And so, yet another entry in Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise is released, and with it comes the now almost a decade old film press tradition of autopsying it like a bloated corpse dragged out of a sewer. Yes, surprising absolutely nobody Transformers: The Last Knight, is a load of old toilet. To be fair, it’s probably the best of the series, but frankly that’s like saying that the common cold is the best of a series of possible airborne viruses. Even if it’s preferable to Smallpox, you’re still having a pretty miserable time.
The plot, for what it’s worth, picks up from where the last film left off, with the Transformers declared illegal everywhere except Cuba, with a small group of survivors hiding out in a scrapyard in South Dakota with Mark Wahlberg’s Cade Yeager. Meanwhile, Optimus Prime has set out to Cybertron to find his creators. When he gets there, the planet is in ruins, and he meets Quintessa, played by Gemma Chan, who tells him that the only way to regenerate Cybertron is to absorb Earth, which has apparently been Unicron this entire time. This all ties in to the ancient legend of King Arthur, and an ancient order of wizards, and Shia LeBeouf again somehow, and alright, can we stop pretending that we care about the plot of a Transformers movie now? It’s convoluted and dumb, but at least this time they figured out what a Three Act Structure is.
While, as I said, it’s the best of the series so far, a lot of the usual problems that plague the Transformers series are here in full force. Rather than focus on the robots, the plot is once again centered on the insufferable human characters. (Not that a lot of the robots aren’t just as insufferable, but still, at least they’re robots.) Michael Bay’s usual suite of sexist, racist, racist, and anti-intellectual humour is present in full force, and the screenplay is just so catastrophically bad. It took three people to write this. Three actual human beings were given real money in exchange for their work on this screenplay. The fact that they have actually talented actors speaking it only really makes it worse.
The technical side isn’t much better. Michael Bay still has the annoying habit of shooting every single scene like it’s some sort of dramatic zenith, making the whole thing feel totally pointless, and make it impossible for there to be even a single moment of humanity in the entire film. The sound design continues to be rubbish, too. It’s been five films, and they still haven’t figured out how to make their giant robots feel giant, as opposed to weightless CGI puppets. No matter how good the CGI looks, and to be fair it looks pretty great, if it doesn’t interact realistically with the physical world at all, then it loses any verisimilitude it could have had.
This problem carries over to the action scenes as well. Aside from the finale, where at least the sheer scale of it is impressive, it’s all stuff we’ve seen before. Floaty robot combat, with overall geography or coherent structure sacrificed for individual shots. If you like pretty explosions, there’s plenty of those, but if you want to actually understand what’s going on in any given fight, you’re on your own. And even here, with a few exceptions, the film declines to focus on the Robots, instead shooting everything from the perspective of the uninteresting human ciphers. Speaking of which, the boring army guys are back, and just as inexplicably important as ever. Honestly, why doesn’t Bay just make a war movie instead? It’s obvious that’s what he’d rather be doing. Oh wait, Pearl Harbour. Never mind. Carry on, Mike!
Look, at the end of the day, this is a Transformers movie. You don’t need me to tell you it’s a big pile of cinematic refuse – you should know that already. If you didn’t know that already, welcome to the internet, small child/old person/jungle-dwelling hermit, sorry about all the porn and nazis. Even if it occasionally makes tentative steps towards something interesting with the cosmic backstory of the Transformers, it’s hamstrung by a director who has no interest in the film he’s making, and a writing staff with, as far as I can tell, no experience of actual human speech. (I refuse to accept until it is incontrovertibly proven otherwise that Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, and Ken Nolan are not Genetically-Engineered Hyperintelligent Octopi preserved in a vat of Monster Energy Drink.)