Transformers: The Last Knight (2017) Review
THESE ARE TROUBLED TIMES
(AND THE LAST KNIGHT PROVES THAT)
Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise has been many things, including loud, boisterous, silly, excessive, slightly racist / stereotyping, nonsensical, mind-numbing frustrating, etc. However, despite these numerous problems (it might vary from viewer to viewer), the films have never been boring, creating a visual spectacle that’s worthy of the very definition of a summer “popcorn” blockbuster. Based on the super popular Hasbro toy franchise, 2007’s Transformers (the first installment in this live-action franchise) was met with scrutiny and criticism from both critics and moviegoers, but garnished the most positive acceptance from its viewers and did score big at the worldwide box office. Naturally, this action prompted the studio heads to green light future installment, further continuing the adventures of the Autobots, the Decepticon and their alien conflict battle on our planet. While many have praised the first film, which found a balance between large action and exposition (laying the foundation for a creative sci-fi cinematic tale of giant alien robots with their “war” brought to Earth), the Transformer sequels misses their mark, with franchise director Michael Bay helming each installment and ultimately pulling the saga down with his signature barrage of explosions and action and other senseless elements and nuances. On the other hand, each sequel film did make a substantial return at the box office, with the lasts film Transformers: Age of Extinction crossing the billion-dollar mark (the only 2014 movie to do so that year). Thus, despite majority opinion, the Transformers cinematic franchise is a financial success for the studio (and those other involved). Now, three years since Age of Extinction came out, Paramount Pictures and director Michael Bay returns to the world of Autobots and Decepticons with the film Transformers: The Last Knight. Does this fifth chapter in the franchise find “greatness” or is it just another haphazard blockbuster that’s plagued with MBF (Michael Bay Fatigue)?
Since the events of Transformers: Age of Extinction, the world has been overrun with Transformers, with the struggling battle between the Autobots and Decepticons waging onward across the globe; pushing the several governments to form the TRF (Transformers Reaction Force) to hunt down and destroy any Transformers beings. On Earth, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), now a wanted man, remains a friend to the Autobots, making a junkyard his new home, joined by Bumblebee, Hound (John Goodman), Drift (Ken Wantanbe), Crosshairs (John DiMaggio), Yeager’s assistant Jimmy (Jerrod Carmichael), and recent streetwise stowaway Izabella (Isabela Moner). After a recent incident, Cade comes into contact with a unique Arthurian talisman, hunted by the likes of Megatron (Frank Welker) and his Decepticon followers, while the forces of the TRF, overseeing by William Lennox (Josh Duhamel), keeps tabs on the situation. Joined by Oxford Professor Vivian Wembly (Laura Haddock) and under the guidance of astronomer and historian Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins), Cade is tasked with recovering the legendary staff of Merlin (Stanley Tucci), which was bequeath to him from ancient transformers, with its power capable of defending Earth and unlocking its hidden secrets. Elsewhere, the Autobot leader Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) travels through space, searching for his creator and seeking his home planet of Cybertron for answers. Unfortunately, Prime finds both, confronted with the evil wraith of his creator, Quintessa (Gemma Chan), who puts the stoic leader under her spell and sets her sights on Earth, with Merlin’s staff acting as the key to revive the world of Cybertron to its former glory.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
As I stated above, the Transformers film saga is paradox unto itself, being widely regarded with harsh criticism from moviegoers, but does have an increasing high success rate at the box office. Thus, these movies are the very definition of what means for a film to reach “box office success”; regardless of how well it’s been received by its viewers and critics alike. Like many, I really did enjoy the original 2007 feature, finding the film to be exciting and thrilling as well as an excellent entry point into a potential live-action franchise. Growing up with Transformers in my childhood (both from the toys and from the various cartoon iterations), I was well versed in the Transformers brand, so I was pretty excited to see the final product of the first Transformer film. The sequels (Revenge of the Fallen, Dark of the Moon, and Age of Extinction), however, are less-favorable in my eyes, recycling ideas, excessive action scenes, and ultimately failing to ignite the initial “spark” that burned the first film. While it does vary from person to person on which sequel is the worst (for me it’s Dark of the Moon. I mean Patrick Dempsey as a bad guy…. come on!), these follow-up installments have grown less appealing to the public and regarded as dumb, mindless popcorn flicks, with a running gag stating that these Transformer movies, so long as the reclaim their top tier box office return, will continue to be produced long after its expected lifecycle.
