Transformers: The Last Knight and all the images you see in this review are owned by Paramount Pictures
Directed by Michael Bay
Good ol’ Patron Saint of all things wrong with cinema, Michael “The Boom Master” Bay! For a lot of film critics, he’s become something of a symbol for the worst that summer blockbusters have become even if that characterization is somewhat unfair. Heck, even I’m guilty of generalizing the dude to an extent as I’ve only managed to sit all the way through two of the Transformers movies (Revenge of the Fallen and Age of Extinction; neither of which were the least bit tolerable) and I do genuinely like a few of his films such as Pain and Gain as well as The Rock. This is gonna be the first film of his that I will review for the site, so I don’t just want to parrot my usual talking points about Transformers being THE WORST THING EVAR (even if it’s probably true) and am gonna try to go into this with an open mind as well as a critical eye. Is there SOMETHING in this latest entry of the series that will be worth talking about and even appreciating, or are here to say the same shit for a franchise that makes too much money to ever need to change? Let’s find out!!
The movie begins with Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) landing back on Cybertron (I think) where he meets the creator of all Transformers (I think) known as Quintessa (Gemma Chan) who… wants to destroy Earth I think? I don’t know, but that’s where we start and we’ll get back to that eventually. From there, we find out that the humans no longer trust the Transformers (again) and have set up the Transformers Reaction Force (TRF) to hunt down any remaining Autobots and Decepticons which usually isn’t a great idea, but whatever. The few remaining Autobots from the last movie (including a few Dinobots) are being protected by Cade Yeager from Age of Extinction (Mark Whalberg) who’s now a fugitive from the law despite having a very visible base of operations in a junk yard. Anyway, he’s being chased by the humans as well as Megatron (Frank Welker) but during an admittedly decent action scene where the three factions come to a head, a strange human sized robot named Cogman (Jim Carter) informs Cade that an artifact he found holds the key to saving the world or whatever and jets him off to the UK along with Bumblebee (Erik Aadahl) to meet with his master Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins). The dude informs Cade that he’s got a destiny much bigger than his own, there’s a professor named Viviane Wembly (Laura Haddock) who ALSO has a destiny much bigger than her own, and there’s a Cybertron MacGuffin somewhere that they need to find in order to fight off the impending doom brought about by Quintessa and a brainwashed Optimus Prime. Can Cade and his gang of rascally robot friend find the MacGuffin of Ultimate Destiny before it’s too late? Can Optimus Prime be brought back to his senses before he does something he’ll truly regret? WHY IS IT So HARD TO DESCRIBE THE PLOT TO A MOVIE ABOUT GIANT ROBOTS!?
If I’m being fair, it’s the best of the three Transformers films that I’ve seen and is honestly better than some of the other dreck I’ve had to sit through in the last two years. Hell, there’s a solid chance this will miss my worst movies of the year list which alone should tell you how NOT skin crawlingly unwatchable the whole thing is. Unfortunately, that’s about all the praise I can heap on this movie as there’s really nothing there to swing it one way or the other in terms of being a good, or even mediocre, movie. Sitting in that theater, the whole low key agreeability of shiny stuff coupled with a rather Pablum but swift moving story got to me in the way I assume makes these movies as profitable as they are as it gives almost nothing worth watching, but also keeps piling on the distractions so as to cause its audience to mostly zone out and not think too hard. It certainly didn’t last for me, especially as we got to the unbearable finale, but I got the appeal much more in this film than in the other two. Hopefully the positive changes to THIS movie can lead to even more ones in the next film, though I’m not about to hold my freaking breathe on that.
The biggest problem of this movie is structure and plotting which we’ll get to soon enough, but let’s look at what works about this movie separate from everything else. The movie can basically be broken up into an hour long movie about Marky Mark outrunning the new Transformers Reaction Force (wasn’t that already a thing in the last movie?), a completely separate hour long movie about a big bad in space coming to destroy Earth as well as all that LAST KNIGHT stuff, and then nothing but white noise for the last half hour. On their own (not taking into account how they fit into the overall film), those first two stories are just fine and have some solid moments in them. The first movie of the two has a pretty interesting setup which feels like a genuine improvement over what they were trying to do in Age of Extinction; namely show that this war between the Autobots and Decepticons has had a huge toll on humanity which is starting to turn against their former allies. It didn’t really sell well in the last film because of how needlessly slimy everyone involved with stopping the giant robots were acting, and while this isn’t what I would call NUANCED, there’s certainly more dimension to those who are sick and tired of giant robot fights happening in their towns. Not only that, but the movie puts the robots front and center for the majority of it with the Autobots getting a decent amount of screen time and the Decpeticons ACTUALLY getting identities and a genuine role to play in the story. Okay, it’s INCREDIBLY ham fisted the way they introduce Megatron’s new henchmen (it’s straight out of Suicide Squad) and the movie does an abysmal job of selling the idea that the US government will ONCE AGAIN trust the Decepticons over the Autobots, but we genuinely get a story about the good guy robots being hunted down by the bad guy robots instead of… I don’t know, whatever the fuck was happening in Revenge of the Fallen with the Allspark or whatever was going on with that space robot cop thingy in Age of Extinction.
