6/20/2017

Review: 'Transformers: The Last Knight', Michael Bay Piles One More On The Scrap Heap


Michael Bay has now been directing Paramount's Transformers movies for a decade. Five films, ten years, roughly 20 rear end shots from whoever the female lead might be, 300 slow motion explosions, a few dozen mounds of scrap metal that are presumably Autobots and Decepticons smashing together in what he'd call a fight scene. But none of those movies had Nazis. Or freakin' King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable. But Transformers: The Last Knight does for some reason. It's a movie that might have been written by a crazy person at the behest of Bay who just REALLY wanted to make a movie about Camelot but didn't have time. It might just be that Bay wanted to throw every wacko idea he had out there since this is supposedly his goodbye to the franchise he started.


It doesn't really matter who's to blame, because this film is damned awful. I feel like this needs repeating every time I do a Transformers review, but I'm not someone who dislikes Michael Bay as a director. And I'm probably one of the biggest Transformers fans around. Hello, I have Transformers tattoos all over my body. I grew up watching them as a kid and continue to collect them today. And I've long gotten over the fact that Bay has a different vision for them than the cartoons and toys I used to love. These are bad movies because they make no sense, they have no heart, they don't even have visual effects that are remotely appealing. And The Last Knight is the worst Transformers movie of them all.


It begins with a Camelot prelude so long I seriously thought for a minute that I had wandered into a different movie, until all of the explosions bombarding King Arthur and his Knights woke me up. Apparently the Transformers have been around for thousands of years, affecting key moments in human civilization. Bumblebee fighting alongside the Allies in WWII? Yeah, that's here, as a sort of "Hey, Bumblebee doesn't suck" primer for his upcoming spinoff.  For some reason Stanley Tucci plays a drunken Merlin who is given an all-powerful staff by a hidden Transformer, and warned to hide it from an ancient evil. That evil is Quintessa (Obviously a spin on the multi-faced Quintessons), Optimus Prime's creator who wishes to revive their dying planet of Cybertron at the expense of Earth. The prior film ended with Optimus flying off to Cybertron to find his maker, and he does, only to have Quintessa convince him that Cybertron must live, and to do it he must retrieve the staff. Uh oh, Prime's not fighting on our side anymore, you guys.


The rest of the film is a blur of crap that either makes no sense or has little impact on the plot. The Transformers are now considered enemies of the world, except in Cuba where they live peacefully and play basketball all day in the hot sun. If only the story could have stayed there. Unfortunately, we're brought back into the orbit of failed inventor-turned-vigilante Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), who protects the Autobots from the government's forces. He also becomes friends with the street-wise orphan Izabella (Isabella Moner, being setup as the new lead) and her mini-bot sidekick, Squeeks. They in tune hook up with crazy old historian Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins, just letting the absurdity wash over him) and an Oxford professor (Laura Haddock) who are key to unlocking the mystery of the Transformers' secret history. Y'know, that they were around fighting Nazis and stuff. And whispering into the ears of humanity's greatest figures, including Harriet Tubman which makes me think the Transformers could have simply driven the slaves out of captivity. But whatever, it's not worth thinking about too much because clearly nobody else did. Burton claims to know why the Transformers keep arriving on Earth, but it's a question we've known the answer to since the beginning. Every movie has had them here searching for some powerful Cybertronian object, and this one is literally no different. Why answer questions nobody is remotely curious about?


Much has been made of Prime's turn towards "evil", but it really doesn't impact the story much at all. In fact, he's gone for about 80% of the movie and we forget that he's even out there. Nor is his nemesis, Megatron, all that crucial to the disaster headed Earth's way. In a ridiculous scene Megatron negotiates with the human government (!!!!!! Megatron would never negotiate with humans!!!) to release some REALLY bad Decepticons from prison, forming his own little Suicide Squad. Then we don't see much of them, either. But we do spend a lot of time with Burton's weird ninja butler, and plenty of exposition about the Transformers throughout history. But there's nothing that makes the incoming threat, the planet's destruction and Prime's turn against humanity, seem all that critical. There's little urgency with so many people running around and Autobots racing from one place to the next. And clearly, with a runtime of 2 1/2 hours Bay isn't in any hurry, either.


Giving the Transformers a deeper mythology isn't automatically a bad thing. Having them play a role in history could make sense from a certain perspective and it could have been done in a way that adds to our understanding of them. But Transformers: The Last Knight doesn't do that. Learning that Autobots fought alongside Arthur doesn't enrich these characters for us, it was just an excuse for Bay to have Transformers pulling a Braveheart.  Sometimes the sheer audacity of the image is jaw-dropping, but Bay has long since emptied his bag of tricks on these movies. Seriously, he even gives Hot Rod (Who is inexplicably French, I might add), a weapon that slows time to a crawl. Since when does Bay need an excuse to slo-mo the action? EVERYTHING IS ALREADY IN SLOW MOTION! The spectacle and scope of Bay's action sequences don't have much impact anymore, although Prime still looks hella cool slicing down Decepticons with his gigantic sword. Who needs Excalibur when you have a sword the size of a building?


Not only is Bay on his way out, but Wahlberg has said he's finished now, too. That's probably for the best. Transformers: The Last Knight isn't going to send either out on a high note, but at least their stepping aside will allow others to give this franchise a fresh coat of paint.

Rating: 1 out of 5