‘Transformers: The Last Knight’ Review: Only a Genius Could Explain What Happens in This Movie
You would think that after five attempts, Michael Bay would eventually figure out how to make a coherent Transformers movie. Apparently not. I challenge anyone — including this film’s four writers — to explain the story of Transformers: The Last Knight, how the characters get from point A to point B, and why any of it matters. I maintain that it cannot be done. Either this movie is dumb or I am.
Here’s the plot: Just kidding, I have no idea what was going on. Okay, this much is clear: Transformer leader Optimus Prime left Earth at the end of the last movie in search of his creator. His body freezes and he drifts through the vastness of space, but somehow he magically winds up back on Cybertron anyway. There, a Transformer god named Quintessa brainwashes Optimus and ships him back to Earth to conquer the planet on her behalf. Then you don’t see Optimus Prime for literally an hour and a half. But c’mon: Who wants to see Optimus Prime in a Transformers movie?
In the interim, the film follows a bunch of human subplots, almost all of them terrible. Everyone’s favorite inventor from the Boston part of Texas, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), now lives off the grid in a junkyard with his Autobot buddies, who are wanted by the government. Cade claims to be an inventor, but he never invents anything and appears to be a moron. He doesn’t talk to his daughter because he’s worried government voice-recognition software will spot him and lead the authorities to his hiding spot. Also he claims his Transformers can’t be found in his junkyard because they’re surrounded by junk and talking robots that can transform into luxury sports cars seamlessly blend in with junk? Either way, it doesn’t matter because the government knew where Cade was the entire time. Keep up the good work, dude.
Meanwhile, in England, a history professor named Vivian (Laura Haddock) teaches her students about Arthurian legends. Vivian and Cade’s paths eventually cross at the castle home of a doddering and possibly senile old Englishman named Sir Edward (Anthony Hopkins), who reveals the secret history of Transformers on our planet and explains how only the two of them can save their home world from a full-on alien invasion by finding and wielding several ancient objects of vague magic power.
But wait, there’s more! Dear God, there’s so much more. The movie has six credited editors — Six! — and the results suggest they still needed more help. Scenes have no connective tissue, or the connective tissue they do have doesn’t work. At one point, Cade and his allies are ambushed in an abandoned Western town; when they turn down an alley they’re suddenly in what looks like Chicago, where this “abandoned” town has a skyscraper with a functioning elevator. A character gives several tearful speeches about a dead Transformer, explaining that he was the only family she had left — seemingly ignoring the “cute” sidekick, a transforming Vespa scooter named Sqweeks, that follows her around in every scene. (Maybe she just secretly hates Sqweeks and this was her passive aggressive way of telling him?) Later, the heroes have a teary reunion and Cade proclaims “You got my message! You brought everyone here!” As Unicron is my witness, he never sent anyone a message at any point in the film.
Very few movies as big as The Last Knight are this carelessly inept. But let’s get real here: At this point, Michael Bay has absolutely no motivation to try to make the film make sense. The last Transformers that was even remotely coherent was the first one from 10 years ago; its sequel, Revenge of the Fallen, was hopelessly compromised by a writer’s strike and still made more than $400 million in the U.S. alone. The previous film, Age of Extinction, might be the worst blockbuster ever made, and it grossed $1.1 billion. So why should Bay bother? No matter how disjointed or incomprehensible the end result, people keep showing up.
Instead, Bay can devote all of his energies to the films’ visual aesthetic, which is as impressive as the story and characters are deficient. Filmed almost entirely with IMAX 3D cameras, the movie is truly a spectacle on the big screen. IMDb puts The Last Knight’s price tag at $260 million, and even at that budget, Paramount got its money’s worth. Bay takes viewers up into outer space and down to the bottom of the ocean. He conjures an alien moon that latches onto Earth like a giant space leech. He starts the movie with his version of King Arthur and ends it with his version of Independence Day: Resurgence, wiping the floor with both movies in the process. (In the middle, he also finds time to remake chunks of one of his own movies, Armageddon.)
The characters barely seems human, the dialogue is laughably awful (they hired an entire room of writers to come up with “Oh my God, look at that! It’s a big alien ship!”?), and even with the fate of the world hanging in the balance there are no stakes whatsoever. Still, every single frame looks impossibly cool. As an argument that true IMAX is the best way to see a movie in the United States, The Last Knight is pretty convincing. But even the best theatrical format needs decent content to justify the admission price.
In the final accounting, sheer visual grandeur makes The Last Knight a marginal improvement over Age of Extinction, at least in IMAX 3D. If nothing else, it also buries the needle on the WTF scale, thanks to its wacky narrative digressions, Hopkins’ bizarre performance, and the strange antics of Sir Edward’s sociopathic robot butler Cogman. (At one point during a car chase through London, Cogman sings Ludacris’ “Move Bitch” while Hopkins smiles approvingly.) The Last Knight is not, in any conventional sense, entertaining or good, although parts of it are spectacular. Michael Bay, a filmmaker with genuine and unique skills, has now wasted most of a decade chronicling the adventures of Optimus Prime. On the plus side, Transformers: The Last Knight is easily among the top five Transformers films he’s ever made.
-Unless I’m mistaken (which is possible, the fine points are very hard to follow), The Last Knight implies Shia LaBeouf’s character from the first three Transformers died offscreen at some point after Dark of the Moon. RIP Sam Witwicky. You were too beautiful and into The Strokes for this world.
-The Transformers franchise seems to be adhering to a reverse Star Trek pattern; the odd-numbered films are occasionally passable while the even-numbered ones feel like cinematic torture devices engineered to test the limits of human endurance. So get hyped for Transformers 6, one of 14 different possible sequels already written, coming in the summer of 2020!