And with The Last Knight being the fifth and advertised as the final (lies!) Transformers movie, repeating all the same Michael Bay-isms we’ve come to expect, I’ve become numb to what this director must find so thrilling about this saga.
The story is nothing new, coming down with a bad case of deja vu from the previous film. Earth’s military has banded together to form the Transformers Reaction Force, bent on hunting down the shape-shifting Transformer robots, be they the supposed heroic Autobots or destructive Decepticons. Certain scenes have the appearance of Earth now being a military state as the task force now utilizes giant walker drones to combat the threat of sentient machinery.
Some Transformers are executed on sight while others are imprisoned. Why imprisonment? So that the Decepticon leader Megatron (Frank Welker) can bargain with the military to release his friends in exchange for helping the humans track down the Autobots. Did the human characters get hit with an amnesia ray since the last movie? They already trusted the enemy once and that didn’t end well. But, much like those hoping for a good movie, maybe this time it will work out okay.
While the Autobots continue to hide from the humans until another war starts, so everyone can temporarily forget about how destructive they are, giant mechanical horns start popping up around the globe. It turns out the planet is a Transformer, known as Unicron, that will bring about the end of humanity. The only hope to save the planet lies in acquiring Merlin’s staff, which wielded not magic, but ancient Transformers powers from the Dark Ages. This is all basic knowledge for a secret society of knights in the UK that has made it their mission to cover up the Transformers for centuries, including their apparent involvement in World War II. Would you believe a transforming watch killed Hitler?
Meanwhile, Autobot leader Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) has traveled through space to his home world of Cybertron. He discovers it has been ravaged of life with the only mechanical residing being Quintessa, an apparent creator of Transformers that seduces Optimus into doing her bidding. She needs Merlin’s staff to restore Cybertron and convinces Optimus to turn evil for this quest, killing anyone and destroying any planet that might get in his way. This seems to be staged as a shocking betrayal, but it’s not like Optimus was a very tactical or heroic protector of Earth in the past. Why start now?
There are only two types of humans in this world. Either they’re a simpering mess of annoying complaints or a smug jerk that insults everyone with the most vapid and mean-spirited of jabs. The returning Mark Wahlberg is king of the smug with his grating accent, cocky remarks towards even the most caring of human beings and an ability to turn into the most dim American around British people, lobbing nationalist insults that even a grade-schooler could best.
He trades meaningless verbal blows with Laura Haddock, an Oxford English professor that dresses in sexy clothes, per Bay’s babe requirements. They will later kiss, despite having no chemistry. Fear not, feminists; there’s also the little girl Izabella who has become such a loner of a homeless mechanic that she doesn’t need any boyfriend in her action-packed lifestyle. She’s unfortunately only present for the first act and then leaves, fulfilling the base requirements of a child angle and then kicked to the curb, as with all of the movie’s fleeting moments of potential.
Poor Sir Anthony Hopkins, cast as a Transformers expert and scholar, must also play to the smug role of an inconsistent character. When he’s not spouting thrill-free exposition on the history of Transformers, he’s shouting at people, screaming for others to shut up, cackling at overturned cars and getting in a few one-liners of calling people “bitch” and “dude.” One passage best encapsulates the movie’s incoherence in how Hopkins babbles as though he were a stumbling drunkard pretending to be British, rambling to the point where I’m not sure if the character or Hopkins is drunk.
The Transformers are even more lacking in character than they were before as they too become mean and spiteful for no reason. One Autobot is supposed to be a meditative samurai, but will break his concentration to cuss up a storm as he swats at a bug. Another is supposed to be a proper English butler, but is so desperate for a line he’s reduced to quoting Ludacris’ “Move Bitch Get Out The Way.” The only thing more interchangeable than their personalities is their parts.
I’ve probably become a broken record for this criticism, but it bears repetition: these character designs suck. The Transformers have too many parts, indefinable features and might as well be smears of garbage when fighting in combat. Actually, no, there is one Transformer who has a unique design: a small blue bot with big eyes, no voice and tiny limbs who is best friends with Izabella. Every Transformer calls this character ugly, yet he’s the only one with any decipherable emotion in his clearly visible expressions. Emotions must be out of style on Cybertron.
I can only assume most Transformers fans are going to be seeing this picture for the action scenes with Bay’s signature of blowing things up real good. But this action is so noisy, horribly edited and horrendously staged to the point where I doubt even the most devout of fans could decipher what is going on in this picture. In the climax, military soldiers land on Cybertron and quickly take cover from gunfire, but gunfire from whom? What machines are attacking them and where are they located in the smoke and fire?
A spaceship with an Autobot knight from olden times crash lands in Chicago with no reason given as to why he is there. Where did he come from and how did he crash? Nobody seems to ask these questions, as they’re too busy running from explosions, creating explosions or exploding at each other with the most tedious and horrendous of dialogue.
Even more confounding than the visual vomit of these overly assembled shots is trying to figure out who is attacking who and what they want. I never knew if Quintessa and Unicron were working together or if the Autobot knights of Arthur were serving Unicron or protecting Cybertron. Action scenes also seem to happen for no reason. For the life of me, I cannot recall why the hunt for the staff turns into a submarine showdown or why Hopkins shoots bullets out of his cane at Megatron at Stonehenge.