You see the word “Last” in this film’s title and – be honest – you think to yourself, “Thank Primus, the Transformers film series is finally at an end!” Well, while this may be the last time Michael Bay ever directs the robots in disguise, this franchise is far from dead. In fact, a Bumblebee solo adventure (set in the 1980s) is currently in the works. But we’ll cross that space bridge when we get to it – right now, it’s all about Transformers: The Last Knight.
“Rethink your heroes.” Yes, I did that when the first live-action Transformers movie came out. Because, you see, I’m actually a lifelong Transformers fan. Whereas many reviews of this series come from non-fan film critics in full Tony Snark mode, I promise you, my review comes from a place of love … for good takes on the Transformers mythos. This series, unfortunately, has failed to do the Transformers justice.
It’s out of loyalty to the Transformers brand that I keep buying tickets to these films on opening day. And typically, the experience is the same – I go in optimistic, grow bewildered by what’s unfolding before me, get offended by Bay’s unique mix of racism, sexism and immaturity, and finally, leave the theater embarrassed and depressed.
While many of those key ingredients are in the mix this time around, I’m happy to report Transformers: The Last Knight isn’t terrible. It may even be a step in the right direction. But really, when Bay’s dug himself such a deep hole to begin with, that’s not really saying much.
Like past Transformers films, this one’s way too long, with so much material that should have been saved for Blu-ray. It’s so long (2 hours and 29 minutes), that it’s hard to sum up the entire plot. Essentially, this is a tale that sheds light on the secret history of the Transformers – from the Dark Ages through World War II and beyond. At the same time, this is very much a continuation of the convoluted continuity Bay has established across the series’ four previous installments. Key to the story is that when we last saw Autobot leader (and mass murderer) Optimus Prime, he vowed to find his creator and kill him or her.Good news! Prime finds his creator (her name is Quintessa, which was the name of the planet the Quintessons came from in Generation 1). Only problem is he gets brainwashed by her into doing her bidding. Enter: Nemesis Prime (another name that’s appeared in various Transformers properties through the years, just without the cool, all-black paint job).
We also revisit Mark Wahlberg’s Cade Yeager, an average joe inventor who can’t name a thing he’s invented. Yeager, a friend to the fugitive Autobots, is now an outlaw in a world gone mad. You see, without Optimus or Megatron (he’s vanished), the Autobots and Decepticons that keep arriving on Earth just get into all kinds of trouble, from eating police cars to robbing banks (yeah, I don’t know what a Transformer needs money for either).
I mean, they say the world is in chaos, and Chicago is apparently still a wasteland following its destruction in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, but as the film goes on, we kind of forget about that and see that life is pretty much fine everywhere else in the world. There are still polo matches, for instance. And let me tell you – you haven’t truly experienced polo until Michael Bay has shown you how exhilarating it can be.
Primus, I haven’t even mentioned Anthony Hopkins’ Sir Edmund Burton and his robot butler Cogman (he has anger management problems)! You actually enjoy the two characters’ time on the screen. Hopkins is clearly having fun amid all the Bayham (ever wanted to hear Hopkins say “dude”?), just as the writers clearly got a kick out of writing Cogman (he’s probably responsible for the film’s funniest scene involving an organ).
I can’t help but feel the creation of a Transformers writing group, consisting of the likes of Robert Kirkman and Akiva Goldsman, has helped rein in Bay’s ADD filmmaking tendencies and tell a more coherent story. Sure, you still have Cade calling a teenage girl (played by an actress of Peruvian descent) “little J. Lo,” and Laura Haddock’s Oxford professor Vivian Wembley in tight dresses that show plenty of cleavage, but it’s all a little bit less offensive this time around.
Even the robots receive their fair share of character development, especially Bumblebee. Still, we continue to spend way more time with humans in a film series about giant alien robots than we should. And it’s also quite lazy to keep reusing the same character models for the Decepticons, but give them new names. Nitro Zeus, for example, is clearly Shockwave, but not at all Shockwave (apparent the second this guy opens his mouth). Part of the fun of this series is seeing the new characters (like the suave Hot Rod) – giving us Nitro Zeus is the equivalent of Hasbro giving collectors a repaint!
If I wasn’t a Transformers fan, I probably wouldn’t have gone to see any of these films in the theater, so it’s hard for me to recommend Transformers: The Last Knight. Because I don’t think it’s even an example of mindless, summer fun. I even found myself zoning out during the final battle, which is like Hacksaw Ridge with chunks of a planet swinging overhead. Mostly, my feelings are due to its lengthy running time and its ties to previous chapters in this franchise.
I will recommend it to Transformers fans like myself, however, who want this series to do a better job of respecting the potential the franchise could have. Because there are definitely more films coming (we get a sense of where we’re headed as the end credits roll – take note, Transformers: Prime fans) – without Bay in the director’s seat!
Also, not many old-school Transformers fans are beyond geeking out when they hear a Peter Cullen-voiced Optimus Prime going toe-to-toe with a Frank Welker-voiced Megatron (you heard me, Hugo Weaving!).
So in conclusion, this is Chris Hassan, sending a message to all Transformers fans to let them know that The Last Knight represents progress, but is far from the great live-action Transformers movie we deserve.