Thus, it really surprised no one when Paramount Pictures announced that a fifth installment franchise was greenlit, with director Michael Bay returning to helm the feature. Personally, I enjoyed Age of Extinction more so than Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon and the movie did leave some interesting unanswered questions, so I was curious to see where the franchise would go in Transformers: The Last Knight. Of course, all the internet buzz about it (being sneered by many) and my pre-conceived notion about how I felt about most of the sequels weighted heavily on my mind. However, after seeing the film’s trailers (many times) my interest in seeing The Last Knight was definitely peaked. So…. What did I think of the movie? Well, while acting as a somewhat continuation to Age of Extinction and providing as deeper mythos and bigger spectacle to the proceedings, Transformers: The Last Knight is way overstuffed, convoluted, hollow, and continues Bay’s reoccurring trend of unnecessary excess. It’s not the worst Transformers movie out there, but itself definitely the second-to-last one on that list in my book.
As I’ve stated above, director Michael Bay, whose previous directorial works include the other four Transformers movies as well as The Island, Pearl Harbor, and Bad Boys, returns to director chair to helm The Last Knight. While there is numerous criticism to be had about the Transformers sequel films as well as this film (more on that below), I cannot deny (nor should any viewer) that Bay’s technical presentations are indeed palpable in his Transformers, especially in The Last Knight. Sets and locations (both interior and exterior ones) are of quality and feel genuine with intricate details in their respective areas that help build upon the film’s setting in either Earthly bound ones and alien ones. In addition, the film’s visuals are highly impressive and are worthy of any blockbuster film, displaying a ton of CG visuals to help rendered many of the Cybertronian / Transformer beings as well as the various alien ships and other otherworldly nuances. With a production budget of $217 million, The Last Knight sure looks and feels that way as Bay and his filmmaking team seem to have utilized every penny in the final product of the feature. Suffice to say, Bay certainly does know how to make a grand blockbuster spectacle and The Last Knight certainly demonstrate with plenty of “big, bang, boom” throughout its presentation. Also, returning to his post is film composer Steve Jablonsky to compose the score for The Last Knight. Jablonsky, known for scoring a lot of Michael Bay’s films as well as Deepwater Horizon as well as the TV shows You, Me, and the Apocalypse and Desperate Housewives, continues to do impressive musical work with The Last Knight containing a lot of epic / rousing sounding sweeps and flourishes, including his epic climate battle score, which can be heard in the theatrical trailer for them. Definitely gonna download that song on iTunes.
Another interesting and positive aspect of the feature is that The Last Knight does expand the world-building nuances of the Transformers and their involvement of Earth’s history, playing pivotal roles that help turn the tide of our human history and keep secret by the Witwiccan Order, those select few who known of the Cybertronian existence (this includes Burton’s family lineage as well as the Witwicky family…Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky from the first three films). The film’s screenplay writers, consisting of Matt Holloway, Art Marcum, and Ken Nolan and with a screen story by Akiva Goldsman also incorporate a very interesting element into The Last Knight, utilizing the Arthurian legend of King Arthur into the narrative. The movie even opens up with King Arthur (as well featuring Merlin, Lancelot, Percival, and Tristan) and an opening battle scene that sort of a bit reminiscent to the opening scene to Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (but done in a Michael bay style). I mean, I love the myth and legends of King Arthur and The Last Knight plays that idea in intriguing way, which I do like.
Unfortunately, The Last Knight falls prey to many problematic issues that many of its viewers will find a negative response in. First and foremost, since Michael Bay has returned to direct, the movie stays on-point to the Transformers format / formula of past entries. You know that I mean…. the incredible excessive usage of explosions and drawn-out / mindless action scenes, the pre-teen / tween humor based jokes and gags that, more often than not, fails to produce laughs, the substantial overload of CG visuals, the convoluted structure of a narrative, and less-than developed characters (both the human ones and the various Transformers). Basically, this means that mostly all the negative points made within the sequel return, with some being dialed up even further than its predecessors. You would think with so much criticism being blasted all over the internet about these movies that director Michael Bay would change things up in The Last Knight, especially since this movie is supposed to be his “last hurray” in the Transformers franchise (for now at least). However, Bay keeps everything status quo and continues his formula with the film both a hollow blockbuster that’s all noise and very little fun.
