Just days before the release of Transformers: The Last Knight, at $260 million the fourth and most expensive sequel in the never-ending franchise, it was announced that this will be the last Transformers movie that Michael Bay directs. I believe he’s said that before, yet here he is again and Paramount has promised several more sequels to keep the well-oiled brand alive. Coincidentally, Mark Wahlberg, who was in the last overlong sequel Age of Extinction and is back for more vacant stares, vapid dialogue and indecipherable CGI mayhem, has issued a “We’ll see” when asked if there are more Transfomers in his future, but he’s also stated he will follow his Bay. If the bursts of inconceivable clapping during the last thirty minutes of the screening I attended are any indication, it’s a sure thing we’ll see Bay and Wahlberg reunite with more alien robots and endless explosions.
That’s unfortunate, considering the worst elements of this franchise is accentuated on a grand scale with The Last Knight. This installment proves to be the very worst of them all and certainly one of the worst movies of the year so far. I came to this conclusion around the thirty minute mark of this sequel and I became uncomfortably depressed knowing I had almost two more hours to endure. I don’t know if it would’ve helped my viewing experience if I understood what I was watching or some of the words coming out of the character’s mouths, but somehow I doubt it.
Bay and his team throw everything at the screen this time, with little concern for a discernible narrative – hoping something sticks, yet absolutely nothing does. To try and communicate what happens in this movie is as much of a challenge as trying to comprehend what transpires on the screen while watching it, but here’s what I gleaned from the clanging chaos and ridiculous dialogue….
The movie opens 1600 years ago, in the midst of an indiscernible battle set in the Dark Ages of what we now call the UK (I can only assume, despite the location text being obscured by all the confusing action and how IMDb tells me King Arthur is in this movie, but that could’ve been any bearded dude in armor here). Giant balls of fire are hurled through the air from one side, crashing into armored knights who sail through the air in gritty slo-mo. It all looks like an advertisement for a medieval video game with its flaming catapults and swinging swords. What I noticed immediately is that I could barely comprehend anything uttered from the mouths of these actors. Part of it is due to mumbling, while another reason could be due to the noise the dialogue had to compete with. Ultimately, that means the folks in the sound department (editors/mixers) are to be blamed for such confusion.
During this time there is mention of Merlin the magician, just in case we weren’t sure if we were in Arthurian times. That’s when we cut to a long-bearded figure (an unrecognizable Stanley Tucci) riding horseback to rendezvous with an alien ship hidden on the side of a mountain. We quickly learn that Merlin is a drunk charlatan as he implores the giant alien inside to come down and help his people in battle. It’s a silly, unsuccessful tonal shift that will continue throughout the movie, with Tucci allowed to play for laughs that elicit more of a jaw drop from viewers. This Merlin is given a sci-fi staff that helps him win the waging war below, but it’s also something the alien entrusts him with, which will obviously play out somehow later on in the movie.
Before the movie’s title can be seen, there is some odd narration from Anthony Hopkins that comes from out of nowhere (and feels like the opening from Thor) and then we cut to a shot of Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) floating in space, possibly mumbling something (I couldn’t tell), which left me wondering if I should know where we left him at the end of Age of Extinction. I mostly forgot, but I do recall the leader of the Autobots hasn’t been acting all that heroic in the last couple of movies.
After more cuts we’re told that the ongoing battle between Autobots (good alien robots) and Decepticons (bad alien robots) has decimated cities on Earth. Humans aren’t fond of all that destruction and have deemed any Transformers to be outlaws – illegal aliens, if you will – with the U.S. forming a special militarized security outfit called TRF (Transformers Reaction Force) monitoring robot activity closely.
Cut to Chicago because we have to in a Transformers movie, where we follow four nameless kids who nose around a ruined Soldier Field. Here’s where we meet plucky teen, Izabella (Isabela Moner), an orphaned warrior kid who’s been living with her pal Canopy, an Autobot refugee who camouflages into a shielding pile of rubble and her comedy relief sidekick Sqweeks, a diminutive Autobot who transforms into a turquoise Vespa. Thanks to those nosy kids, Izabella and her iron giant are discovered by TRF who send their oversized ED-209 drone bots after Canopy and any other robots in the area. Barreling out of nowhere comes Cade Yeager (Wahlberg) to the rescue, dusting up a cloud of “come with me if you want to live,” brandishing a giant sci-fi gun and collecting a talisman MacGuffin from a nameless dying Autobot nearby.
Cut to Cade’s workplace, a junkyard in the Badlands he takes the Izabella to where they are unite with Bumblebee, hillbilly commando Hound (John Goodman), samurai Drift (Ken Watanabe), and Cade’s geeky assistant Jimmy (Jerrod Carmichael). Here is where we’re subjected to tacky banter and eye-rolling character interaction that flatlines, leaving us restless in our seats. The attempts at characterization and humor also go nowhere and are often insensitive, insulting and juvenile. No surprise, I suppose, since it lines up with the tone of Bay’s previous Transformers movies.
