Transformers: The Last KnightReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 06/21/17 10:02:23
Although this news will probably comes as no surprise to anyone who has taken even a cursory look at my reviews of the various entries in the “Transformers” saga, I must state for the record that I would just as soon lower my dangling bits into a blender than sit through “Transformers: The Last Knight” again in this lifetime. That said, there is one circumstance in which I would cheerfully and happily purchase the Blu-ray of the film when it hits stores and that would be if it took a page from the home video release of the live-action “Beauty and the Beast” remake and included video of the actors gathered around for the first table read of the screenplay. This, I hasten to add, is not because I want an opportunity to savor the sparkling dialogue on display—of which the most profound statement may be Merlin (yes, Merlin) remarking “God, I’m sozzled”—but because I am curious to see how the actors reacted to the jumbo helping of word salad masquerading as a script that they were charged with making sense of and bringing to life. Did someone like Mark Wahlberg or John Turturro or the celebrated Sir Anthony “Freejack” Hopkins at any point stop the proceedings to ask if any of what they were reading made a lick of sense to anyone or did they simply shut up those thoughts and think instead of the buckets of money that they were presumably given to appear in it? My guess is that such footage will never appear on the Blu-ray but if anyone has access to such a thing and can leak it, it would be most appreciative—not only would it be an invaluable guide to how much silliness a star is willing to swallow in the name of a big paycheck but it would almost certainly prove to be more entertaining—or at least quieter—than the film itself.Every once in a while, you will hear a movie being described as “review-proof”—one that has such an intense demand going for it that millions of moviegoers would still flock to it even if the reviews were universally negative. This film could also be described as review-proof but in the sense that it has been slapped together in such a haphazard manner that anyone attempting to analyze it from a normal critical standpoint might well go frothing mad in the process. Oh sure, there are scenes in which things happen and people talk to each other but they are jumbled together in such a willfully incoherent manner that there is hardly a point in the proceedings in which there are two consecutive scenes that make sense together. There are late-period Godard films that have a stronger narrative throughline than this film and better action choreography to boot. If movies were still being presented in 35mm, one could rearrange the reels at random before a screening and the end result would scarcely be more incoherent than what has been presented here. In fact, that might actually be preferable because if the reel containing the end credits turned up sooner than later, viewers could leave early without really missing much of anything in the process.
As far as I can recall, the film opens with Transformers having been declared illegal throughout the planet (with the exception of Cuba) and a top secret American task force has been charged with ferreting them out. However, despite having razed major cities like Chicago to the ground multiple times, the Transformers still hiding out here have a few human who are on their side. One is Cade Yeager (Wahlberg), a top-notch mechanic who, having shed his babe daughter from the previous film (she is now in college—presumably vo-tech), is now a wanted fugitive harboring several of the alien robots in a massive junkyard in the badlands of South Dakota with his wacky African-American sidekick Jimmy (Jerrod Carmichael). Another is Izabella (Isabela Moner), a spunky 14-year-old who is either an orphan or an escapee from a lab charged with creating clones of Jessica Alba for some presumably icky reason. Cade helps rescue her from the wreckage of Chicago when they are set upon by the anti-Transformer task force that turns out to feature recurring lunk William Lennox (Josh Duhamel) as one of its leaders. Cade brings Izabella back to South Dakota with him and interacts with her in a series of scenes so awkwardly written that it almost seems as if the film is trying to set her up as his love interest instead of as his surrogate daughter.
Meanwhile, the newly reviled Autobot leader Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen) is floating through space, an exile from the planet that he once considered to be a second home. Eventually, he arrives at his home planet of Cybertron, which now lays in ruins for reasons that he believes are his fault. One being still residing on Cybertron is Quintessa (Gemma Chan), a power-mad sort who has a few tidbits of information for him. For one, it turns out that Unicron, the home planet of his sworn enemies, the Decepticons, is actually Earth. For another, he discovers that there is a way for him to restore Cybertron to its former glory. Hundreds of years ago, a magical power source belonging to Cybertron was left somewhere on Earth and if he can retrieve it, it will save Cybertron and, as a bonus, destroy Earth in the process.
“But wait,” you may be asking at this point, “What is all this about Merlin that you alluded to a couple of paragraphs ago?” As it turns out, Transformers have been appearing on Earth to lend a hand when needed for a long time. In the opening scenes of the film, we see King Arthur and his forces doing battle that seems dire until Merlin (Stanley Tucci) arrives wielding a magical staff (the one that Optimus Prime needs to find) that allows him to save the day for the Knights of the Round Table. Later on, we also see how Transformers helped the Allies win World War Ii, including a glimpse of “the watch that killed Adolph Hitler.” (Alas, director Michael Bay neglects to explain why Transformers didn’t show up at Benghazi—sad, because it might have boosted the box-off take on that one.) This fantastical history of human/Transformer alliances has been duly traced by one Sir Edmund Burton (Hopkins)who determines that only two people can possibly save the planet from the latest world-threatening helping of robot-inspired carnage. One is Cade, of course, and the other is Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock), a pouty-lipped teacher specializing in pooh-poohing all the various myths about King Arthur that have grown over the centuries. She is invited to the party because, as it turns out, she is the last living descendant of Merlin himself and is therefore the only person who can wield the aforementioned staff and harness its power in order to save Earth.
