TL;DR – There is a good movie in here somewhere, it’s just not the one we ended up with
Score – 2.5 out of 5 stars
Well here we go again another Transformers film and another disappointment, though a slightly different disappointment this time round. What is interesting with Transformers is more so than say the Star Wars Prequels or other bad films, I can actually pinpoint where it was that this series fell apart for me. I was really enjoying the first two-thirds of the first film and then outside the Hoover Dam wanting to hide the AllSpark from the Decpticons the one person who had shown any military understanding up to that point goes ‘Let’s take it to Mission City to evacuate it’ and that was it in one moment my entire suspension of disbelief crashed down around me. It made no sense, sure it led to a visually spectacular action sequence, but given you were surrounded by desert the best option was to take it as far away from civilisation to protect people, and of course, a lot of people died because of that stupid decision. Since then I gave the second film a go because the first film was affected by the writer’s strike, so maybe they would learn from where they went wrong, well no, not at all. From there we had Dark of the Moon which was as bad as its title and Extinction was well more or less a bit meh. I tell you this because I came into this advanced screening with very low expectations but against my better judgement about half way through I found myself actually going along for the ride only to be let down once again.
So to set the scene, it has been a couple of years since the Age of Extinction, and since then the world has fallen apart a bit, maybe, it’s actually not clear because things seem normal but then Chicago is still a ruin and the Midwest is a badland for some reason, they don’t explain it all that well. But with Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) gone and more Autobots and Decpticons falling from the sky with no warning a new T.R.F. (Transformers Reaction Force) is set up to destroy any Transformer they find on the planet bar in Cuba for stupid reasons. So all the Transformers are trying to lay low, if they are not partying on a Cuban beach and some people like Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) are trying to rescue the fallen before they are found by the TRF. It is during one of these missions in the ruins of Chicago that Cade stumbles across Izabella (Isabela Moner) who is protecting a bunch of kids and some fallen Transformers from TRF drones. While Cade was not able to save the Transformers he and Bumblebee do stumble upon a talisman from a time long ago. Because that’s right ladies and gentlemen and however else you identify, the Transformers have been here since the time of King Arthur and oh King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and Merlin (Stanley Tucci) are all real. As well as this, we have Optimus Prime who after floating in space for a long time crash lands on a rapidly approaching Cybertron to discover that his maker Quintessa (Gemma Chan) is not happy and she is coming for Earth. So right from the start, you have a lot of competing threads of the story going on, and this leads to many of Last Knight’s major issues.
Before we take a deep dive into Last Knight’s issues I do want to take a moment to point out the many places where the movie shined. First I do have to give a shout out to the actors because there are some really great performances here. Stanley Tucci is and always will be a delight no matter where he is cast and here even though it was a short moment I loved every second of him as Merlin. Also, Anthony Hopkins who plays Sir Edmund Burton brings a wonderful class to the film, his scenes with Cogman (Jim Carter) were one of the highlights for me. Mark Wahlberg and Laura Haddock play off each other really well, and that makes the London section of the film really work. As well as the acting, of course, I have to give a shout out to Industrial Light and Magic as there was a lot of work they and their partner VFX studios had to do to get this film looking as nice as it was. Now a lot of people complain about Michael Bay’s directing style, and it has its problems but the man knows his explosions and there are many spectacular explosion for you to partake in.
Ok so let’s unpack where Last Knight went wrong, we are going to start with some of the smaller plot points that frustrated me then we will unpack the big problem that that was the story structure. Now to do this, and also because I am aware that it is not in full release at the cinemas yet, a big preventive [SPOILER WARNING] will now in effect. Ok while we will get to the big story beats let’s look at the smaller things that frustrated me. The first is the world-building, the movie can’t decide if the United States is falling apart or the biggest most advanced power in the world and given how much product placement the US Army, Navy & Air Force is getting, they probably should have cleared that up. Also, why is it that Bumblebee can do the put-yourself-together trick while everyone else is just dead. Another thing at a point in the film ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons are fired at a large structure above all our heroes. Which is problematic because I don’t think the movie understood what nuclear weapons do and how they work, and why everyone should have died at that point, also why the hell would you not try to nuke it before it got to this point. Another issue I had was that the film does not seem to understand how astronomy or physics work, which fine whatever, it’s not a deal-breaker, but if you are going to ignore those things, don’t have one of your side characters be from NASA and go on a rant as to how they don’t believe in mystical rubbish and that they are putting their faith in hard science. Look I could go on, but all throughout my notes I have ‘oh that’s some “rubbish” right there’ but I didn’t say rubbish, and it is not a good sign when that happens.
