It’s really easy to make fun of a Transformers movie. Over the past decade, Michael Bay’s explosion-centric robot franchise has been an easy target for parody and mockery. The emphasis of visual stimulant over coherent style means that any film buff with “good taste” KNOWS the Transformers franchise is bad. The last 3 installments have been nominated for Worst Picture at the Razzies. Transformers: The Last Knight will too, but it won’t deserve it.
I’m not saying that this new Transformers movie is good. No. No, no, no. Nonononononono. (Please don’t put the last six words of that sentence on a DVD promo.) Though the movie is strangely captivating, it’s also exhausting, tedious and stupid. But it’s about alien robot cars and cinema is dead so who cares. Honestly, there’s not much that distinguishes this film from a mediocre Marvel movie. The biggest difference is that Marvel hides its ridiculousness in a tiring cloak of self-deprecating humor, whereas Transformers just… is. To me that’s commendable.
The supposed last film in the franchise, Transformers: The Last Knight crafts an entire alternate history for its titular robots. Because of this, you don’t really need to watch any of the previous prequels to understand this one, spare a few plot points and characters. The movie opens during the Arthurian Dark Ages with England fighting for its life against Saxon invaders. However, when all hope is lost, a Transformer dragon killing machine appears, saving the day.
Since then, narrates the scene-stealing Anthony Hopkins, the Autobots have been on the good side of every conflict (yes, there IS a Nazi flashback), whereas the Decepticons have been trying to subtly destroy Earth and restore power to Cybertron. It’s this deadly iteration of us vs. them that guides us through a relatively straight-forward narrative.
As it stands in the present day, the world is a desolate dystopia, which makes the imminent apocalypse seem somewhat unimportant. Supporters of the Autobots are resisting on two fronts: the military is hunting down every Transformer they can find, and the Decepticons are fighting to take over Earth. Mark Wahlberg and Laura Haddock lead the fight to save civilization, while a bunch of unnecessary subplots waste some great actors. For fun, here’s a short list, from most to least wasted:
- Steve Buscemi: provides the voice for a Transformer that appears in exactly one scene and does nothing but repeat exposition that the audience has already heard.
- Tony Hale: isn’t funny. It should be a crime to cast Tony Hale and not let him do anything even remotely humorous.
- Stanley Tucci: was a different character last movie! Why is he in this? He’s practically unrecognizable under all facial hair, but still. Huh?
- John Turturro: got to film in Cuba but otherwise did nothing but make useless phone calls.
- Jerrod Carmichael: provides adequate comic relief and a desperate grasp at diversity. At one point he gets shot at despite having his hands up. :/
- Ken Watanabe/John Goodman: have some nice character-building moments, and inject some energy into the film, but are mostly just holdovers from Age of Extinction.
- Shia Labeouf: true neutral. He’s not actually in this, but there’s a close-up of his headshot at one point.
- Anthony Hopkins: is perhaps the best part of this movie. Watching him yell at strangers is a true joy.
In true Michael Bay fashion, each individual shot looks great, but there isn’t much continuity between them. The clearest example of this in The Last Knight is that the movie uses no less than eight different aspect ratios. The transitions between these aspect ratios are frequent and distracting. In more egregious settings, two characters could be having a conversation but be filmed and projected on different aspect ratios. It’s bewildering that this was an intentional choice. Watch the trailer and know that these stylistic choices occurred randomly over the course of two-and-a-half hours.
Still, the special effects are nothing less than a spectacle. While the action scenes occasionally seem disconnected, the film manages to effectively build tension into an insane climatic battle. Michael Bay earns and surpasses his reputation here, but he’s also clearly the best at making these types of movies. While not necessarily avoiding the traps (toxic masculinity, objectification, racist caricatures) of its predecessors, it occasionally makes a step in the right direction. At the end of the day, the Transformers franchise is just burnt out, but this is a fine note to end on.