Of course, it is ridiculous to walk into a “Transformers” movie at this point and time and expect something involving a coherent story and characters that you care about to even the slightest degree—after having made billions of dollars without those elements in the first four films in the franchise, why would they bother to include them in the fifth go-around? After all, this is a series of films that has spent millions of dollars and deployed countless displays of special effects wizardry and yet has only managed to come up with a single memorable image in the entire saga—that cheesy but undeniably effective shot of Megan Fox leaning over her car engine and becoming a sex symbol in just a few seconds. And yet, even by the extremely low bar set by the series to date, “Transformers: The Last Knight” is an almost unforgivably sloppy and lazy bit of hackwork that doesn’t even try to satisfy those who accepted those previous efforts, let alone those looking for something in a film other than relentless explosions and boilerplate dialogue. Scenes appear almost seemingly at random with barely any connection to what has happened or what is going to happen down the line. It is a globe-trotting saga but no matter what international locale the action takes place at any given time, there is never any sense that one has gone any further than the nearest green-screen facility. The big action set-pieces go on forever—a sensation not helped by adding so much unnecessary slow-motion photography to them that even Brian De Palma might get bored with it after a while—and are so choppily edited that it is virtually impossible to figure out what is going on at any given moment.
I guess that isn’t too surprising since neither Michael Bay, who has directed all the “Transformers” films to date, nor the various screenwriters seem to have any respect for the intelligence of their audience. Remember how I mentioned that the film takes place in a number of international locales? As per usual for a film like this, every switch to a new locale is the occasion for a bit of text in the lower left corner of the screen informing us of where we are. When we first hit London, for example, we get one reading “London, England. U.K” That is fine, I suppose but for at least the next six or seven times that we go back there, we once again get the “London, England. U.K” text. Now I am willing to believe that the target audience for this film is sufficiently uninterested in the world outside the U.S. to make such a designation necessary. However, while I may be a cock-eyed optimist, I am convinced that most of them would be able to pick up on where London is located by about the third reminder. Another aspect that shows contempt for the audience is in the treatment of Vivian, the main female character. Like most female characters in Michael Bay films, she is not exactly fully drawn from a dramatic aspect—the most interesting thing about her is the disconcerting resemblance that Haddock has to Megan Fox, who famously ran afoul of Bay by comparing him to Hitler. However, she is set up to be the ultimate hero of the story—the only person who can wield Merlin’s all-powerful staff and such—but when push comes to shove during the effects-heavy climax, she is relegated to the sidelines for most of the time while manly men Wahlberg and Duhamel are largely the focus of attention. This would look bad enough under normal circumstances but in the wake of such films as the recent “Star Wars” titles and “Wonder Woman”—films in which women were allowed to be at the forefront of the big action beats—this one looks positively archaic by comparison. It feels like the work of a filmmaker who has convinced himself that he is well and truly woke even though he clearly hit the snooze alarm.
To give credit where credit is due, I saw “Transformers: The Last Knight” in 3-D and while there is nothing from an effects standpoint to justify the added admission price, I have to say that Bay and cinematographer Jonathan Sela clearly took the time to increase the brightness of the image they were presenting in order to counterbalance the inescapable dimness brought on by those stupid glasses—for once in a 3-D film, the images are crisp and clear throughout. Too bad, though, that not a single one of them is actually worth watching. Also, while the film itself stretches out to nearly 2 1/2 hours, the end credits shoot by at a rapid-fire pace, presumably to help protect the good names of all involved.“Transformers: The Last Knight” is absolutely awful in practically every imaginable way—the only thing keeping me from declaring it the worst of the “Transformers” films is that the others are so forgettable that I would have to watch them again in order to make such a judgement and that ain’t happening anytime soon—and the saddest thing about it is that, barring some kind of miracle along the lines of the total rejection of last year’s “Independence Day: Resurgence,” it will probably become a big hit among viewers with an apparently insatiable appetite for watching CGI robots smack each other around while various carbon-based units of life look on. It is bleakly amusing to note that the same weekend that this monstrosity opens also sees the limited release premiere of arguably the year’s best film to date, Sofia Coppola’s “The Beguiled,” a work that could not be more diametrically opposed to “Transformers” in every possible way if it tried. I am fully aware that “Transformers” will be the bigger box-office hit by a large margin. That said, if you happen to be in a city where both films are playing this weekend and you elect to go see it instead of “The Beguiled,” you may not be a terrible person but you are certainly a terrible moviegoer.
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