Movie Review - Transformers: The Last Knight
[Mild Spoilers within…you’ve been warned. – Ed.]
We talked about this earlier when we were looking at the state of the Transformers franchise some time ago, but after seeing Transformers: The Last Knight, I feel like the best way for me to sum up my feelings is to paraphrase, of all things, Motley Crue:
Michael Bay, don’t go away mad…just go away.
There are many ways a script for a film comes into being. In my opinion, the method that usually results in the better films is when the script takes shape from a writer that has a passion for what he’s writing, then being paired with a director that has an equal passion for the work as well as his or her own visual interpretation of that material. If we want a classic example of this, look at the work Tom Mankiewicz and Richard Donner did for the original 1978 Superman: The Movie or if you want a more modern take, well, then I’d recommend the work of Allen Heinberg, Geoff Johns and Patty Jenkins in the very recent Wonder Woman. Conversely, and what we’re seeing more and more of in Hollywood these days, is that a script ends up being written around a sequence of visuals that the director thinks would be cool and the writer is expected to weave a narrative around said visuals. In this instance, the writer is simply work-for-hire (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing)…but so many of these attempts just fall flat. In my mind, recent examples of this fall very squarely in the lap of Ridley Scott and his last two Alien films, Prometheus and Covenant. Sadly, this is also the methodology of Michael Bay. This results in a Transformers 5 that runs for two-and-a-half hours and ends up being 1 hour of rubbish at the beginning, 45 minutes of awesome at the end and a remaining 45 minutes that my brain doesn’t remember too well…likely to protect me from permanent trauma.
Let’s start with the positive. The parts of the film that spend their time on Transformers mythology are great. It was thrilling to hear the name Unicron on the big screen 31 years after his last appearance in theaters. The concept of Quintessa was a decent one though not without flaws. Megatron returning with Frank Welker again providing the voice once again opens the debate on why Hugo Weaving was cast in the first three films. The tie-in with Arthurian legend is fun to a degree and the 12 knights in this film feel more impressive than the Primes we saw in the second film. And, in any other franchise with any other director, the threads that are left dangling would fill the viewer with anticipation: Will Unicron emerge from the Earth? What is Quintessa’s ultimate plan? Is she REALLY the creator of the Transformers or is this just another deception? After all, the Knights did call her “The Great Deceiver”. If we’ve gotten Unicron, can Primus be far behind? And, with Cybertron at least partially restored [and, by the way, you’re gonna need to move that thing…you can’t park it here. – Ed.], do the stories need to be confined to Earth anymore…or can we go all cosmic now? With hints at Bumblebee’s past on Earth mentioned within the narrative and the upcoming solo film on the way, as I said, ordinarily, there are things to look forward to here.
But a lot of that is going to depend on whether or not Michael Bay finally bows out…or if Paramount has the balls to nudge him toward the door. But even if he exits as director, a sinking feeling in my gut would put him in a producer/executive producer sort of role and that’s really not any better. [Why hello there Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1 & 2, Friday the 13th remake and Nightmare on Elm Street remake…just to name a few. – Ed.] As we transition to the bad aspects of the film, well, we find ourselves chock full of the usual Michael Bay-isms: the usual military-porn, unnecessary characters, too many jump cuts, and emphasis more on the humans than the titular refugees from Cybertron and…everybody’s favorite…juvenile, inappropriate and unnecessary to the point of being forced humor. [You forgot the occasional misogyny. There’s a scene here with four English ‘hens’ that just…ugh. – Ed.] It seems like for every one serious moment involving a piece of Cybertronian lore that brings some gravitas we get AT LEAST five moments where the term ‘scrotum’ just HAS to be used. And the return of Seymour Simmons…SERIOUSLY??? For me, the first hour of the film did its very best to get me to hate it…and it very, very nearly succeeded. Within the first 5 minutes of the film, we get a scene of Merlin, fabled sorcerer to King Arthur, on his way to get help from the aforementioned Cybertronian Knights…and he’s drunk. And he TELLS US he’s drunk. Sigh. There is no shortage of scenes like this throughout the film where time is wasted on cheap jokes that fall flat. This literally makes up the first hour of the film. You know what we should have gotten in the first hour? How about explaining Megatron’s return and how he’s changed from the Galvatron we saw in Age of Extinction? A little background on Quintessa would’ve been nice. More of what it took to turn Optimus Prime into Nemesis Prime would’ve certainly added some weight to the movie. I could go on but I think my point has been illustrated, this script feels like there used to be some important narrative points there…but they were jettisoned just so Bay could make more ‘scrotum’ jokes. [Seriously, we’re not overusing that term. Okay, well, we are but we’re doing it to illustrate how Bay overused it so…does that make it okay? No. Probably not. Overusing ‘scrotum’ is never okay. – Ed.]
