With too few redeeming qualities, the stale nuisance of Transformers: The Last Knight bludgeons us with shallow sensation and a formulaic storyline.
Not until Bumblebee (Erik Aadahl) appeared did I realize this movie is not a direct remake of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In the wasteland of Chicago, Izabela (Isabella Moner) sprints between trash heaps to help other kids with the support of her little friend Squeaks. This scene sets up the illegal alien scenario, and though the Transformers Reaction Force (TRF) only takes extreme measure with Decepticons, casualties of the Autobots are unavoidable. To match the political climate, Transformers: The Last Knight inserts themes of police brutality and xenophobia. Izabella’s “boyfriend”, an Autobot named Canopy, is an unfortunate example of this.
Consumeristic popcorn flicks have changed hysterically since Michael Bay’s brainchild Transformers, based on a line of Hasbro toys, infested the big screen in 2007 with its babbling humans, shape-shifting robots, and garish explosions courtesy of this “visionary director”. Now, ten years and three sequels later, Bay is one of the most reviled directors of our time, yet this condemnation obviously couldn’t prevent him from churning out another summer potboiler. Last Knight continues to lead its audience through the immutable plot about an adversary from Cybertron seeking vengeance, which involves a Transformers artifact, hackneyed garbles, and a landmark on Earth.
This time, the artifact is a precious talisman. A dying warrior named Steelbane grants it to the protagonist Cade Yaeger (amusing everyman Mark Wahlberg), back from the disastrous Age of Extinction to drink more beers and shout names on the battlefield. His daughter is off to college while he remains an outlaw and shelters many mischievous Autobots as a father figure. Together with Bee, Yaeger saves Izabela from the TRF, and later from Megatron (Frank Welker)—because she thinks diatribe can go against firearms. Her inclusion in this movie was another attempt to appeal to various demographics because Izabela (or Z like she insists) is beyond annoying. Thank Primus!—at least the movie abandons her before the talisman launches Yaeger into an hour of jumping between complicated, tiresome plot devices.
As Yaeger arrives at London under the supervision of Cogman (Jim Carter from Downton Abbey), who is addressed as a C-3PO rip-off but reminds us more of a flippant K2SO. He provides a decent amount of comic relief, one of which is to ridicule the diegetic sound of the emotional score. Through long sequences of exposition by Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins), the screenplay tries to entangle its muddled blocks of events. Hopkins had a respectable, dignified performance as Burton, who calls Yaeger “dude” and flirts with his mistresses during the mission. But most importantly, Burton serves the Secret Society of Wiwiccans—an alliance of historically significant individuals dedicated to protecting the Transformers’ secret. His tales and historical accounts fit together with the prologue, which sees the Arthurian legend re-imagined in Transformers’ tradition of meddling with history. It turns out that a group of Cybetronian Knights arrived on Earth thousands of years ago before being asked for help by a pathetic Merlin (silly, silly Stanley Tucci). Out of sympathy, the Knights bequeathed him a magical staff to command a giant dragon to help King Arthur.
Here, binary ethics depicts the Germanic peoples as evil and power-hungry barbarians against the righteous army of Arthur, and this lazy, offensive comparison is a paragon to reflect on the battle between Earth and the Cybertronian forces of evil. Alternate history reveals the interference of Autobots to expand the lore, but rather than deepening the mythos, the convoluted story confuses the audience with more trivialities. The biggest plot hole zeroes in on Viviane Wembly (Laura Haddock from Guardians of the Galaxy). Besides the love interest role, she is Merlin’s last descendant and thus the only one who can control the staff, which must mean the Transformers can still use telekinesis to manipulate it. The wobbly plot treats Yaeger and Wembly with great importance, but after fulfilling a certain purpose, they as characters are broomed and dumped into the furnace of plot devices. This applies with a dozen of other characters, including Burton and John Turturro’s annoying Simmons, luckily without his butt and underwears.
Wait, I haven’t mentioned Optimus Prime—because the badass leader/freedom fighter is barely in this movie. After being frozen in space, Optimus comes back and betrays the Autobots, looking more like Pessimus Prime with purple eyes and a scarlet mark on his face. He’s not a traitor, though, because he did find his Creator before being mind-controlled. Winking at the mythos, the writers reduced The Quintessons to a single entity named Quintessa (Gemma Chan). Far from sinister, she seems to be written out of the same template as Charlize Theron’s Cipher, for which I can’t resist the urge to compare Last Knight with Fate of the Furious. Once again, Megatron is underutilized and gets lost in the cacophony of manipulative faux-passion, as for the umpteenth time, Peter Cullen’s inspirational voice elevates a mandatory speech about bravery and autonomy. And this time the Decepticon clique looks like Suicide Squad’s reserved roster. Going downhill on derivativeness, Last Knight makes Bumblebee and Optimus share a scene mixed between “You’re my mission!” and “Save Martha!”
In technical aspects, Last Knight is still a visual treat from a mind keen on innovative machinery and technical details—the lighting, surface, reflection, and texture is still photorealistic on Bay’s CG sentient robots. Other elements from Bay’s bag of visual tricks—artificial depth of view and heroic shots with moving camera—are also present. He did tone down the complicated transformation, but the jarring shifts of aspect ratio in consecutive shots will bug you during the entire movie.
During action sequences, the geography is only acceptable in small scale, but the giant set piece in the climax is dull and distracting. Quick fixes just come out of nowhere, and the few setups and payoffs disappear into furious edits. The final act plays out for 45 blaring and glaring minutes over the total 149-minute runtime—tangled and overlong like the trend of summer blockbusters to cram in all the characters. Like other government organizations, the brute force of TRF fades into the background except for a squad led by the effortlessly likable William Lennox (Josh Duhamel).
Audiences never go to Transformers movies for its commonplace story and overlapping conversations that brush over whiffs of humanity. But after a decade, the stale nuisance from messy, explosive crowd-pleasers is just blatantly mercenary. The franchise’s biggest mistake lies in its firm conviction on how the audience can tolerate bad jokes and fake sentiments as fillers. With too few redeeming qualities, Last Knight bludgeons us with shallow sensation and a formulaic storyline.
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