It almost seems futile to criticize Transformers: The Last Knight for being awful because it’s not trying to be good. Michael Bay knows how bad his directing is, and he doesn’t give a crap. His commitment to schlock is almost respectable, and I’m really tempted to respect the schlock itself for that.
Alas, the most fundamental criticism, which applies to the whole series, is how inappropriate this film is for a kids toy adaptation. It’s bad enough filmmaking for adults; it could be even more ruinous introducing this crap to a child.
Then again, I have reservations about the idea behind Transformers in general, which is why I now want to distance myself from franchise. I mean, should kids really look up to a “good guy” named Crosshairs, whose very name puts a weapon into his identity? A crime-fighting superhero with an alter-ego who doesn’t have to fight crime is one thing; a robot who’s inherently built to fight other robots and look cool doing it is another thing.
I’ll give The Last Knight this: the crasser elements from the series have lessened. The sexual jokes, while there are still a couple of strong ones, are more likely to go over kids’ heads than those from earlier entries, and female characters aren’t in-your-face exploited (aren’t in-your-face exploited) for eye candy. On the other hand, the Autobots’ personalities and the violence are just as mean-spirited and cynical as usual, even if the violence isn’t overly brutal like it’s been since Revenge of the Fallen.
One of the Autobots is such a sadist that I was like “Thank you!” when it appeared that Megatron killed him until he came back later.
Age of Extinction‘s returning protagonist Cade Yeager is definitely the most likable and engaging of the cast due to Mark Wahlberg’s charisma. It’s also nice to see Josh Duhamel return as Lennox, purely because he could have been, and should have been, a fine protagonist for the first trilogy.
The plot, however, is just about as big a mess as the editing, featuring a horrific amount of subplots and a backstory so ridiculous that it stretches disbelief by Transformers standards. …Should I be concerned about how easily I could sit through this stuff?
For one, there are two main villains: the returning Megatron, whose turn from being reborn as Galvatron is unsurprisingly unexplained, and Quintessa, the apparent creator of the transformers who possesses Optimus into doing her will; if the film weren’t already fundamentally flawed, I’d be feeling more uneasy about the “turning against your own god” theme.
Megatron’s team of Decepticons are parodies of Decepticons. During their own special character introductions, complete with their names plastered on the screen like a high-tech Suicide Squad, I was trying to remember when I was hired to write them. I mean, one of them acts all ghetto and wears a gold chain. (Spoiler alert) Alas, my curiosity was short-lived when most of them are killed fifteen minutes later in their first action sequence. But hey, at least we got to know Mohawk’s, Onslaught’s, Berserker’s, and…Ghettocon’s names.
I don’t remember what Ghettocon’s actual name is, but if I had actually written that character, I totally would have named him Ghettocon.
Speaking of editing, the guilty pleasure of the opening sequence is cut short when a ramble delivered goofily by Stanley Tucci, playing not his character from Age of Extinction, shows every comment he makes through a different angle in rapid-fire progression. Why?!
Said editing might have been (might have been) less jarring throughout had the film kept a more consistent aspect ratio. As both Imax and standard widescreen cameras were used in the production, it would have made sense to use Imax cameras for the action scenes, but there are dialogue scenes that are widescreen for the most part but feature random Imax shots, and there are action scenes that are Imax for the most part but feature random widescreen shots. Could they not stick to a consistent aspect ratio for five minutes?!
Gratuitous slow-motion is also everywhere, in action scenes and beyond. Just when it seems that introducing a polo match in slow-motion is self-indulgent, an Autobot is introduced whose guns shoot balls of slow-motion! (More accurately, they’re spherical force fields that slow down time, but “balls of slow-motion” sounds better.)
It wasn’t until the end of the second act, where all the various plotlines finally start coming together, where the film really grabbed me. Sure, while the apocalypse is imminent, I kept asking where the heck Mark Wahlberg got the beanie cap he’s suddenly wearing (which reminded me of “Mark Wahlberg is wearing a hat“), and while one major fight scene concludes as conveniently as a major fight scene from Batman v. Superman, the following character choices moved me in a way I haven’t been moved by these movies since the original.
Said scene from the original is the scene where the Autobots meet at the observatory. They discuss their plans, we find out what they’re willing to fight for, and when Optimus reveals what he’d do to save humanity…that part genuinely tugs on my heartstrings. It’s a fantastic scene, one that establishes Optimus as a voice of clear conscience before the sequels turn him into a vengeful psychopath.
Even though I blast watching watching The Last Knight‘s final act of Bayhem, where various conflicting factions, both human and robot, join together to save Earth, the movie as a whole gave me an appreciation for how relatively small-scale the original Transformers is, which still isn’t good, especially the ruinous teen movie elements, but The Last Knight makes it look like The Avengers.
It’s not that I want anybody to take this as a recommendation, but I had fun watching The Last Knight with my friends, even if watching it with friends was why it was so fun. It was also nostalgic to see Optimus Prime and Megatron together onscreen again, and there were a couple of name drops that had me geeking out. How much more Bayhem I can take for the sixth movie, however, is yet to be seen; Bay may have said that this is his last one, but judging by how he ends this one, I highly doubt his word.
(Spoiler alert: I otta coin the term Martha-ing: where two heroes are fighting each other until one of them, while pinned down, says something that totally snaps the other hero out of it.)