Hasbro/Di Bonaventura Pictures/Huahua Media/Weying Galaxy/The H Collective/Paramount Pictures
Directed by Michael Bay
Produced by Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, Tom DiSanto, Don Murphy, Ian Bryce
Screenplay by Art Markum, Matt Holloway, Ken Nolan
Story by Akiva Goldsman, Art Markum, Matt Holloway Ken Nolan
Based on “Transformers” by Hasbro
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Laura Haddock, Josh Duhamel, Isabella Moner, Jerrod Carmichael, John Turturro, Tony Hale, Glenn Morshower, Gemma Chan, and Stanley Tucci.
Featuring the Voices of: Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, John Goodman, Ken Watanabe, Jim Cater, Steve Buscemi, Erik Aadahl, Omar Sy, Reno Wilson, and John DiMaggio.
Review by Mark Bousquet
Overall: I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a film so clearly give up about halfway through its runtime. A solid set-up devolves into the cinematic equivalent of a kid throwing his toys in the dryer and watching them crash into each other.
Note to kids & directors: Don’t Do This. Capture the joy of being three and playing with the coolest toys but then match it to a narrative that isn’t ashamed of what it is.
Before I get into the meat of the review, some perspective: I was the demographic target for the original Transformers toys and I watched the cartoon every day after school.
I owned a whole bunch of the toys.
I saw the animated movie in the theater.
Optimus Prime is my Gandalf.
Also, I don’t hate the TRANSFORMERS movie franchise. The first film is enjoyable. Revenge of the Fallen is crap. Dark of the Moon is okay. I genuinely love Age of Extinction.
I was looking forward to THE LAST KNIGHT, but not so much that it didn’t take me two years to see it. And now having watched it? Well, watching THE LAST KNIGHT is sort of like hanging out with an old friend with whom you parted ways because he was kind of a mess, only to rediscover in one evening his best and worst qualities. This movie is the cinematic equivalent of Gary King, the character Simon Pegg played in “The World’s End.”
Because just like your old obnoxious friend, there are good qualities to THE LAST KNIGHT, though I can’t blame anyone for not wanting to wade through all the muck to get to them.
Let’s start with the best qualities of THE LAST KNIGHT, which are led by the fact that the camera has switched to decaf. You can actually follow a good deal of the action this time around, and you can just about identify all of the Transformers just by looking at them.
Yeah, there’s still too much chrome and silver and enough unnecessary parts to make a Swiss watchmaker switch to digital but it’s nice to see Michael Bay and Co. finally realize that people paying to see giant robots actually want to look at the giant robots. There are multiple shots in the film featuring Transformers that were framed quite nicely, which is just about the first time this has happened in the franchise.
Too many of the action scenes are still too flash-crash-bang-screech-metal-things-flying-around, and Bay’s camera is also far more interested in the vehicle-half of the Transformer dynamic over the robots, but overall, it was an improvement.
If only they’d spent as much time on the characterizations of the Transformers, who come off here as potty-mouthed teenagers who like to call people “bitch” and say “shit” an awful lot. There’s also some blatant ignoring of past characterizations but why let Bumblebee’s past characterization get in the way of him getting a World War II backstory where he was some kind of stone cold badass, right? Why let internal consistency get in the way of a cool idea that comes and goes across our screens in less than two minutes?
Over five films, I think the biggest flaw in the characterization of the Transformers is that they are portrayed as the kids we were when the toys originally came out. They’re teenagers, acting out impulsively and saying occasionally-offensive things and changing their personality to fit the mood of the moment. And that would be fine, except that’s clearly not who these characters are, based on the backstories created for them over these five movies. We’re asked to believe that these Transformers are soldiers from a war-ravaged world, living as refugees on a world that doesn’t want them, veterans of fighting the good fight, yet they’re also immature kids who need two daddies (Optimus and Cade Yeager) to take care of them.
The first half of THE LAST KNIGHT is perfectly fine while it’s setting things up:
Transformers keep falling to Earth, the government has created a special forces unit to stop them (The TRF: Transformers Reaction Force), and Cade Yeager is on the lam, both saving Autobots and failing to realize just how funny his name is. He can call his daughter but he can’t talk to her, so he just calls her and listens to her voice because if he talks to her, the government will know it’s him, and if he’s silent, the government will just assume he’s a creeper stalker and not do anything. It’s important that the government is largely treating Autobots and Decepticons the same and if the film had any interest in making a social statement, this would be a good place to make it.
