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Movie Review: Transformers - The Last Knight

Yet another Decepticon disaster heads to Earth in the incomprehensible and bloated Transformers: The Last Knight.

Review by Matt Cummings

The Transformers franchise is an interesting study in box office duality. Panned from the outset by critics, the series about Autobots and humans battling Decepticons to save Earth has resonated with fans, raking in over $3b worldwide. It's the one series that's been impervious to criticism, even though we all know Director Michael Bay's shtick by now. And while he claims (once again) that Transformers: The Last Knight will be his last, I sure hope he's good on his (ever-moving) word: this one is another disorganized mess that squanders its considerable assets with oddly-placed levity and harbors a fetish for slow-motion moments that minimize any potential story beats.

As humanity reels from the now-constant arrivals and attacks by the Decepticons, the Autobots find themselves hunted as well, this time by a worldwide military organization called TRF. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) harbors the remaining Autobots at his junkyard, struggling to keep the team together, while their leader Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) has headed to deep space to confront his creator Quintessa (Gemma Chan). But unknown to him or even humanity, a reinvigorated Cybertron is headed to Earth, hoping to find a magic staff that was forged during the reign of King Arthur. One side hopes to secure it to power an ancient weapon, while the other hopes to unleash a team of protectors to defeat Megatron (Frank Welker) and Quintessa. But it will be humans that will save day, including a historian who knows all about Transformer history (Anthony Hopkins), and a English professor (Laura Haddock) who has an ancient connection to the staff. To protect everything humanity has ever known, robots and humans will once again join in battle, with each side learning why Transformers continue to invade the planet.

From the moment which the long-winded opening graces (or impales us, depending on your point of view), The Last Knight squanders any hope to tell a compelling alternate-history tale. Think of the effect which National Treasure, The da Vinci Code, or Raiders of the Lost Ark had in terms of re-writing our history DNA. Those moments felt believable and ultimately relied on people using their brains (and eventually brawn) to win the day. Instead, The Last Knight seems to relish the idea of the reverse, that pithy comebacks and a shoot-first-abandon-a-city-later mentality is somehow better. The team of writers - including Akiva Goldsman and Ken Nolan (who will be sticking around to write the Bumblebee offshoot) - also seem content to saddle Cullen with horrible dialogue and put Walhberg and Haddock in the middle of too many cheesy (and frankly creepy) moments of levity. Many of those jokes fell hard with our test audience, even though they don't actually appear together until the beginning of Act 3. Luckily, Wahlberg enjoys great chemistry with Isabella Moner, a young girl who fights the Decepticons in revenge for the death of her parents. Her introduction and explanation of her past reveals perhaps the best potential character of the entire franchise, a human who can prove that an obvious price has been paid by the Earth. It's a refreshing turn, but it doesn't last long, because Moner's heroics are sadly wasted.

Heavily in the trailers, Moner disappears for what seems like 60 minutes, confined to Autobots B Team while Wahlberg, Haddock, and Hopkins espouse seemingly endless dialogue. Welker and Cullen are barely in it, confined to minor characters that are relegated to action scenes, rather than squaring off to either debate the good of man or just getting into a nice throwdown. Hopkins seems to be having the best time on screen, which does translate into some fun dialogue with his psychopathic robotic servant Cogman (Jim Carter). But just like his role in Wolfman, even Hopkins can't help this disaster. The Last Knight is incredibly heavy in terms of telling its story, going on for minutes while Hopkins, Wahlberg, and Haddock prattle on about facts that seem utterly disconnected from what's actually going on: beat the silly queen, get the silly staff, save the Earth.

The Last Knight also shamelessly borrows from more recent films, revealing a desperate turn for Bay. In addition to National Treasure, there's clear references here to Star Wars and The Fast & The Furious franchises, from the cute robot Wheels, to an obvious copy of Cogman as C3PO, to the action sequences featuring fancy car chases that aren't so fancy. I don't buy into the demand that a friend made to me this week to treat the movie as mindless pap, to see beyond its faults because this is the best we can expect from Bay. Even as a director, we deserve more, as several of his scenes even feature sequences shot in IMAX that actually don't remain in IMAX throughout the entire scene. In other words, the aspect ratio switches within the same scene, moving from letterbox back to IMAX. At the very least, it might make your eyes jump around, and the effect is just plain sloppy. Even by its own warped standards, The Last Knight fails in almost every category.

Bay has stated that The Last Knight is his final Transformers movie. I sure hope so, because it's clear that he cares less about actually making them good as getting credit for making them in the first place. Sure he has a talent for staging a scene, but his fetish for epic 'moments' or showing off his female's T&A, or his decision to leave uncomfortable moments of silence after a joke that doesn't hit has gone beyond grating. Bay is a director who's in it for himself, to bring attention to his game rather than telling a compelling story of humans and their apparently long history with the Autobots. It's high time someone else tells these stories, because The Last Knight is also the final humiliation.

Transformers: The Last Knight is yet another overstuffed, incomprehensible mess from a franchise that knows failure all too well. Like its brethren, It feasts on visual moments rather than telling a compelling or even a cohesive story, which I swear is buried deep down in the muck. But it soon dashes any hope for such glory with weird moments of levity, way too much slow-motion, and villains whose arcs are totally mismanaged. And yet with so little coming out this week, it's entirely possible that audiences, desperate to see something new, will foolishly throw down hard-earned cash to see it. You'll probably kick yourself for making that mistake, but I did warn you.

Transformers: The Last Knight is rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of sci-fi action, language, and some innuendo and has a runtime of 149 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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