

“…incredibly boring, stupid, racist, misogynist, and morally repugnant.”

The Bad

– How long you got? If I’m being honest, I didn’t actually hate The Last Knight the way I physically despise Revenge of the Fallen and Age of Extinction. Those two movies were incredibly boring, stupid, racist, misogynist, and morally repugnant. The Last Knight is just incredibly boring and stupid. Racism and misogyny make cameo appearances but they had starring roles in 2 and 4. The Last Knight has more in common with the third film, Dark of the Moon, in that both are bloated, overplotted nonsense that no rational human being could possibly care about. So, in the context of this series, I guess apathy is technically progress.

– Good Primus this movie is boring. The middle 90 minutes of The Last Knight’s interminable 150-minute runtime is almost entirely tracking shots of pointless travel and Sir Anthony Hopkins delivering inane world-building exposition. Hopkins’ weighty intonations make up probably about a solid hour of screentime total, and while he’s clearly having a fantastic time doing it, even he can’t save complete drivel.

– Similar to Barricade, mentioned above, two of the four Dinobots from the fourth movie reappear briefly, then vanish from the film, even though the big final battle demanded the good guys muster all the muscle and firepower possible. A couple of building-sized robo-dinos would have gone a long way toward improving the odds, but they’re not even mentioned.

– How many movies are we going to spend dragging out this “humans vs. Transformers” thing? Yet again, we open with human task forces hunting down Transformers with no distinction between Autobots and Decepticons, and yet again it’s dull and a waste of screen time. You’ve got giant robots who fight each other. That’s the whole premise of the brand. Why am I stuck watching them blow up stuntmen in tac gear so often? Josh Duhamel shows up after being absent for the last film, now part of the anti-Transformers task force, and yet again begging the question of what the hell he was doing while the task force was murdering Ratchet and the other Autobots between movies 3 and 4. And once again the Autobots team up with the military in the end, but we’ve seen this before, and I suspect it will all be reset to zero for no reason in the sixth film.

“Why is Bay so intent on avoiding the core hook of the Transformers brand, which is Autobots vs. Decepticons?”

– By the same token, the Decepticons are back in force thanks to Megatron negotiating the release of a bunch of Decepticon prisoners, some from previous films, some brand new, all depicted as black stereotypes of some kind or another. However, except for one scene, the Decepticons do not really engage the Autobots much, and are essentially a non-presence in the film beyond Megatron needing to get the Macguffin from one place to another to start Act 3. Why is Bay so intent on avoiding the core hook of the Transformers brand, which is Autobots vs. Decepticons?

– It is still really weird to me that all the Transformers seem to use projectile weapons. You’d think at least one of them would use frickin’ laser beams now and then.

– Optimus Prime is in about 15 minutes of the movie total, in part as a brainwashed evil version of himself dubbed Nemesis Prime. He does indeed fight Bumblebee, as shown in the trailers, but if you’ve seen the trailers you’ve seen just about the entire fight. He very quickly snaps out of it, becomes the stoic aphorism-spouting Prime from the first film again, his psychotic war criminal behavior of the past three films apparently forgotten, and proceeds to say “I AM OPTIMUS PRIME” no less than three times during the final 30 minutes of the movie, including one instance where it is preceded by the line “Apparently you forgot who I am.” I estimate “I AM OPTIMUS PRIME” makes up about 10% of Peter Cullen’s total dialogue in this film.

– Also the “Bumblebee fights Nazis” scene is maybe 45 seconds long, and you’ve already seen 30 of them in the trailers. I got the distinct impression that this was a tease for the solo Bumblebee movie coming out in 2018.

– Hopkins provides the handful of amusing moments the film has, while the other human characters are by turns forgettable, annoying, and pointless. John Turturro reappears briefly and is all three of those things. Mark Wahlberg appears more bewildered than anything else during most of the movie, and one can hardly blame him for declaring this will be the last time he puts himself through this. Bay attempts to make Wahlberg’s character and his yearning to be a father to his now absent daughter the emotional heart of the story, but there’s no “there” there. The characters are directionless and groundless, never feeling like actual people for even a second, nor like they belong in the increasingly convoluted world the film is insisting on creating.