I’ll pull myself away from that rant-bait topic and tempt myself with another: this film is full of just lazy filmmaking. There’s the usual “none of the Transformers have any depth except for Optimus and Bumblebee” giving us a whole slew of new one-dimensional bots. The majority of the bots introduced here take absolutely NO names from the lore, instead opting for new ones. Granted, the majority of these characters are throwaways and you’ll likely forget them before the film ends (which is really saying something), so maybe it’s best that no REAL Transformer names are sullied from this half-baked nonsense. Since we’re on the topic of Megatron’s gang of Decepticons, we might as well continue on to point out that they completely copied the method Suicide Squad used to introduce their protagonists to introduce these goons. Sure, I get that imitation is a form of flattery…but this…this just felt wrong. Wrong and empty and just outright lazy. Here’s an idea, how about taking time from your precious scrotum jokes to give these characters a proper introduction? Or maybe show WHY Megatron values what looks to be a group of mechanical retards? When we see these jokers first in action against Cade (welcome back to hell, Marky Mark)…wait wait wait. Let me rewind a bit. You see, the movie starts off in Chicago, but Cade’s holed up in the Badlands of South Dakota. If I just use the nearest reservation as a starting point (after all, the movie is pretty clear, derogatorily so, that the local law enforcement is Native American), which is Yankton, then that’s a 9 hour drive (according to the Google). If we start closer to the actual Badlands National Park, then we’re looking at a 12 hour drive. Unless Cade left Chicago while the sun was still up in the evening and made it back home after sunrise the next morning, then we once again have the standard ‘Michael Bay doesn’t know how time and space work’ conundrum. Further evidence leads us back to where the Decepticons attack Cade…in what is supposed to be an abandoned town. [And can we get over that, please? It’s been 16 years since 9/11 and given how people are pretty much goddamn everywhere, if any giant robot fight or superhero fight were to occur, there are going to be people unlucky enough to be in the crossfire. Deal with it. How many Japanese critics have complained about or shamed any of the Godzilla films? Because a main component of those movies are LOTS of Japanese people at risk…running as fast as they can to find any type of sanctuary. And if they’re not bitching about that…after having a goddamn atom bomb dropped on them, no less…then we can jolly well get over it and separate our entertainment from a past national tragedy. – Ed.] Somehow, in the middle of this ‘abandoned’ town, a high-rise hotel with a still-functioning elevator…a glass exterior elevator…really just kind of emerges from the ether…because we just don’t see the damn thing in any of the initial establishing shots…shots that go out of their way to show lots of flat nothing surrounding Cade and his activities. And the less said about how Dinobots could remain so hidden as to come as a surprise during a car chase in these environs, oh so much the better.
In my review for Age of Extinction, I said that the final verdict of the fourth Transformers film felt like it depended on what was to come afterward…as it felt like it was more setup than it was a movie of its own. It feels like if one were to strip all the unnecessary elements from both 4 and 5 that you could actually salvage a watchable film by combining the two. [Now there’s a YouTube fan edit I’d kill to see! – Ed.] Instead, we’re given two films that show some good ideas on the writers’ part helmed by a man-child that completely misses the point of the franchise he’s bringing to the screen. Strangely, it feels all too appropriate to put the verdict for these two films in a more Quintesson perspective: “Innocent. Feed them to the Sharkticons.”