At this point in the ‘Transformers’ film series, I’d shell out more money for Amazon Prime than I would for Optimus Prime – and I actually have, which in theory makes me financially savvy. But there are loads of movie-goers who are dishing out the dough at the box office to keep the Transformers franchise alive, so who am I to judge? Well, I’m a film critic – so let’s get to judging, shall we?
Listen, I get it. Transformers are retro-cool. I grew up watching that cartoon series in the 1980s, along with several other properties that are in various states of being mined for entertainment gold by production companies who just seem too lazy to come up with lots of original content anymore. ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’ is the fifth installment of this particular old-cartoon-gets-a-modern-CGI-upgrade franchise. Mercifully, ‘G.I. Joe’ has only had two films and appears to be mostly dead, and I’m waiting with a certain sense of optimistic dread for the potential value of ‘He-Man’ and ‘Thundercats’ films to be “discovered” by studio execs.
But I digress, when I should be keeping the focus on ‘The Last Knight’ here – which appears to be something that director/producer Michael Bay had trouble doing while making this film, by the looks of the finished product. The film is a whopping two-and-a-half hours long, and I found myself avidly checking my watch starting around the 90-minute mark to see when this train was going to be finally pulling into the station.
What’s the plot of the film, you ask? Well, that’s… a good question. It borrows some bits and pieces from 1986’s animated ‘Transformers: The Movie,’ but weaves those bits incomprehensibly in with a myriad of other story threads and characters that seem to come and go only when convenient for Bay and company to forcibly propel the film towards some sort of pseudo-conclusion. As best I can tell, it’s something like this: back in the days of King Arthur, Transformers definitely existed (even though you’re just now hearing about it 5 films in). Merlin wasn’t a wizard, you see – he was just given a really cool and powerful staff by a Transformer Knight who had crashed on Earth – so of course, Merlin “summons” a three-headed dragon and England continues to kick ass on the battlefield. Fast-forward 1600-some odd years, and Transformers are being outlawed because of all the damage they do when they’re rolling out playing punchy-time with each other and what not. Cade Yeager (Marky Mark Wahlberg, back in the house, everybody) wants to protect the (mostly) peaceful Autobots, but the big bad government (thinly-veiled on-screen rhetoric here) doesn’t want that, so they’re trying to stop him, sort of, because he gets away from them pretty easily A LOT throughout this film.
Meanwhile, Optimus Prime is flying through space trying to find his home planet of Cybertron – and he does, but he gets more than he bargains for when he finds out that the planet isn’t really dead (another surprise you conveniently didn’t hear about in the first 4 films). Cybertron heads for Earth – yes, you read that correctly, the entire planet just starts sauntering towards our planet and ends up kinda latching on to Earth with come Transformer-y grappling hooks, physics and science be damned. Things blow up, robots fight, Sir Anthony Hopkins and Token Hot Girl (Laura Haddock) are along for the ride too, and… well, there’s some sort of conclusion reached before the credits start rolling, I guess.
I feel like I’m being really mean – and I probably am, to be honest, because I’m a little made that people like Bay and the powers-that-be at Paramount think that this kind of schlock is fine to just keep throwing at the cinemas. And if you are a movie-goer that enjoys this stuff – and again, there are apparently many, as the franchise keeps making millions upon millions of dollars – that’s totally fine too. There are many “bad” movies that I enjoy, and unabashedly so – but I’m not sure if I would just mindlessly hand over my money to see whatever “next episode” a company slaps together and puts in front of me.
There are parts of this movie that I found downright insulting. As mentioned, Haddock pretty much solely exists to play the part of “someone for Mark Wahlberg to eventually hook up with,” and that’s not really fair to her, especially when we’re off to such a great start this summer with showing how strong and amazing a (Wonder) Woman can truly be. At one point Haddock’s character changes into a tight dress and high heels immediately after Hopkins and a Transformer have essentially kidnapped her; pushing aside the reasons of why she would do this, Wahlberg’s Yeager asks her why she’s wearing a “stripper dress;” not only does she not have an answer, so too does the script not have an answer why Yeager would even ask her that, as the rest of the movie works so hard to set him up as a good and virtuous person.
I enjoy Sir Anthony Hopkins as an actor, but I have to imagine his conversation with the casting director went something like this:
Casting Director: “You’ll get to say lots of funny things and show that you’re hip by spouting phrases like ‘dude’ and ‘dickhead’ – it’ll be great!”
Hopkins: “Sounds kinda fun, I guess, but what purpose will my character serve in the film?”
Casting Director: “Well, mostly to explain things on-screen, in case any audience members can’t figure out simple plot points by themselves. And you’ll also get to insult other characters by calling them ‘fat-ass’ and we’ll throw in some other unnecessary degrading stuff too!”
Hopkins: “Well, I dunno…”
Casting Director: *adds several zeroes to the end of the financial offer*
Hopkins: “Let’s do this!”
From a purely technical standpoint, it’s a good-looking film, and visual effects are impressive. There were even moments where I found myself starting to get into the action – but it’s not a well-edited film, and silly things like logic would get in the way of my almost-enjoyment of any given scene. Giant robots that are seen jumping over 50 feet in the air in one scene suddenly think that the most effective way for them to get around is to turn into a car and drive 60-70mph down the road? Another planet that latches on to ours without a single shock wave, earthquake, or disturbance of any kind to be found? Megatron, the baddest of the bad robots, gets the US government to unleash his “crew” in a sound-off, slap their name on the screen as they’re introduced type of scene ripped right out of ‘Suicide Squad,’ among others? In the words of the stereotypical Valley Girl, I. Literally. Cannot.
I want to be crystal clear on this: I think that ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’ is the worst film that I’ve seen so far this year. And yes, I’ve seen ‘The Mummy,’ ‘King Arthur: Legend of the Sword,’ and the newest ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’ Perhaps ‘Fifty Shades Darker’ could give it a run for the money, but I’m not sure I want to go there. That having been said, however: if you enjoyed the first four Transformers films, then you’ll probably see this one, and you’ll probably enjoy it, too. If you do, then more power to you – but for me and likely for the average movie-goer, this one was not a fun movie-watching experience.