– Speaking of the world of the film, there’s an oddly compelling background set up that is essentially ignored, probably because it would be way too interesting to tackle in a Michael Bay picture. We learn early in the opening scenes that the world has been irrevocably changed by the events of the previous films. The entire planet has declared Transformers an enemy of the human race (perhaps a bit of self-aware criticism there?), as the Earth has become something of a magnet for spaceborne Cybertronians. They land on Earth as meteoroids every day, in apparently “uncountable” numbers, and a task force exists specifically to hunt them down and kill them. Entire swaths of Chicago are uninhabitable in the wake of the battle in the third film. Transformers tech forms the basis for every major technological innovation, and according to Hopkins’ character, has been involved in every major historical event since the Dark Ages. In the course of this film the goddamn moon is destroyed, and Cybertron itself ends up parked right next to our planet, hovering in our atmosphere (something that actually occurred in the original cartoon, as well). You’d think a fair amount of societal norms would simply break down in the event of constant near-apocalyptic occurrences involving alien robot monsters, but at no point is any of this depicted as having any kind of impact on every day life, and in fact Wahlberg’s daughter is in college like nothing unusual is happening.

“…a robot the size of a planet eating another planet seems like the scene Michael Bay was born to put on film.”

– On the subject of Cybertron, the utter havoc and devastation that would result from the destruction of the goddamn moon and the introduction of a planet-sized body to the Earth’s atmosphere is never addressed. In fact there’s a weird subplot with a JPL engineer (Tony Hale) who insists that science will solve the crisis and not magic and hobgoblins (the notion that Transformers tech appears to be magic but is really just super advanced is mentioned numerous times but Tony Hale’s character apparently wasn’t listening), and proceeds to completely fail at solving the crisis. This is bizarrely set up as some kind of “Haha, take that, arrogant elitist scientists!” jab, while apparently forgetting that the focal point for the magic part of the plot is Laura Haddock’s character, stated to be a polo-playing, Oxford-educated professor with multiple PhDs. She even makes a joke about how “only in America” is being educated an insult. Maybe we weren’t supposed to be listening to her because she’s British, and also a woman.

– Cogman is stated to be a Headmaster, a gimmick from the original toys in which a small human-sized robot could ride in the vehicle mode of a larger figure, then become the head of the larger figure in robot mode. It seems strongly foreshadowed that Cogman will become the head of the robot form of the Aston Martin he drives, but it never happens.

– At one point Wahlberg, Haddock, and Cogman commandeer an old submarine that is implied to be a Transformer. However, it never transforms or does anything of note beyond being a submarine that drives itself. Surely this violates some rule of drama regarding a robot disguised as a vehicle in the first two acts turning into a robot by the third act.

– Hot Rod, the traditionally hot-headed young Autobot with a heart of gold and a weighty destiny, is here depicted as a French stereotype who can’t say his name correctly. What?

– The twist of the Earth itself secretly being the dormant form of Unicron, the planet-sized horn-headed world-eater voiced by Orson Welles in the 1986 animated film, is borrowed from the recent Transformers Prime CG cartoon series. It was an interesting idea there, a nice twist on the usual Unicron routine, but here it’s mostly just confusing, especially considering a robot the size of a planet eating another planet seems like the scene Michael Bay was born to put on film. You can’t really do that when having him turn into a robot would destroy the Earth, thus killing us all and leaving Unicron without a planet to eat.

“This is nothing new for Bay, as all his movies seem to wallow in this base meanness as their standard mode.”

The Ugly

– There are a few things in the film that are clearly the newly-formed “writers’ room” thinktank now heading the franchise (captained by Akiva Goldsman, the man who brought us Batman & Robin and the Lost In Space film) attempting to use the terrible writing of the previous four films as intentional worldbuilding, similar to how Batman v. Superman tried to convince us that Superman destroying half of Metropolis in Man of Steel was totally part of the thematic plan, you guys. Hitting the reset button on Optimus’ psychotic behavior seems to be part of this, probably in preparation for reworking how his character is presented in future non-Bay installments. But in addition to that there’s a very strange scene in which Anthony Hopkins implies that all Transformers are naturally psychotic murder machines (Cogman, his family’s Transformer butler for centuries, prefers “sociopathic”), but can sublimate that instinct by channeling it into more constructive behavior. This is perhaps intended to explain why even the Autobots are raging assholes much of the time (Ironhide attempting to shoot a puppy in the first film, Bumblebee peeing on Turturro, the other ‘bots constantly trying to kill each other in the fourth, which continues in this movie), but a better solution would be to just have them stop being assholes.

– I don’t want to repeat myself here but it really is notable how just about everyone in this movie is a complete jerk to everyone else at all times, whether it makes sense or not. This is nothing new for Bay, as all his movies seem to wallow in this base meanness as their standard mode. It’s just such a weird choice to keep making. Wahlberg is an ass to Isabela Moner and his employee Jerrod Carmichael throughout their scenes together, which is particularly odd in the case of the latter since every conversation they have seems like something they’d have already said to one another previously, given their living situation. Hopkins and Cogman are dicks to each other constantly. The Autobots not only fight like dogs regularly, but physically abuse the baby Dinobots for no apparent reason. They’re also complete turdwaffles to Daytrader, a junk dealing Cybertronian who is their only source of spare parts and luxury goods, who is voiced by Steve Buscemi of all people. Tuturro and Hopkins’ interactions consist entirely of yelling at each other over the phone. Wahlberg and Haddock snipe at each other constantly in what appears to be Bay trying to mimic human courting rituals without fully understanding how it works; this behavior lasts until Haddock sees Wahlberg’s abdominal muscles. It’s all just distinctly unpleasant in a way that you’d think one would want to avoid in a crowd-pleasing tentpole summer blockbuster.

