Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)
For one world to live, the other must die.
Haters gonna hate. Even while amassing my thoughts (and feelings) towards the fifth entry of the mega-billion dollar Transformers series, based on the Hasbro toy sensation, I can already see the almighty Tomato Meter sink to its foreseeably Rotten forecast — my guess is that TF5 will be sitting at a measly 19% by the time this reviewer’s words and reactions actually hit the internet. With that said, I’ve always considered myself a fan of director Michael Bay and his fast-paced, effects-heavy (often chaotic) style of high-gloss filmmaking; the way he captures an image is outright superb. So, with the big-budget maverick stating earlier this year that Transformers 5 would be his ‘swan song,’ farewelling the robot extravaganza (though we’ve heard that one before), Bay, who’s known for making things go boom, ensures he go out with a bang, The Last Knight an over-inflated exercise in access — it’s out-of-control zany, unpredictable and, in parts, just plain absurd. This movie is big people, Big with a capital ‘B,’ even by Transformers standards, with Bay driving it home in sheer blockbuster bombast!
As one would expect, The Last Knight endeavors to tie all pre-existing films together, whilst attempting to invent new and exciting mythology and lore, cramming prior plot-threads into this brand-new feature, Paramount Pictures (and producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura) hoping to open up a Transformers Cinematic Universe — led by writer Akiva Goldsman. As a result, the story is a bit over-stuffed and (sometimes) difficult to follow — but hey, Bay’s always been more about spectacle rather then sense.
The movie opens with a scene-setting prologue, where we discover the secret of King Arthur (Liam Garrigan) and his Knights of the Round Table, who were granted the gift of ‘magic’ by an ancient race of Transformers, these rust-covered goliaths handing drunkard wizard Merlin — played by none other than Stanley Tucci (Amen to that!) — a mystical staff, the item having once belonged to the Goddess Quintessa (Gemma Chan), a slithery sentient lady-bot — similar to the scheming sinister race of beings from the ’80s TV show, the Quintessons — who’s eventually revealed as the ‘maker’ of Optimus Prime.
Fast-forward 1,600 years. The valiant Autobots and deceitful Decepticons have both been outlawed, with all Transformers labelled enemies of mankind, Optimus Prime having long left Earth (following the events of 2014’s Age of Extinction). Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), who’s now harboring fallen Autobots, hides out in an abandoned junkyard in South Dakota, having recruited Bumblebee (Erik Aadahl), Hound (John Goodman), Drift (Ken Watanabe) and Crosshairs (John DiMaggio) to help out with the burdensome task of safeguarding and providing asylum for the alien visitors. On one particular rescue operation, Cade winds up adopting Chicago orphan Izabella (Isabela Moner), a ‘take-no-shit’ little JLo — who happens to know her way around an engine — and her bucket-o-bolts companion, Sqweeks (Reno Wilson). It’s on this particular mission that Cade comes into possession of an otherworldly amulet, bestowed to him by a dying Cybertronian Knight, the charm eventually latching onto his arm.
Meanwhile, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) crash-lands on a ravaged Cybertron, which wakes him from his stasis. There he is ‘corrupted’ by Quintessa and compelled to do her bidding, Prime sent back to Earth to find the staff that was handed down to Merlin, this all-powerful scepter the key to saving the Transformers’ fading world. Back on our home planet, former N.E.S.T. member William Lennox (Josh Duhamel) is now a senior officer of a robot-hunting government agency known as TRF (Transformer Reaction Force), this taskforce cutting a deal with a ‘reborn’ Megatron (Frank Welker replacing Hugo Weaving) to help them locate fugitive Yeager; but the antagonistic Deceptacon is secretly aiding Quintessa, who needs Cade’s ‘lucky charm’ in order to locate the sorcerer’s rod! Still following?
Enter Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins), the keeper of a clandestine Order, his maniacal servant, Cogman (Jim Carter), coercing Cade to travel to England on a matter-of-life-and-death assignment. It’s there where Cade meets the scholarly Vivian (Laura Haddock), the last living descendant of Merlin, who’s been kidnapped and brought to Burton’s manor, both Cade and Vivian crucial parts of our planet’s continued existence. With a disassembled Cybertron rapidly hurling towards Earth, mankind has only three days before the desolate wasteland collides with the third rock, Cyberton’s salvation dependent on the total annihilation of our world. Thus, Cade (using the talisman as his weapon and guide) and Vivian (with the knowledge passed down to her by her late father) are tasked with obtaining the staff before it’s too late, all the while learning about the change-o-bots’ classified presence on Earth — aka, the secret history of Transformers, a history that’s bound to our own. Did you get all of that?
Whether you like ‘em or not, Bay’s Transformer movies have always pushed the technological envelope and The Last Knight is no different. Clocking in at an outrageous 149 minutes, this clanking fifth chapter explodes with visually stunning set pieces (most of which were shot in IMAX 3D), including a medieval skirmish that sees fireballs catapulted through the air and a three-headed (Transformer) dragon swoop in to save the day. We also have a flashback to World War II — where we’re shown anthropomorphic vehicle-bots fighting against the Nazi’s — and an epic finale at Stonehenge, England, with what’s left of Cybertron literally crashing down into Earth — this, along with oodles and oodles of vehicular anarchy. Think of it as a $260 million USD buffet, a sensory overload that offers just about every crazy thing you could possibly imagine, and then some, the movie sure to delight franchise devotees with its bonkers barrage of nuts and bolts.
