Director: Michael Bay | Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Josh Duhamel, Stanley Tucci, Anthony Hopkins | Distributor: Paramount Pictures | Running Time: 149 min | MPAA Rating: PG-13
Michael Bay’s fifth round of relentless robot carnage is as noisy, incoherent and insulting as this franchise ever was. From its very first shot of fireballs hurling over the Paramount Pictures logo to the final speech of Optimus Prime that contradicts any shred of heroism or morality in the rest of the picture, its a consistent mess of terrible filmmaking. Believe me, I didn’t enter this picture with the intention of hating it. To be fair, this picture didn’t offend me as much as the previous Transformers film, Age of Extinction (2014). There’s no older gentlemen lusting after a teenage girl, keeping a laminated copy of Juliet’s Law in his pocket at all times to excuse his actions. There’s much less product placement, reserving the obligatory Budweiser shot for one bottle taken out of a fridge. I can see a little, but not a lot, of the action going on where I just barely have an idea of who is attacking who. The plot doesn’t seem as overly convoluted this time. There’s even a surprising element of female empowerment for young girls, a rarity of any Bay production. These minor improvements, however, do little to improve a movie where there is very little to care about.
The script is entirely derivative, both of other genres and the other entries in the franchise. It can’t be a coincidence that Michael Bay passed on the option to direct King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and begins The Last Knight in the Dark Ages. To explain this opening of swords and arrows, Bay’s Transformers world once more contorts history so that the Autobots played a role in King Arthur’s battles. Merlin wasn’t actually a wizard that controlled magic, but a drunk played by Stanley Tucci that wields ancient Transformers technology. Merlin’s legendary staff becomes the MacGuffin of the movie that can apparently restore the Transformers’ home planet of Cyberton or destroy Earth or something.
Fast forward to modern day and Earth’s military is in the same spot they were at before, seeking and destroying any Transformers, no matter their allegiance. This new task force devoted to wiping out Transformers seems capable enough to dispatch them, yet find themselves making the same mistake in the previous movie when they place their trust in the villain Megatron. Not only do they trust a known villain who wouldn’t hesitate to murder humanity when given the chance, but they agree to Megatron’s terms of releasing all of his captured comrades from Earth’s robot jails. Robot jails? Of course – how else could we introduce more Decepticons in a manner similar to Suicide Squad?
The anti-Transformers task force is hunting for the Autobots that are now being protected in a junkyard by Cade, reprised by Mark Wahlberg with acting so terrible I doubt he even cares about this movie as he shouts, babbles and slanders his way through this script. Now on the lamb from the government forces tracking him, Cade devotes himself full-time to seeking Autobots and providing them a refuge in a junkyard. But why is he helping these robots? They’re destructive, ill tempered and contribute nothing as they spend most of their days fighting with each other, eating cars, blowing things up, shooting at the sky or setting trailers on fire. The Autobots may be heroes when it comes to keep evil robots off of Earth, but they’re the unlikable bullies of the playground when there is nothing to shoot at. Nice try with trying to make the baby Dinobots cute and cuddly though, Bay. I’m sure every kid wants to snuggle up with a rusty metallic dinosaur with pointy horns that belch fire.
Elsewhere, Optimus Prime travels across the galaxy to his home of Cybertron, now a wasteland. The evil being Quintessa, yet another god-like robotic creator, convinces Prime to go evil to restore Cybertron. He was never as noble a warrior as the movies would have us believe, babbling on about fighting with honor, only to shoot a villain in the face when begging for mercy. Evil Prime is essentially the old Prime with less speeches.
It’s not until the story to shifts to London that the story goes completely off the rails, careening more towards a depressing ditch than a laughable lagoon. Cade is chosen somehow to be a knight of the roundtable via a magical medallion and attracts the attention of Anthony Hopkins’ character of a secret society elder. Hopkins can be a magnificent actor, but he can do little to improve this script, showing just as much interest as Wahlberg. Scenes are staged requiring Hopkins to call people dude, laugh at civilian cars being smashed and ramble on in an English accent like he’s a stereotype.
Anyway, he heads an organization that has kept the Transformers’ role in history under wraps. And they apparently had a lot of work cut out for them as the Transformers have been responsible for everything war related, from working with Frederick Douglas to killing Hitler. Yes, in Bay’s Transformers world, a Transformer killed Hitler. And it might have been cool if it wasn’t a robot that transformed into a pocket watch.
Past all the terribly edited moments of action and audio cranked up to earthquake levels, there is just nothing to care about in this movie. I didn’t feel anything for Cade and his longing to be with his college-bound daughter because he’s just not a likable person. He’s insulting toward everyone, cracks the lamest of insults that would make a redneck American blush and is simply annoying to listen to. There is no romantic tension between him and the female love interest of Laura Haddock – none. She’s an Oxford professor, but her importance to the plot doesn’t matter as she’s still required to strut around in tight outfits and comment on the hero’s bod.
Bay seems to be trying to reform his ways by adding in a child protagonist of Izabella, a street-smart kid that could easily make it in a post apocalyptic society and doesn’t need any man to tie her down. She is only present for the first half of the movie, as if Bay is performing some community service for his politically incorrect ways and then B-lining back into his usual junky filmmaking. One positive trait about Izabella is that her robot sidekick, a cute little blue bot with big eyes and lots of personality, is the most likable of Transformers for his simple design and expression. I’m surprised all the other Transformers call him ugly. They must not have mirrors on Cybertron.
I could write pages upon pages to nitpick the film’s dozens upon dozens of inconsistencies, from the apparent wormhole technology of Cybertron to the unbelievable manner in which a submarine is stolen, but it’s just not worth the effort. I’m long past the point of caring even the slightest about the presence of the planet-eating Unicron, the secret history of the Autobot Knights, the sad history of Cybertron or Bubblebee’s first and underwhelming words. I wasn’t angry while watching this film; just depressed. Over $200 million was spent on creating something that looks ugly, plays incoherently with tone and is needlessly complicated.
Michael Bay has gone on record saying that he doesn’t care what the haters of his movies think, reasoning they’ll still go watch his films. To all Transformers and Michael Bay fans, think about those words; this is how little the director thinks of you. He says that he makes his films for fans, but I’m not sure how well fans are going to take seeing the grand Unicron arc left unresolved in a 2.5 hour movie. With each film grating a little more on the nerves, the Transformers franchise is now a test to see how long you can defend these pictures until they are seen as a lost cause with no hope of improvement. I made it to the second film, Revenge of the Fallen, with Bay’s racist depictions of black people in Transformer characters. I can only hope that The Last Knight will mark a major tipping point for the most devout of the saga.