Spoiler-free Quick Review Here.
Get ready, as this is going to be a long one. After all, a bloated, confusing, and at times irritating film franchise deserves its own bloated, irritating and confusing review.
As I walked out of the theater and towards my car, I was thinking about what I would say about Transformers: The Last Knight for the Quick Review. Yeah it was confusing, but it was still pretty fun, and despite it being 165 minutes long, it never felt as if it was dragging on and I never caught myself thinking, “get on with it.” I didn’t think it was great, but I thought it was fine; after, it is a Transformers movie, and I got exactly what I expected from it.
One day later, I can’t say that my view on the film has improved. In fact, the more I think about the film, the more I dislike it. It is not just confusing, it is stupid and it is lazy. Sure there are plenty of big spectacles and things being blown up or otherwise destroyed, but there is no substance behind those spectacles. There are no characters to care about, and the plot is too convoluted to be taken seriously. As for the villains, there is no clear motive or character behind them.
Let’s get on with actually talking about the film, and trying to figure out what happens in it. It begins with a flashback to a battle between the army of King Arthur and some barbarians. Arthur’s side is dramatically outnumbered as they attempt to hold out until Merlin arrives with his magic to save the battle. At this point, it is appropriate to think, “I thought this was a Transformers movie, what the heck is all this?” Don’t fret skeptical viewer, this scene is here to set up the fact that Transformers have in fact been here for centuries, and have been fighting alongside mankind the whole time. In this scene, it is revealed that Merlin had a staff that would allow him to lead the Transformers in a battle against the barbarians and that he would found the creation of a society of people called the Witwiccans (whatever happened to Shia Lebeouf?) who would help guard the secret of the Transformers who will continue to fight in every war mankind has ever been in, and that the Witwiccans would be able to use Merlin’s staff to prevent the destruction of Earth from a god-like robot being named Quintessa who may have created the Transformers and who also wants the staff to steal the energy from Earth in order to restore Cybertron. Oh, and apparently Earth is actually Unicron, a planet sized transformer that consumes other planets. Got all that? Good, because we are moving one.
Wait, you’re telling me that these giant robotic beings have access to interstellar space travel, but not guns?
In the present time, Optimus is frozen and floating through space, and back on Earth, the remaining Transformers are having to hide from a coalition of world governments who are hunting down and killing any Transformer they find. Mark Wahlberg returns as Cade Yeager who is harboring Bumblebee, and several other Autobots from the previous films whose names are almost never spoken, so I have no idea who they are. One is voiced by John Goodman, another by Ken Watanabe, and the other one is green. That is all the character we have one these guys.
This brings us to the first major issue with this film, and the entire Transformers franchise in general. Who the heck are all these Transformers? What are their characters and motivations? We don’t know and are never told. Other than Bumblebee and Optimus Prime, there are really no other characters whose identities and motivations are known. Even Megatron is treated as somewhat of an afterthought at this point. He has been killed or nearly killed in each of the previous four films, and in this one just kind of wanders around and is more of a minion to the main villain.
A shot from the fourth film, this is an Autobot that is in the fifth film as well, and I have absolutely no idea what his name is.
Having said that, he does make a deal with the government so that they will release some Decepticons so that he may lead them into battle Yeager and the remaining Autobots. Many may wonder why the government is willing to work with Megatron against the more peaceful Autobots, but that is not important. Each of the new Decepticons gets a fun little profile which leads one to think that they will have important parts to play in this film. Nope. Instead, it went something like this, “Ok, we just had some cool introductions to these new villains, I can’t wait to see them in action and to see what kind of characters they are- oh he just got decapitated before even uttering a single line of dialogue.” Repeat a few times until all new Decepticons are killed, and wonder why there was any investment into their introductions in the first place.
Getting back to the confusing plot, Optimus crashes on what is left of Cybertron and gets brainwashed by Quintessa to retrieve Merlin’s staff for her. Who is Quintessa, What can she do? Why does she need this staff? Why is Optimus the one doing this and not Megatron? The answer to these and all other questions is, “Who cares? Look at the robots blow stuff up!” Back on Earth a bunch of confusing stuff happens that would require this review to be 5000 words long in order to properly explain, and even that would not be enough. All you need to know is that Yeager has teamed up with a new Megan Fox surrogate, Vivian Wembley played by Laura Haddock. She is the last descendant of Merlin, because apparently Shia Lebeouf’s character has fallen off the face of the planet. Together they have to track down Merlin’s staff from the bottom of the ocean and use it to prevent the Earth from being consumed by Cybertron which is getting closer and closer by the second.