With regular scribe Ehren Kruger replaced by a trio of new writers in Ken Nolan, Black Hawk Down (2001), Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, Iron Man (2008) — who are also credited for story along with Goldsman — the screenplay stays true to Bay’s trademark hyperactive style, rapid-fire dialogue and breakneck pace, The Last Knight reveling in all of his default ticks and eccentricities, whilst allowing his boyish imagination to run rampant. In a bold move, fan favorite Optimus Prime is MIA for most of the film’s runtime, chained up in Cybertron, leaving Bumblebee with more to do, which makes sense, seeing as Transformers 6 will be B’s standalone movie. Needless to say, the much-teased showdown between Bumblebee and Nemesis Prime is stellar, even if hardcore aficionados might be slightly disappointed by dark Prime’s minimal amount of screen time.
Oddly, this is also the first flick in the series to actually poke fun at itself; from its original star, Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky, to a throwaway shot featuring Starscream’s severed head, it’s clear that this one’s quite self aware, mocking historical figures, artists and even claiming that Hitler was killed by a wacko watch. The Last Knight only feels shonky when we’re given a bland mid-credit scene that feels way too Marvel-esque, introducing a ‘big bad’ of greater-scope for future storylines — Bay’s simply better than that!
While we’re introduced to a slew of new Transformer characters, such as a Steve Buscemi’s sketchy scavenger Daytrader, a French-accented bodyguard named Hot Rod (Omar Sy) — who doesn’t actually speak a word of French! — and a gangsta motorbike called Mohawk (also Reno Wilson), the standout is Sir Edmond’s 4-foot-tall robo-butler Cogman, a C-3PO lookalike with sociopathic tendencies or some kind of multiple personality disorder. Whether he’s adding gusto to a dramatic moment via some soaring background music or expressing his road rage, Cogman is an outright delight. Assembled to steal scenes, Cogman and Hopkins make for a hilarious double-team (one of the strangest twosomes I’ve ever seen), this bickering duo supplying some genuinely funny moments, their scenes together some of the best in the film — I could honestly watch an entire spin-off based solely on this screwball pair. Moreover, Anthony Hopkins, Thor (2011), appears to be having the time of his life as the cuckoo historian Sir Edmund Burton (a key player in the Order of the Witwiccans, a secret society formed to uphold an alliance between humanity and the Transformers), the 79-year old thespian delivering lines such as ‘You want to know, don’t you, dude?’ with a twinkle in his eye, Hopkins’ nutty performance worth the price of admission alone!
Mark Wahlberg, Lone Survivor (2013), is both handsome and likable as the longhaired inventor from Texas, Cade Yeager: whether he’s trying to be a charming father figure for the young Izabella or playing opposite the Transformers, Marky Mark makes for a solid protagonist. Cade spends the majority of the adventure running around with puckish Oxford professor Vivian Wembley, who’s portrayed by beautiful British actress Laura Haddock, best known for her small stint in the Guardians of the Galaxy series, where she appeared as Star-Lord’s mom, Meredith Quill. And what a revelation she is. Sensual, spirited and smart, Haddock certainly holds her own, the striking 31-year old sharing a playfully flirtatious dynamic with our boyish hero Yeager — plus, she looks ace in her assortment of low cut tops. Nickelodeon star Isabela Moner, Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life (2016), doesn’t have a heap to do as street-wise stray Izabella — she picks a fight with a bunch of Decepticons and cuddles adorable baby dino-bots — yet she still manages to leave enough of an impression, given her minimal-ish part.
It’s a delight to see franchise veteran John Turturro, O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000), reprise his role as conspiracy theorist Seymour Simmons, the ex-Sector Seven agent now lying low in Cuba, which happens to be an Autobot sanctuary (lol). Josh Duhamel also returns as Colonel William Lennox, his presence — affixing the initial Transformers trilogy with the later episodes — a nice connective strand. Elsewhere, stand-up comedian Jerrod Carmichael, Neighbors (2014), supplies a bit of comic relief as Jimmy, Cade’s rookie sidekick and trash heap manager, who’s in charge of keeping its clanging residents in check; and that includes the car-eating Dinobot Grimlock. The Musketeers (2014) star Santiago Cabrera is completely forgettable as Santos, commander of the TRF, while Veep (2012) funnyman Tony Hale is wasted as a know-it-all scientist who keeps insisting that the U.S. government turn to physics (as opposed to sorcery) if they wish to save the world.
While The Last Knight won’t win over any new patrons, it’s sure to satisfy long-time Bay fanatics, especially those who enjoy his hyper-aggressive moviemaking approach, this latest slice of the Transformers pie bursting with eye-popping, out-of-this-world visuals, and showcasing some of the wildest imagery ever captured on film. With real stunts and explosions — unlike a lot of other films this summer *cough Marvel cough* — mixed with state-of-the-art VFX, The Last Knight is a genuine, leave-your-brain-at-the-door treat — if anything, it should at least be commended for being unique. With Bay pushing the ‘Bayhem’ to ridicules extremes, I’d love to see where he’d take the saga next, that’s if he were ever to return to the helm. There’s no denying it, Michael Bay is clearly a master of madness.
4 / 5 – Recommended
Reviewed by S-Littner