The other major problem is way over-bloated (and almost jarring) narrative plot that The Last Knight tells within its two hour and twenty-eight-minute runtime. Speaking of runtime, despite the movie having the second shortest runtime in the franchise (the first being the original 2007 film), the movie definitely drags a lot and feels overextended, which is a strange as there’s so much ground to cover within The Last Knight. Anyways, back to my problem with the movie’s narrative, The Last Knight’s story feels like two movies within one as if two films scripts were pitched and Bay (or the Studio heads) decided to integrate both together as one. While I do praise the screenplay writers for diving deeper into the film’s world-building aspect as well as interweaving the mythos within the King Arthur legend, it all just becomes way too crowded and overblown as if the movie is way too in love with its franchise mythology. For starters, the first act of the film feels like one movie (introducing Izabella, reintroducing Cade Yeager and the Autobots from Age of Extinction as well as the reappearance of Megatron and several of his Decepticon followers), while the second act feels like another film entirely (the focus more on Cade, Vivian, Sir Edmund Burton, and the Arthurian lore to find Merlin’s staff). Also, I forget to mention the narrative thread of Optimus Prime and Quintessa is there as well, which is thrown into the mix of these two very distinct and different acts. In addition, these storyline threads are riddled with incomprehensible plot holes and haphazard development that are way too large to ignore. By the time the third act rolls around, the script tries to bring all three major story plots together, but it just doesn’t mesh well together; resulting in The Last Knight having the most disjointed and needlessly complexed three-arc narrative structure in the entire Transformers film saga.
The cast of The Last Knight (both its on-screen actors and those who provide voice-work for the Transformers) are, collectively speaking, a talented bunch and are mostly very much recognizable from their respective careers in both TV and film. However, this being the fifth chapter in the Transformer movies and with Bay keeping everything the same, The Last Knight’s various characters are, for the most part, flat and cartoon-ish stereotypes rather than well-rounded individuals, It also doesn’t help the character building aspect when there’s so much awkward tonal shifts and over-the-top comedy gags that clash with the movie’s attempts to incorporate more emotional plot beats and substance within its multitude of characters. So, let’s start with human actors first, with Mark Wahlberg once again leading the charge in reprising his role of Cade Yeager. Wahlberg, known for his roles in The Fighter, Deepwater Horizon, Lone Survivor, and Patriots Day, has very natural and likeable on-screen presence in most of his movies (even if he’s playing someone unlikeable). Thus, his presence as the central male lead in the Transformers movies, in my opinion, is much better than previous protagonist Shia LaBeouf in first three films. In Age of Extinction, Wahlberg’s Cade Yeager was introduced and was given more room to grow (not a whole lot, but enough to make the make the character compelling). Unfortunately, his reappearance in The Last Knight does little to grow the character any further. That’s not so much on Wahlberg’s fault (his acting is fine and he still proves to be a strong male lead in the role), but rather on the hodgepodge story / script, which doesn’t help flesh his character out. All in all, Wahlberg’s performance of Cade is fine, but the doesn’t evolve the characters any more than what was presented in Age of Extinction. As a side-note to the character of Cade Yeager, I guess they couldn’t get Nicole Peltz reprise her role as Yeager’s daughter Tessa (except in a brief audio bit) as well as Jack Reynor as her then boyfriend Shane Dyson.
Surrounding Wahlberg’s character of Cade Yeager are the three characters Izabella, Vivian Wembly, and Sir Edmund Burton, who are played by Isabela Moner, Laura Haddock, and Anthony Hopkins respectfully. In truth, of the three, it’s actually Anthony Hopkins who shines the brightest in his role and comes across as one of most memorable characters in The Last Knight. So, before you go saying “Aww, man…. they dragged Hopkins into this mess”, just hear me out. Hopkins, known for his roles The Silence of the Lambs as well as Hannibal and the HBO TV Show Westworld, actually seems to relish his opportunity to play such characters as Burton, with much wider range of comical relief than I’ve ever seen the now 79-year-old British actor display. In addition, he’s also the perfect actor to be a character that has to monologue / share expositional scenes about history, Arthurian myths, and yes…. even Autobot lore. Thus, while I hardly expect that the Oscar-winner actor will be nominated for this role, Hopkins’s Edmund Burton is genuinely funny and endearing in the movie.