– Despite having a slightly shorter runtime than the previous sequels, The Last Knight still feels like one hour of story stretched out to five or six hours. The interminable sweeping shots of inane exposition eventually “pay off” in a thirty minute orgy of brainless “action,” none of which has any real sense of purpose or weight despite how intensely everyone tries to act through it. What could be big moments are shot as mere afterthoughts, as Transformers merge into giant monster beings and archenemies clash at the feet of a literal goddess. As is often the case in these films, seemingly endless grinds through pointless cannon fodder results in the good guys dispatching the main baddies in less than 30 seconds, capped off with a non sequitur action star quip that makes Schwarzenegger’s zingers in The Running Man sound like Tolstoy by comparison.

– Dragonstorm, the three-headed robodragon the size of a football field, is pretty awesome in his first appearance in the King Arthur flashback that starts the movie. He ceases to be awesome when it turns out he does not have a robot mode of any kind, and is simply the 12 Knights of Cybertron merged together to make a big dragon. This merging is not a cool combination scene like the Constructicons or Voltron, of course, but just a bunch of indistinct junk sculptures mushing together into a dragon-shaped lump. A bunch of horned Decepticons also combine into a giant robot, similarly using the “everyone becomes a semisolid gunk pile that takes on a bipedal shape” technique, which is the most boring imaginable way of combining anything into another thing. Even the stupid Power Rangers movie understood that.

“…everyone in this movie is a complete jerk to everyone else at all times.”

– In order to find Wahlberg and the Autobots, the US government inexplicably strikes a deal with Megatron, the interplanetary terrorist who has tried to destroy the planet three times now, releasing several of his imprisoned soldiers in exchange for his cooperation. I realize the current administration makes some very poor decisions on an hourly basis, but this seems a little far fetched on every conceivable level. It also, shockingly enough, does not work.

– The aforementioned John Turturro now lives in Cuba, researching the Transformers conspiracy and screaming at English nobility on a payphone, that is when he’s not going to the beach with his surfer-dude beach bum Cybertronian buddy, who appears to be Topspin from the third film but in the credits is named, I swear to God, Volleybot.

– Speaking of names, some of the Decepticons released from robojail by Megatron’s negotiations with the government include Mohawk, probably the most blatant racial stereotype in the film; Dreadbot, who seems to be named purely after his hair style, making one wonder what his pre-Earth name was; and the gold chain-wearing Nitro Zeus, which is either the worst or the best name for anything, ever. All of these characters are quickly killed during a single battle with the Autobots and never seen again, leaving us to wonder why Megatron even requested them.

“…The Last Knight is merely a waste of time at the movies, almost impressively so.”

SPOILERS END

While Revenge of the Fallen and Age of Extinction were thoroughly unpleasant times at the movies, The Last Knight is merely a waste of time at the movies, almost impressively so. Somehow it seems that Michael Bay has, in a cunning feat of filmmaking knowhow and special effects alchemy, conjured up the perfect methodology by which to evoke the purest form of apathy I have ever personally experienced in a theater. I cannot recall a film I was less involved with or interested in from start to finish. I had almost no emotional response to anything in it. I sat and waited for it to end, not really with impatience, but with a detached resignation and faith in the inexorable passage of time. Sure enough, after two and a half hours, it did in fact end, to the tepid applause of two or three of the 20 or so people in the theater, who quickly ceased clapping when they realized what they were saying about themselves. I won’t claim Michael Bay ended his Transformers career without a bang, for there were many bangs, as well as booms, blams, ker-thwooms, and at least one ba-da-doom. It all feels strangely automatic and by rote, like going to a monthly lunch appointment with a co-worker you don’t like very much but tolerate for reasons long forgotten.

I almost wish it had been worse, so I could hate it with a tangible fury, like I do 2 and 4, or close to something acceptable so I could think of it sadly in terms of what could have been, like the first film. Instead it is just there, and is a thing that was made, and released, and played in theaters, and in one of those theaters, I was present, at least in body if not always in mind and spirit.

And that, I suppose, is how it ends. Until next year.

Transformers: The Last Knight (2017) Director: Michael Bay Writers: Art Marcum (screenplay), Matt Holloway (screenplay) Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Duhamel 

2 out of 10

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