About thirty minutes in (I think, I can’t remember – it’s all a blur), Lieutenant Colonel Lennox (Josh Duhamel), now a reluctant member of the T.R.F., can be seen taking requests from a previously imprisoned Megatron (Frank Welker). The U.S. military is apparently making a Suicide Squad deal with the villain, who demands a roll call of his baddie minions are released (no really, we’re hit with an obnoxious run through of Mohawk, Berserker, Dreadbot and Onslaught), so Megatron can lead them to some doohickey weapon. Is it the talisman or the space staff? I lost track.
Cut to space, where we indeed see Optimus land on a hollowed out planet, declaring, “My home!” (thanks, Optimus). In no time he’s face-to-face with his creator, Quintessa (Gemma Chan), who looks like a robotic version of a mashup of Sil from the Species movies and the Borg Queen. That’s not a compliment. She chains him up, whips him into servitude bad-boy shape, sending him back to Earth to wreak havoc and find that special staff of Merlin’s. She explains why, but it’s lost on me.
Cut to England, where we meet polo-slinging hottie Oxford history professor Vivian Wembly (Laura Haddock, Star-Lord’s momma), who teaches her students about Arthurian legends even though she thinks it’s all BS. We will meet her mum and her tea pals and there will be some hazy backstory about her father who was more interested in Arthurian legend stuff than he was his own daughter and none of that is interesting in the least.
Inevitably, Vivian and Cade meet – she is kidnapped by the French-speaking Hot Rod (Omar Sy) and he is whisked off by a polite-yet-pushy British-accented humanoid robot butler named Cogman (Jim Carter, possibly playing a variation on his character from Downton Abbey) who turns into an Aston Martin DB11. Both of them are plunked down at the manor of Sir Edmund Burton (Hopkins, in a truly bizarre and erratic performance that left me puzzled and concerned), a presumably senile old codger belonging to a secret society who pontificates on the many significant moments where Transformers were retconned in human history. There’s a reveal of a robot timepiece that killed Hitler (seriously) and a couple minutes of a flashback solidifying Bumblebee battling Nazis in World War II. Burton goes on and on about how only Vivian and Cade can save the world now since Cybertron will soon merge with Earth, making it into, um, Unicron. The two have to get the staff, guard the talisman (the animated object eventually finds a home on Cade’s genitalia) and make time to show enough cleavage and washboard abs to make audiences tingle inside. I think I got all that right, but I could be wrong and it’s not my fault.
Who characters are, what they say and why they say it; where they are or go and why they’re there – none of that important story stuff matters to screenwriters Art Marcum, Matt Holloway and Ken Nolan (all of whom worked on the story with usual suspect, Akiva Goldsman, scribe-meister of such gems as Batman & Robin and The 5th Wave)/ They seem to have walked out of their think tank with a kitchen sink approach that Bay happily juggles in mid-air with aplomb. That approach is adopted by the six-person editing team of Mark Sanger, Debra Neil-Fisher, Roger Barton, Calvin Wimmer, John Refouta and Adam Gerstel, who treat visual transitions like kids at a slumber party fighting over the remote, each wanting to watch six different channels. The result is a headache-inducing mess that will leave you repeatedly checking your watch longingly.
But, I’m probably wrong, right? There’s a huge fanbase for these movies and it will make a ton of cash overseas. Critics like me will be scolded online by such fans and be told that Michael Bay made this movie “for the fans”. Paramount and the movie’s producers will come out and say the same thing. Okay, fine. But that doesn’t mean The Last Knight or these movies overall are any good. They are capable of being sporadically visually appealing (like the last half hour of 2011’s Dark of the Moon) but ultimately they are a mess – and this one is the messiest of them all. I couldn’t even begin to tell you what mid-air calamity transpires over Earth in the last half hour of The Last Knight.
Actors have never fared well in these movies, but I never thought I’d miss the likes of Kelsey Grammer and John Malkovich, since it feels like every actor is either reading their lines (that’s not acting), staring off into space or gawking at green screens. (I haven’t even mentioned what John Turturro and Steve Buscemi are doing in this, probably because I can’t explain it). There are no human antagonists here, which leaves the threat to mankind duties to one-note Quintessa and Megatron, a poorly-designed character who’s impossible to follow. As for the supposed hero of the Autobots, fans may be disappointed that Optimus Prime is absent from most of the movie, hilariously coming to his senses at the end to spout bumper sticker slogans of valor, heroism and….yawn.
Maybe die-hard fans have no problem following 2.5 hours of this cacophonous pile of junk, but I’ve tried and I’m done. Bay is shaking his entire movie like a snow globe, giddily anticipating where everything – everyone – would land and I’m not having it. It’s like watching a toddler throw his toys up in the air without a care and capturing it all in a swirling slo-mo digital maelstrom. This baffling movie is an incoherent mess that carelessly confounds as it heavily repeats the egregious unpleasantness of all the previous movies, like an arrogant brat who listens to no one except those who blindly follow.
I haven’t been this confused or irritated since Warcraft and I can at least respect that movie for trying something different, but after five movies (and many more to come) I’m really hoping Bay packs up his Hasbro toy box and returns it back to Paramount. The first Transformers movie was fun blockbuster bombast in the summer of 2007, but a decade of this is more than enough.