It’s gotten to a point now where it doesn’t matter what you think. 2014’s soft reboot Transformers: Age of Extinction was a woeful film, torn apart by critics and made its predecessors look like Citizen Kane in comparison. And yet, it grossed over $1 billion worldwide. It maintains a spot in the top 20 highest grossing films of all time. After four films, I guess you couldn’t blame Michael Bay and Paramount for simply phoning it in for their next sequel. And they did. Oh they so did. In fact they texted it in.
The Last Knight is a masterclass in terrible writing, a feat that I thought Ehren Kruger had already accomplished with Extinction. Story wise, it’s the same old shtick. Every man and their robot is looking for a certain McGuffin – (in this case an ancient staff) – so that they can either bring about or prevent the impending apocalypse (in this case it’s the relocation of Cyberton to earth). Honestly, these plots are more like playing madlibs now. Just tweak the motives and objects in play and presto, big budget blockbuster.
It’s the sheer amount of players involved that muddles things though and in retrospect I think if the character count was severely decreased, things would be a lot more streamlined. I mean, get a load of this. Mark Wahlberg returns as Cade Yeager, wanted fugitive and loyalist to the now criminal Autobots; Josh Duhamel is back as Captain Lennox after sitting out Extinction; Laura Haddok is the new girl, Vivian Wembley because we always need a smoking hot female don’t we Bay, you old dog you; Sir Anthony Hopkins plays Sir Edmond Bunton, a member of a secret society who have kept the Transformers’ presence on earth a secret for centuries; His robot butler Cogman, who admittedly is one of the highlights of the film; Isabela Moner plays Izabella, a 14-year girl with no home but a knack for repairing Transformers; Jerrod Carmichael plays Jimmie, Yeager’s comedic sidekick and John Turturro even shows up as Simmons in Cuba wearing socks and sandals for no real reason. Tony Hale who you would know as Buster from Arrested Development doesn’t even get a name but is used as a vessel for exposition. Add to this all of the Autobots, Decepticons, Quintessa, the films villain, different government agencies and an opening set in the dark ages (Stanley Tucci plays Merlin, I’m not making this up) and it’s basically an overflowing pot whose substance spills out and stains the rest of the film.
The Last Knight just cannot keep track of its story and characters. It created this mess and then just kind of sits in the middle of it all and pouts because it doesn’t want to clean it up. Characters appear out of nowhere then disappear for a while or forever with no explanation. Plot devices are just dumped or have no real long lasting effects. Surprisingly there are massive, agonisingly flat lulls scattered throughout. And let’s face it, the premise is a rehash of Dark of the Moon anyway. All that and it’s all rather silly. We had G1 (the 80’s cartoon) that, by today’s standards is hilarious in its stupidity. Then IDW Comics and Simon Furman made Transformers cool and now the current representation of the bots has sent them straight back to square one.
Dialogue is abysmal too. It’s generic and cliched and my eyes are still currently lodged somewhere in the back of my head from rolling them so much. There is more forced humour in The Last Knight than any other entry in the series as well as those invariable racial stereotypes. The only genuinely funny moments were between Cogman and Bunton and even that wore out its welcome by the end. Around the time Hopkins called Wahlberg dude or when Cogman started singing the hook to Ludacris’ Move Bitch during a car chase.
I think that most people are now painfully aware of what they’re in for when they buy tickets to see a Transformers film. What keeps them coming back is Bay’s unbridled, large scale set pieces and predilection for explosions. For better or worse, they’re back, in abundance. In fact, The Last Knight has the biggest budget of any film in the franchise and it shows. Bay shot a majority of the film in IMAX and it certainly is a spectacle. It’s too bad though that we can’t even rely on Bay’s action to get our money’s worth anymore. Indeed The Last Knight’s action sequences are grandiose but terribly shallow, existing merely as an aesthetic distraction from the blatantly obvious: it may look like there is a lot going on, but there really isn’t.
Bay’s nonsensical, explosion littered style of filmmaking has reached its peak, even if many may argue that it already had. The Last Knight plays out like the production team compiled a group of 7 year-olds and tasked them with writing down all the “totally awesome” things they would like to see and then just threw them in there because they look cool. There is no context. Things just fall and crash and explode because money. The worst part is that Bay has settled into this idea that wide, action heavy panning shots and and cuts to characters doing cool shit constitutes cohesive and riveting set pieces. In actuality, his films now are cut like cinematic video game trailers when there’s no gameplay footage available.
Credit where it’s due, there are a couple of moments of promise, fleeting reminders that people used to actually like Bay’s style of action. Bumblebee attacking a military unit while being put back together is really inventive and Bee’s fight with a rogue Optimus Prime is a more focused battle that invokes desperation and (unlike anything else in the film) is bolstered by a sense of purpose. In fact, Bumblebee continues to be a reliable character. Here’s hoping that the Bayless, solo Bumblebee film slated for a 2018 release can restore the franchise.
Seems as though my days of trying to defend Transformers films are officially dead. They did that, not me. The Last Knight is so impossibly atrocious that a discussion needs to be had as to whether a movie can be objectively bad. How can a film with such a large budget and so many actors and writing rooms look as though there was no effort put into it at all? The craziest thing is that something so packed with characters and action is just so flat out boring. The Last Knight is indisputably the worst film in the series and now that Bay has departed from the franchise (we’ve heard that before), we can only hope that Transformers can return to its former glory.
Review Score: ONE STAR (OUT OF FIVE)
Transformers: The Last Knight is out in cinemas on June 22.