There’s a little girl named Izabella who has befriended a small Transformer named Sqweeks and follows Cade Yeager back to the junkyard where he’s hiding out from every single military satellite on Earth, apparently.
And Izabella is the center of almost all the good things in this movie. I’ve never seen Isabella Moner act in anything before this, but she puts everything into her performance here, and if the entire film had been about her and Sqweeks surviving in this new world, I’d have been all for it. As is, she delivers the best connections that multiple characters have in the film. Her relationship with Yeager has some actual life to it, and her bond with Sqweeks is the strongest part of the film. I could have watched just the two of them navigate this anti-Transformers would instead of what we got.
Across the Atlantic Ocean, Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) is doing his sacred duty as Great Secrets Guardian and Viviane Wembley (Laura Haddock) was definitely not hired because they couldn’t get or didn’t want Megan Fox – just someone who looks like her.
Whatever level of popcorn acceptability THE LAST KNIGHT gets chucked into the food processor when these three human characters get together. It’s as if being in the presence of one another causes their brains to malfunction.
And that’s when the film just sort of gives up trying to tell a story and just devolves into a derivative puddle of half-baked bits stolen from other movies. Yeager and Wembley lose their brains because they think the other is hot. Honestly. Because everyone in these movies, apparently, is actually a teenager.
Hopkins is in full, “I’ll say whatever they want because I have a villa in Tuscany to buy” mode and I’m all for it. There’s no shame or embarrassment in his performance, even though he has to be delivering some of the worst lines of his career. Instead, he just embraces the lunacy, and his scene with the British Prime Minister is one of the best in the film.
John Turturro shows up to act weird, and that guy who got hired to be in the Transformers movies because he is still showing up to cash paychecks and spout military clichés.
Scenes start to happen so fast after Cogman (who looks so much like C-3PO that the characters in the movie call him out, and whose personality is so unsettled that the even characters who change personalities from scene-to-scene are taken aback by his changes) chokes and volunteers to kill Yeager because he said an un-gentlemanly thing to Wembley, I’d imagine the film must have originally been five hours long and Paramount told Bay to keep all the scenes but cut them down to their barest essentials.
The film eventually remembers Optimus Prime is popular and he goes bad guy for 10 minutes, which provides the hilarity of watching Wahlberg climbing on top of Prime during a brawl with Bee to say things like, “Hey, Optimus. This ain’t you, bro. Let’s go. I believe in you. Say hi to your mother for me.”
The whole second half of the film is culled from watching 3-year olds play with toys. For some reason, Wahlberg gets infected by the Witchblade. Characters lose their established personalities for new ones. There’s a submarine chase and an anti-Transformers special ops team. A giant alien ship buried in the ocean gets Josh Duhamel’s character to say, “Holy shit, a giant alien spaceship!” because he apparently thought they were all going to the bottom of the ocean for an Orange Julius shop.
And yet, through it all, there are moments here that work. Steve Jablonsky’s score is pretty fantastic. The robots are easier to see. The scope is the right mix of small story set against an epic backdrop. I just wish, as I wish with each of the TRANSFORMERS movies, that the filmmakers had spent more time developing the personalities of the Transformers, but for all its faults, THE LAST KNIGHT does a very good job demonstrating the connection between some of the humans and some of the Autobots.
Mark Wahlberg is saving them and Izabella (Isabella Moner) has bonded with Sqweeks and Canopy after the loss of her family. Unfortunately, determined-kid-with-real-emotions has no place in a film once Wembley and Yeager can’t get over how hot the other one is. Were this a film by almost anyone else, it would cause the mind to boggle at how the film spends so much time establishing Izabella only to toss her aside.
There’s also some nice moments between Moner and a few baby Dinobots and Moner and Wahlberg. So, basically, Izabella is the best part of the movie and a genuinely good part of an otherwise narratively-drunk film, and the film largely tosses her aside after Hopkins, Wahlberg, and Haddock start sharing screen time.
Ultimately, THE LAST KNIGHT continues the TRANSFORMERS tradition of finding a way to disappoint me but there are moments here that suggest we could have had something awesome.