The other two supporting human characters, however, fare less in The Last Knight, which, much like Wahlberg, are not due to their acting ability, but rather the dual narrative plot with this movie. Young actress Isabela Moner, who’s appeared in several TV shows including 100 Things to Do Before High School, Dora and Friends: Into the City! And Growing up Fisher, does have a strong introduction as the street-smart Izabella (the young girl who’s been featured in most of the trailers and TV spots) and almost a surrogate daughter figure for Cade. Unfortunately, her introduction in the first act is her character defining moment in the feature as she gets completely abandoned during the second act, only to reappear again in the third act, which, at the point, she’s pretty forgetful. As for Laura Haddock, known for her roles in Guardians of the Galaxy as well as the TV shows Da Vinci’s Demons and How Not to Live Your Life, her character of Vivian Wembly does offer something more than just being a pretty face on-screen, with a more knowledgeable and intellect female lead than in past Transformer movies. However, her character, which does take the “chosen one” angle a bit (think Sophie Neveu from The Da Vinci Code), feels superfluous until halfway through the movie when she becomes more of a central figure (again due to the two narratives ideas in the movie). I kind of wish both the characters of Izabella and Vivian had more of prominent role in the movie, whether that means eliminating one from the movie, so the other could be more well-rounded.
Some of the support players of the human are welcomed appearance, with some actors from the previous Transformers films being called back to reprise their role, most notably with Josh Duhamel (Las Vegas and When in Rome) returning as William Lennox as well as Glen Morshower (Bloodline and 24) as General Morshower. John Turturro’s (The Night Of and Barton Fink) Transformers character Agent Simmons, who is now hiding out in Cuba, returns in The Last Knight as well. However, his reappearance does little importance in the film and acts nothing more than a large gratuitous cameo. The rest of the human characters in the movie are superfluous to the film, including Jerrod Carmichael (Neighbors and The Carmichael Show) as Cade’s new assistant Jimmy (think of Ramon Rodriguez’s Leo Splitz from Revenge of the Fallen, but less important), Tony Hale (Veep and Arrested Development) as JPL Engineer (who’s mostly there for scientist techno-babble at various parts in the movie), and Stanley Tucci (Beauty and the Beast and The Devil Wears Prada), who has played Joshua Joyce from Age of Extinction, returns to the Transformers movie, but as a different character, playing the role of a somewhat silly rendition of the iconic Arthurian wizard Merlin.
As for the Transformers themselves (both Autobots and Decepticons), the various voice-works are solid, a mixture of veteran to the series as well as some new ones. However, much like the human characters, these alien robots are a bit flat as there’s just too many of them in the movie for you to focus one, with the only exception of a few, including fan-favorite Bumblebee. Peter Cullen, who voices Autobot leader Optimus Prime for all the movies as well as almost the entire Transformers franchise (cartoon shows and all) continues to provides that he is Optimus Prime…. plain and simple. However, while is voice work is great as the titular leader, he’s mostly absent for most of The Last Knight until later in the movie. As for Prime going “dark” (i.e. Nemesis Prime), while it’s an interesting concept, it just feels pointless in the grand scheme of the film’s narrative and, suffice to say, much of those scenes have already been shown in the film’s various marketing campaign promos, which means that the actual shots in the movie feel “meh” when finally presented. Sharing the screen-time with the Autobot leader is the character of Quintessa, the ominous creator of the Cybertronians, who is voiced by Gemma Chan (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Families). The character is interesting looking and Chan’s voice work is great, but Quintessa just feels like footnote in an already way too busy narrative storyline and ultimately just feels underwhelming in The Last Knight, despite her appearance being vital and important in this cinematic world. However, one of my biggest complaints about Quintessa is that they (Bay and the film’s screenwriters) fails to address the one lingering question from Age of Extinction: If Quintessa is the creator of Cybertron (and its Transformer denizens) …. why did she send Lockdown (one of the main antagonist in Age of Extinction) Earth to hunt for Optimus Prime? Do you guys know because I surely don’t. Isn’t that one of the main reasons why Prime leaves at the end of Age of Extinction…to find answers about his creator (and why his creator wanted him dead?). Unfortunately, that particular question is never answered.
