Michael Bay never met a blunt instrument he didn’t want to use on his audiences, and by the end of Transformers: The Last Knight’s 150-minute running time those who didn’t walk out might find themselves feeling like they’ve suffered massive force trauma from the number of concussive explosions strewn willy-nilly through this movie like so much confetti. And that running time! How did this happen when the film has six credited editors? And yet, even if you shaved off a full hour, it would still be awful.
Let’s face it: the only good Transformers movie was Nelson Shin’s in 1986 (the cartoon one). Michael Bay has somehow directed five of these and yet they’re all effectively the same film, with the same tired elements and every cliché in Hollywood. In a nutshell: something’s coming to destroy/take over Earth and only a certain plucky band of robots and their humans can stop them. But are there rich characters with genuine motivations besides survival? No. There are, however, lots of embarrassing preening at self-importance, sprinkled with a smattering of agonizing attempts at predominantly puerile humor. The jokes that work are the ones that feel suspiciously like Wahlberg’s adlibs.
Bay keeps one-upping himself at being the perfect exemplar for self-indulgence. Part of the reason for this movie’s excessive bloat is him insisting on having his cake and eating it. They retconned history so that Transformers have been on Earth since forever and helped out King Arthur and his knights, as well as the Allies in WW2 (what about WW1? Oh, right: Wonder Woman) without getting photographed or having their tales told and grow into urban myths. This allows Bay to shoot scenes in “Dark Ages” England and ‘40s Germany, even if they really don’t add anything to the story. Just kidding. There’s no story.
Since women who don’t look like models can’t be the lead in a Bay film we have Laura Haddock, who we are told is a historian/PhD but is shown at work… guiding a tour. Oh and the only thing her female relatives harp on about is how she’s single. A shocking twist to a non-mystery is revealed as to her lineage, but it wasn’t set up at all so we don’t care. Oh and Anthony Hopkins is a caretaker of some legacy related to the Transformers and yet for whatever reason he decided to sit out Transformers 1-4 when the world could have ended any number of ways. As in he has a photo of Shia Labeouf’s Sam so he knows about him, but didn’t assist in movies 1-3 because he was confident an untrained American teen would save the world thrice?
The movie has no story and just throws everything it can at the wall. Or rather, it feels like Bay had ideas he thought would be fun, and no one had any power to tell him no. Here’s Stanley Tucci, hamming it up again but not as his government stooge character; now he’s Merlin. Here’s Steve Buscemi as a Transformer, but only in one scene! Here’s Tony Hale as a scientist who is the ignored voice of reason meant to go up against Bay’s favorite type of government stooge: know-nothings who immediately insult anyone they deem inferior to them. Hale’s character doesn’t even get a name. He’s just a prop. Here’s Jerrod Carmichael as… comic relief? But then he’s out of the movie 80% of the time, and is a Hollywood trope I hate but is in every Bay Transformer movie: the person who will not shut up when there is danger about and everyone should be silent. And here’s a young Latina girl with a sassy attitude because we need kids in this movie. And here’s a bunch of other kids for the first action scene, and of course the Hispanic kid knows how to hotwire a car.
Paramount and Hasbro are now doing their damnedest to make this a “universe” as well, which is likely why all the retcons appear: as a convenient “hidden history,” complete with scene during the credits. But it isn’t done organically or dramatically, so it’s not really interesting.
Michael Bay is a commercial director with a visual style that’s become recognizable enough it got a nickname: Bayhem. But without a story, without interesting characters, all the spectacle he can dole out in pretty sequences falls flat and rings hollow, basically a technical demo reel for visual effects houses. Optimus Prime’s only in this for about twenty minutes, yet somehow he delivers like 800 terrible speeches. And he’s a bad guy for half that time because… they ran out of ideas? Just like The Fate of the Furious.
There’s a decent car chase through London, and some floating islands at the exhaustingly overlong finale would probably look good in 3D (because it looks like they were taken from Avatar), but there’s really nothing else to recommend this movie, especially in a post-Fury Road world. You might be better off buying a couple of fireworks and asking someone to fire them in your direction from a short distance; it’ll yield the same effect and will be in true 3D with surround sound.
Photos from IMDB
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