How they are supposed to do this is not clear and apparently not important, as a brainwashed Optimus steals the staff to give to Quintessa. Before he can do that, he has to fight Bumblebee who will speak with his real voice for about five seconds in order to snap Optimus Prime back to his senses. At this point Megatron shows up and takes the staff back to Quintessa anyway. Again, why wasn’t this Megatron in the first place?
With the staff in Quintessa’s possession, pieces of Cybertron begin to steal energy from Earth in order to restore itself. What follows is some of the most egregious examples of disaster porn ever made. Entire cities are destroyed as well as the pyramids- wait, aren’t the pyramids actually ancient transformer signaling things that were going to eliminate the earth or something? Haven’t you learned yet? Continuity and logic are irrelevant in these movies! Meanwhile, NASA scientists are trying to figure out a solution themselves led by Tony Hale playing the most annoying character possible.
And this brings us to the other major issue with this film and all other Transformer films, while the Transformers themselves are mostly anonymous, there are many human characters in these films that are incredibly annoying. Not only are they annoying and irritating, but their humor and the humor of the entire franchise in general is so juvenile and low brow that most people over the age of 15 are not going to be amused by it. There are so many characters and scenes in these films that I just want to end and go away because they are so incredibly bothersome and frustrating. These films manage to make millions and even billions of dollars despite so transparently appealing to a limited audience of 10-year-old boys.
There is not much else to say. The movie ends with the humans and Autobots fighting together against Quintessa, Megatron and their force of really ugly looking Transformers with both sides trying to gain control of the staff. Actually, there is one aspect of this battle which exemplifies how lazy this story is and how little though actually goes into it. Immediately before the final battle, Optimus give a rousing speech before he becomes the first to charge into battle with his jet which only he has. Once everyone else has joined the battle, part of the challenge becomes the fact that Optimus is missing. Was he captured? Is he in trouble against Quintessa? Has he already been defeated by Megatron? Nope. He just shows up later without any explanation as to where he was or why he was so late. He arrives and kicks a bunch of robot ass without anyone batting an eye. IN the grand scheme of things, this is a small issue, but it is one that really defines the amount of effort that goes into the plotlines of these movies.
The one aspect of this film that isn’t lazy are the plethora of action scenes. Immediate reactions to this film were more positive because of the strength of the action scenes. This is where Michael bay excels, as at no point are they every dull or boring and they are always grand spectacles which beg for other films to even try to outdo them. These are also why despite the two and a half hour run time, the film manages to not overstay its welcome. They are exciting and action packed, and can do enough to overcome all of the other negatives the film has to provide a fun experience if you are willing to zone out and just watch a high tech Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots fight combined with tantalizing amounts of disaster porn.
Unfortunately, even these fun moments are affected by the tainting touch of Michael Bay. As I eluded to at the end of Quick Review for this film, the cinematic style that bay utilizes for his films goes from annoying at the beginning of the film to completely frustrating and aggravating by the end. At no point in the entire film will the camera sit still for even a second. It is one thing to have it move a lot during action scenes, as that is in vogue at the moment, but even during low key scenes with characters simply speaking, the camera will not sit still. It has to move and shake around all the time. The worst is the Michael Bay special: a sweeping low angle shot that circles around the character in the center of the frame. I have seen this shot more times than I can count, and I would love for Bay to surprise me at some point with a new shot at some point. Instead, he vomits this shot out dozens of times a film and tells all of us to deal with the mess.
This is a frustrating movie, as is the case with every other one in the entire franchise. When the first teaser trailer dropped for the original Transformers a decade ago, it was one of the most excited I have ever been for a movie. It is one of the greatest teasers of all time, and was the perfect way to set up the first film. And the first film, for the most part, was able to deliver. It is the highest rated film of the franchise with a solid 7.1 on IMDB, and even its 57% on Rotten Tomatoes looks stellar compared to the other four films- three of which are below 20%, including this one.
The franchise had a solid start, but has spiraled out of control and it has grown to become the face of many of the worst aspects of Hollywood at this time. These are big budget action films that places an emphasis on CGI spectacles while doing away with such ridiculous things as a comprehensive plot and characters that people can care about. It is as if the people who makes these films think that the audience is just a bunch of simpletons who want to watch things blow up. Perhaps it is because these films are made by simpletons who just what to watch things blow up. Or maybe we should all come to grips with the fact that the entire reason this franchise and the property as a whole exists is to advertise a line of toys that will hit store shelves in time for the release of the films.
The real reason these films exist.
The reason that these films only appeal to juvenile young boys is because those are the ones who will buy the toys, or at least have their parents buy them. Anyone going in expecting anything else more is setting their bars too high. The Transformers films aren’t cynically made cash cows that will make hundreds of millions of dollars in spite of their stupidity, they are actually action films made for young boys that somehow manage to transcend those bounds and appeal to a massive audience beyond all logic and reason.