It’s popular opinion that Michael Bay has delivered a series of heavily flawed films with the Transformers license. While the movies do contain some fun moments of robot-on-robot action, they are often bogged down with the human characters, that for some reason have become the focal point of the franchise. Transformers: The Last Knight is the latest movie to contain the Transformer’s name, but also consists of so little of the robot’s in disguise that I am not even sure what this franchise is about anymore. What I do know, however; is that The Last Knight is a complete mess.
Transformers: The Last Knight feels like a series of trailers playing back to back. Its pacing is drastically uneven and when the film slows down, it’s for about 20 minutes so they can just unload a massive amount of exposition and then it’s right back to the high-intensity action and non-stop explosions that Michael Bay is known for. This movie suffers from so many problems that this review could go on forever explaining them, and with how awful the movie truly is, I don’t want to exert that much effort for it. The Last Knight contains complete nonsensical action set pieces that contain so many characters that you just don’t care about. For a series about transforming robots, you certainly don’t see much of a focus on them, and even when you do, it can be almost impossible to even tell what is going on.
Mark Wahlberg is back as Cade Yaeger, a character containing a name that feels so right at home in a bland videogame shooter or some form of anime series. The movie does pepper in a few other returning characters, but they are only here and there for a few minutes and then the majority of the film is spent on the new cast and slowing the film down to a crawl to explain Transformer lore for what feels like an eternity. I’m almost convinced that the entire church scene was filmed second unit as I just can’t imagine Michael Bay sitting behind a camera when something isn’t blowing up.
The new cast is certainly better than the series has had before, but that isn’t saying much. Anthony Hopkins plays a character that is simply there to present the Transformer lore and to set our heroes on their path. Joining Mark Wahlberg as the film’s co-hero is Laura Haddock, who you may recognize as Peter Quill’s mother from Guardians of the Galaxy. While the character starts off strong, she tends to lose that appeal the further the movie goes on. I was actually surprised how Michael Bay didn’t overly sexualize her character, as he has done so with most female roles in this series before. Another throw-away character is Izabella, played by Isabela Moner. She’s a young girl who is made homeless after a Transformer attack took out her home. She tends to cling to the side of the main cast and is pretty much useless here and serves no direct purpose in the film.
Since Hasbro needs to sell new toys and not existing ones that kids already have, the Transformers that get the majority of the spotlight, apart from Bumblebee, Optimus, and Megatron, are mostly brand new ones made specifically for the movie. There are a few new and returning favorites, but they tend to be pushed so far into the background or are simply just played up for comedy, especially Grimlock, who is only there to regurgitate up a police cruiser. Seriously, you have a giant robot T-Rex and you write him as a “bad dog.. spit it out.” comedic device? There is a scene about midway through the movie where Megatron recruits a new band of Decepticons, and I didn’t recognize a single one of them. They get these Suicide Squad style intro’s and the entire lot of them either get one-shot killed or ripped apart during scenes where you can’t even tell what is going on. The movie also introduces us to Hot Rod, a fairly major player in the original cartoons and animated movie, but the film plays around with him via a joke and once that joke ends, so does his on-screen presence.
The movie’s plot is centered around a Cybertronian staff, which is the macguffin of the film. This staff has the power to rebuild Cybertron, the homeworld of the Transformers, a world that was destroyed by war. Optimus Prime has returned to Earth, somehow changed, as he is willing to destroy humanity to find it. Some of the problems the Last Knight suffers from is anything NOT to do with the staff. The whole present day first half of the film is pointless and doesn’t really contribute to anything enjoyable, in fact, the opening flashback to the Dark Ages was a better movie than what followed. There are so many subplots and scenes with pointless characters that it can sometimes feel like you are watching several narratives that are constantly at conflict with one another. When the movie is eventually focused on finding the staff, it can almost come across as at least something resembling a watchable film as nearly every cross section of characters across the movie is at least in some way focused on one central narrative.
The film also goes out of its way trying to be funny and fails each and every time. Bay has packed the movie with non-stop pop culture references, modern day phrases, songs that are popular because of their use of foul language, and just foul language itself. For a movie that is intent on selling toys to young children, the number of times that the words “Shit” and “Bitch” are said in the movie was incredibly shocking and it was almost distracting. I honestly felt sorry for any parents who brought young children to see this movie.
The movie is always attempting to be as epic and dramatic as it can, with even one character poking fun of this as well. The problem is that these moments never feel earned and while the stakes in the final act are described to be catastrophic, the film never goes far enough to induce any sort of panic, and considering there isn’t a likable character in the whole bunch, I was kinda hoping the world was actually going to end. Adding to the manufactured sense of drama is the excessive use of comedy towards many of these scenes. There is supposed to be a sad moment later on during the film, but when a character uses the word “coolest”, it sparked laughter from the theater, the exact opposite response the audience should have had in that moment.
Apart from Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, the majority of the designs for each of the Transformers almost feel like color swaps of the same robot. There are a few exceptions like the Samurai-themed Drift and the sleek and stylish Hot Rod, but the film tends to rely heavily on a cast that generally blurs together. This can cause the film to not benefit from its use of 3D and much of the depth is exclusive to slow scenes or static shots that are more about highlighting a foreground element than adding any real depth. There is one shot in the junkyard that was created exclusively for 3D and is drastically out of place with the rest of the film. There are a few examples of strong visual effects and the movie can at times look rather gorgeous, but it is so rare that it slows down enough to appreciate it, and it tends to be more style than substance.
Another bizarre design choice in the film is the constant shifting of wide and narrow shots. There are several moments, even during simple conversations, where the film will change to very different aspect ratios. One scene, in particular, has a few character talking on board a ship, and you’ll see the movie swap from a wide shot to a more narrow shot during this single conversation, with a solid black bar appearing at the bottom. I’m not sure how apparent this is in IMAX, but I know several theaters are already putting notices at their locations stating that this ratio change is “normal, and intentional”.
All in all, The Last Knight is one of the worst movies I’ve seen in some time. It has painful to watch characters, humor that fails at every attempt, and the action becomes so chaotic that you never know what is happening and it all just becomes a splattering of visual noise. Fan favorite Optimus Prime is also barely in the movie and when he is on screen, he almost feels like a parody of himself. There are so many throw-away characters here that it makes you wonder why they were even included, with more than a handful of scenes in the movie that have no place here alongside the actual plot. It’s been reported that this is Michael Bay’s last film in the series and all I can say about that is, It’s about damn time.
What a disaster.
Transformers: The Last Knight was seen in ULTRA AVX 3D.