In Age of Extinction, most of the Autobots, with the exception of Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, and Wheelie, were replaced with a new roster of characters (i.e. Drift, Crosshairs, and Hound). This continues onward into The Last Knight, with all those Age of Extinction Transformers returning, including Grimlock, the leader of the Dinobots. Returning to their post is Ken Wantanbe (Inception and Memoirs of a Geisha) as the Samurai-ish tactician Autobot Drift, John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane and The Big Lebowski) as the Autobot commando and field medic Hound, and John DiMaggio (various cartoon voice works include Futurama and Adventure Time) as the Autobot paratrooper / sniper Crosshairs. There reappearance in the movie is a welcomed one, however, these characters are only important in the first and third act (completely dropped in the middle act). The Last Knight also introduces several new Autobot characters and this is where it becomes messy as their inclusion, like many, is welcomed, but the movie under stops to focus on them long enough to even make a lasting impression. This includes Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire and Fargo) as the Cybertronian scavenger Daytrader, Omar Sy (Inferno and Jurassic World) as the French Autobot bodyguard Hot Rod, and Mark Ryan (Transformers: Age of Extinction and Black Sails) as the WWI sentry Autobot Bulldog. Then there’s the character of Cogman, a psychopathic human-sized Autobot who serves as a butler to Sir Edmund Burton, who is played by Downton Abbey star Jimmy Carter. While Carter does impressive voice work as Cogman as well as sharing an interesting relationship with Hopkins’s Burton, the character becomes way too cartoon-ish and way-over-the-top to the point of being grating / annoying.
Also, it wouldn’t be a Transformers movie without the appearance of the Decepticon leader Megatron, who is voiced by famous Megatron voice actor Frank Welker. While Welker, who did the voice for Galvatron / Megatron in Age of Extinction, does good work in the villainous role (chewing through his dialogue with great ease), the character of Megatron (who looks pretty looking in the movie) just seems like weak inclusion in The Last Knight’s narrative, which (again) only has the Decepticon leader only showing up in the first act and meekly showing up in the haphazard third act. There is also a host of Decepticon followers that do appear in the movie (Megatron’s allies), but there inclusion just feels pointless as well with characters like Nitro Zeus, Mohawk, Onslaught, and Dreadbot making little to no memorable value to the film’s story and are pretty forgetful.
Lastly, be sure to stick around for a mid-credit Easter Egg scene that leaves the door open for another Transformers film. I’m not going to spoil it, it will be interesting to see (if another one is made) on where the sixth installment will go from here, both in narrative storytelling and directorial direction.
When all seems lost, a few brave souls can save everything we’ve ever known” says Vivian Wembly to a group of students, which, in turn, is reflected upon several individuals (including herself) in the movie Transformers: The Last Knight. Director Michael Bay’s fifth chapter in the Transformers franchise does portray an interesting and deeper mythos within the context of its movie world as well as providing a visual spectacle (worthy of summer movie), and employing a host of actors and voice-actors for the feature. Unfortunately, the movie is needlessly complexed, overstuffed in its narrative, overcrowded with its numerous flat characters (both humans and Transformers), and ultimately falls prey to Bay’s excessive and ridiculous format that’s plagued the sequels that came before. Personally, I was disappointed by this movie. Maybe I was expecting something more out of The Last Knight, especially since the narrative utilized Arthurian legend. Then again, this is the fifth Transformers movie and nothing seems to have changed since the first film. So maybe it was just “wishful thinking” on my part. As I said above, it’s not the worst entry in the franchise, but it’s definitely in the bottom tier, which I think it will be for most everyone out there. Regardless, since I’m a completionist, I’ll brought buy this movie on Blu-Ray (one day…. when it’s on a deep discounted sale). Thus, my recommendation for this movie is torn definitely a skip it. Diehard fans of Michael Bay and / or these movies might take somewhat shine to this movie, but I feel most will not (just wait for it to come to TV next year if you have an interest in seeing it. No need to see it in theaters). Like Age of Extinction, the movie does end with some unanswered questions, leaving room for future entries in this series. Suffice to say, after seeing Transformers: The Last Knight and if this film series is ever to continue further (that’s definitely a debatable topic), I think replacing Michael Bay, who has officially stated that he’s stepping away from the franchise, is the best course of action, with the potential for another director to take this cinematic saga of Autobots and Decepticons in a new direction.
2.3 Out of 5 (Skip It)
Released On: June 21st, 2017
Reviewed On: June 23rd, 2017
Transformers: The Last Knight is 148 minutes and is rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of sci-fi action, language, and some innuendo