Transformers: The Last Knight is a tiresome mix of self-aware silliness and Budweiser-branded apocalypse porn, but compared to Michael Bay’s previous Hasbrosploitations, at least this one is – dare I say – momentarily fun? Not enough to avoid becoming a dizzy mecha-mess of metallic chaos, mind you. Let’s be realistic. Early predictions of a 3:20 length only missed by about 50-or-so minutes, sticking to the franchise’s boorish signatures. First it’s men against bots, then bots against bots, then Medieval bots against newer bots, then Earth against Cybertron (like, the planets themselves) – be still, my swirling head. Focus on the blatant Suicide Squad ripoff and dogpiled sexual humor. Maybe that will distract from from the distractions themselves.
If you’re keeping tabs on Transformers continuity, The Last Knight is where it all ties together (or, kinda tries). Autobots and Decepticons are now outlaws. National governments assemble anti-robot agency branches (“Transformers Reaction Force” in America). Colonel William Lennox (Josh Duhamel) returns as a high-ranking TRF commander, only to butt heads with Autobot sympathizer Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg). A Chicago orphan named Izabella (Isabela Moner) and her rusty sidekick Sqweeks join Yeager, until a butler bot named Cogman (Jim Carter) reveals that Yeager must jet to London because of the magical talisman latched to his bicep (uh?).
It’s here we meet Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins), who in-turn introduces Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock). At this point, Earth only has three days before it’s annihilated because Optimus Primes’ God – a lady bot called Quintessa (Gemma Chan) – is steering Cybertron towards our home planet (UH?). Plus, there’s evil Megatron (and your Suicide Squad directive), Arthurian flashbacks to a drunk Merlin (Stanley Tucci), Agent Simmons’ (John Turturro) Cuban outpost, Hot Rod’s (Omar Sy) time-slowing gun – AMONG TOO MANY OTHER THINGS.
Here’s where I’d gulp a glass of water for added effect if you could see me, exaggerating my exhaustion after explaining Bay’s abundantly overstuffed pack-mule of a film.
Maybe a large writer’s room (led by Akiva Goldsman) is to blame? Think “Kitchen Sink” screen writing, except then said kitchen sink transforms into another warrior Bay introduces at the final hour for no reason. Arcs are never wrapped up, only opened for further franchise possibility. Try deciphering who Cade and his rebellion crew are fighting against when Transformers: The Last Knight concludes in – you guessed it – explosive fashion. Why are there Decepticons we don’t recognize, being featured as main characters? Bay just continues to shovel more and more down viewer’s throats, until we feel like a puffy-cheeked Greta in A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child. Already bursting open, forced to choke through another bite of content.
That’s not to say certain aspects don’t alleviate headache-inducing chaos. Stanley Tucci as inebriated Merlin? Cheers to that. Anthony Hopkins declining a booty call while the sociopathic, behind-the-wheel Cogman talk-raps “Move bitch, get out tha’ way”? Sure thing! Transformers: The Last Knight doesn’t deserve such a hilariously insane comedic duo (Hopkins for Best Supporting Actor, like, not even kidding). Sexual tension between Mark Wahlberg’s abs and Laura Haddock? Googly-eyes and stunned stammers aside, there’s momentary charm.
John Tuturro does his best Charlie Kelly impression (complete with vacationing Autobots), Sqweeks spits attitude, tiny dinosaur baby-bots blow fire – Bay trades *some* male-gazey female character treatments (Nicola Peltz gone, phew) for blockbuster-approved fun. It’s still a total bro-fest (Wahlberg’s emotional pinnacle involves a bro-bump), but not as egregiously fraternal as previous entries. Even if locker room Autobot talk seems like it’s only a line or two away at all times.
That said, Transformers: The Last Knight is one part sentimental Hollywood monologue (hazy lighting, shadowy poses, tears) and two parts burn-it-all-down devastation. Characters never just “talk.” Either they’re narrowly escaping a trademark Baysplosion or going all Bill Pullman in Independence Day (you know the speech). There’s no tonal balance between *epic* battles and *epic* character interactions.
Bay strikes this strange aesthetic that’s both horrendously joke-riddled (Immaturity Level: Unreadable) and deadly, body-counting serious (levelled cities, decapitated Decepticons) – and it’s never even nor empathetic. Catastrophic events blur together in fiery bursts and greyscaled landscapes, homogenizing even the greenest Irish fields. It’s the smash-bang-boom action you’ve come to expect from Bay’s Transformers franchise, through a lens that captures product placement logos and screen-covering rubble with the same focus. None of this changes, and familiarity can be expected. Twirling Bumblebee (Erik Aadahl) kicks, Drift’s (Ken Watanabe) slicing sword, Hound’s (John Goodman) punishing chaingun – it’s all here!
Without apology, Transformers: The Last Knight is a gut-busting cinematic entrée that transcends satisfaction into levels of gross overindulgence. Robot aliens are polished down to the slightest chrome grate, but fault lies in execution. Michael Bay is directing four different movies, none of which NEED to play together. This leads to slight reconciliations (Bumblebee and Optimus Prime have their own “Martha!” moment), underdeveloped inclusions (Isabela Moner as a fill-in child figure) and bad, ramblin’ story work. Casual racist stereotypes? Clunky story mechanics? Anthony Hopkins saying “dude?” Bring a pillow and some Advil – this is going to be one long, bumpy ride filled with “Are we there yet?” prayers.
Bay's latest Transformer title is a daunting behemoth of a film and you can feel every ounce of dead weight, as sins of the past are committed without any signs of stopping.
Transformers: The Last Knight Review