The second movie in this unfortunately drops a lot of the robot stuff as they are shuffled to the background, but even with that there’s a decent adventure movie to be had with Anthony Hopkins hamming it up to an amazing degree and solidly executed action chase sequences throughout the UK. It’s only about as good as a National Treasure movie, but even those can be somewhat entertaining and are certainly better than most of these films. The plot doesn’t make any damn sense which is par for the course in this series (plus they also throw in some Michael Bay Sex Humor which was mostly absent from the first movie in this), but there’s genuine momentum throughout, there’s a pretty engaging robot named Cogman who’s easily the best part of this movie, and it feels comparatively toned down to the other two movies I’ve seen. Maybe Michael Bay is finally taking these films seriously which is why there’s a comparatively more mature and grounded tone throughout this movie (not nearly as much objectification of women, racial humor, or even toilet humor compared to the other films) which feels like a step in the right direction and honestly is the closest that any of these have felt to having an actual influence from Spielberg who’s still a producer on this franchise.
However, despite the improvements in terms of tone, focus, action, and maturity (compared to the other films), this movie is still a total mess and gets REALLY hard to sit through after a while. First of all, the film making feels REALLY slapdash which is mind boggling considering how much money these things cost and how much they usually rake in at the box office. There’s a decision that they make in this movie that I’m SURE has been made in other films, but I’ve never noticed it as blatantly here where the aspect ratio kept on changing, and I’m not just talking about from scene to scene; I’m talking shot to freaking shot. I understand when shooting for IMAX to have the action set pieces at a different aspect ratio to take full advantage of the screen size, but this switches between wide screen, WIDER screen, and IMAX multiple times a minute. A simple shot reverse shot where two people are having a conversation will have two different aspect ratios and it drove me up the wall every time I saw it, AND I SAW IT EVERY TEN FREAKING SECONDS!!
That sloppiness extends to the story, pacing, and structure of the film itself which is almost as jarring to watch, but that’s also kind of expected from this series at that point. I don’t think I’m breaking any ground when I say that characters drop in and out of the movie, subplots are underdeveloped, and none of the new ideas they threw into this are skillfully integrated into what we saw in the previous films. If they bothered to focus on just ONE of these storylines THE WHOLE TIME (instead of two or three story lines that we get for very long sections of the movie before being abruptly dropped), then we might have had something here that would have been much more entertaining and a whole lot shorter. Instead, we’ve got subplot after subplot that don’t add anything to the movie (John Turturro is back and literally phones in his performance) as well as legitimately INTERESTING story lines (particularly involving Isabela Moner’s character) that are completely dropped by the halfway point to never be meaningfully concluded on. On their own, the two main story lines are fine even if they do suffer from several problems that have permeated this series since it first started, but putting those two together along with everything else shoved in from government agencies, the Anti-Transformers Gestapo, and the Robot Alien Queen who wants to do… something, it just turns into another Transformers movie; squandering what potential it had earned from doing something new by falling back on old habits.
If we look at this movie outside of it being another entry in THE WORST FRANCHISE EVAR, it manages to score a few legitimate points for improving in certain areas that the other films were woefully deficient in. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to ignore that this franchise got the reputation it has for a reason and this film, while better than the others I’ve seen, doesn’t do enough to revitalize this series for the critics or those who have been disappointed with these films since day one. I don’t recommend seeing it in the theater, particularly because of how mind numbingly dull it gets at the very end with the endless explosions and the overall lack of structure, but if you’re already a fan of these and were gonna go see it anyway, it at least bothered to improve somewhat so you’ll probably love the damn thing. At the very least, it’s JUST barely good enough that this won’t be my go to bad movie punching bag; ESPECIALLY since we have Batman v Superman to point and laugh at.