So there are a lot of smaller problems, but none of these dwarf the biggest problem and that is the story, the structure and how it was all edited together. To give these problems context I have to say I have no real stake in how good an adaptation it is of the source material because I didn’t grow up with the cartoons, my introduction was actually through Beast Wars. So I’m not looking back to some mythical untouchable show that could never be superseded no matter what they did, I’m looking at how the movie works today. Structurally where the film is the weakest is in the opening and closing acts which is really odd. Films can have a bad opening but recover like Rogue One, or start strong and fall apart like The Hateful Eight, or simply be a mess from start to end like Gods of Egypt but I have never seen a film start a mess, get its act together only to fall apart again. So we start in the dark ages, with some big retcon that the Transformers have been here a lot longer than we thought, not the last retcon for the film as well. This section is actually ok, saved by some delightful Stanley Tucci, though the whole King Arthur myth felt like a really unnecessary addition. However, from here we are split between Cade and Izabella meeting, Optimus meeting his maker, Viviane (Laura Haddock) playing polo, and William (Josh Duhamel) going back and forth between being a mole in TRF, to being a US Army colonel, to back again to, look the film does not really know what role he is playing, and then finally we get some Decepticons introductions in a style reminisce of Suicide Squad. The film starts to come together when we get back to the hideout in a scrap yard, we get to know some of the Autobots, then we get a reasonably good action sequence before whisking off to London.
Once we get to London the film finally feels like it is working, there are some wonderfully funny scenes, the plot moves along, we get a race through the streets of the capital, and it sucked me in. For a moment in there I was along for the ride, the whole audience was laughing at Cogman’s musical interlude, and then Cybertron appears and like magic, it all falls apart again. I’m not going to talk about the third act all that much because that is major spoilers but I spent the whole time thinking how nonsensical it all was, though I will say one thing The English Channel is actually quite shallow especially around the cliffs of Dover.
Now at the start, I mentioned that there is a good movie in here somewhere, and the second act shows it, but the big issue here is story bloat. There are so many plot lines that could have been streamlined or removed entirely, and the film would have been stronger for it. The whole Cuba subplot with Seymour (John Turturro) added nothing to the film, there was no need for there to be two bad groups to fight, nearly all of the TRF stuff could have been easily replaced with Decepticons, and you would have avoided a lot of the messiness with how the TRF and the US Army interact. A good 45 minutes could have been cut from this movie and you would have had a much tighter and frankly stronger story to place around your many slow motion explosions. Also in a scenario that possibly millions of people died, oddly there was no sense of any stakes, which is an odd scenario to find yourself in. This is not helped by Michael Bay’s style of filmmaking which there is an attempt to be always visually stimulating, which is fine at the start but over two hours in you can’t help but be fatigued and it starts turning into visual noise. It was probably not helped by there being six different editors, so there is no consistency in style throughout the film and it probably contributed to the long runtime. Finally and more problematically, most of the film feels like we have seen it all before in other Transformer films. [End of SPOILERS]
So, in the end, can I recommend Transformers: The Last Knight? Well look it has its moments, the action is at least interesting in places, and there are reasons that it did not score lower than what it did, but then 2.5/5 is not really a great score as well. So if you are going to see a film this week and someone goes ‘let’s see The Last Knight’ there are worse options out there, and there are some fun moments for you to enjoy, but for me, I think I would have much preferred to see The Mummy than this.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Michael Bay
Screenplay by – Art Marcum, Matt Holloway & Ken Nolan
Story By – Akiva Goldsman, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway & Ken Nolan
Based on – Transformers by Hasbro
Music by – Steve Jablonsky
Cinematography by – Jonathan Sela
Edited by – Roger Barton, Adam Gerstel, Debra Neil-Fisher, John Refoua, Mark Sanger & Calvin Wimmer
Starring – Mark Wahlberg, Josh Duhamel, Laura Haddock, Stanley Tucci, Anthony Hopkins, Isabela Moner, John Turturro, Santiago Cabrera, Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, John Goodman, Ken Watanabe, John DiMaggio, Omar Sy, Gemma Chan & Jim Carter
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: na; Germany: na; New Zealand: M; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13