Lord, what a garbled mess this is.
I’m not sure how much history is needed for us to discuss before diving into Michael Bay’s newest explode-a-palooza, Transformers: The Last Knight. It picks up shortly after the last film, Transformers: Fuck It I Already Forget The Title. After that film, wherein the Transformers seemingly wrecked whatever remaining cities that they hadn’t left in ruin after the one before that one, Optimus Prime (voiced by the immortal Peter Cullen) has left Earth in search of their home planet, Cybertron. Meanwhile, Transformers have been outlawed (which I could have sworn had also happened in the last film) and hero Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) — seriously, what the fuck with that name — is living in hiding, protecting Autobots wherever he finds them.
And then … shit happens.
Look, the plot for this movie is utter fucking madness, and it’s told in the most chaotic, discordant, haphazard way possible. The first 100 minutes of its absurd 150 minute runtime is a complete disaster of incompetent filmmaking. The story, which inexplicably involves King Arthur’s knights of the round table, Merlin, a mystical staff, a robot planet grafting itself to Earth, a floating robot god-queen, Evil Optimus Prime, and an ancient secret society of British people who … man, I don’t even fucking know. Seriously, all of that is crammed in there. There’s also a tweenage girl (Isabela Moner), Anthony Hopkins playing a slightly crazy wise old man, and an incredibly awkwardly scripted love interest/co-heroine played by Laura Haddock.
Now, I’m used to enduring the ridiculous in a Transformers movie. But the storytelling — and I use the term extremely loosely — is an absolute atrocity, possibly worse than any of the previous films. The first hour and a half is nothing more than a series of hyperactively edited five-minute vignettes that take place all over the world, in the past and the present, shot at you with such dizzying speed that what little sense it may have made is out the damn window. It’s not helped by the over-saturated color palette, either (and also, in typical Bay fashion, everyone is always sweating). Imagine if a painter, instead of carefully mixing his or her paints and then creating a vision on canvas, just poured all the paints into a bucket, mixed it with confetti, malt liquor, and human feces, and threw it in your face. That’s about how the first two-thirds of this trainwreck felt.
It’s all designed to bring Yeager and Vivianne (Haddock) together and eventually unite them with a small army of Autobots and human soldiers (led once again by Josh Duhamel, aka off-brand Timothy Olyphant) so that they can storm the secret hideaway on Cybertron, blow shit up, do the special chosen one shtick that somehow ends up in all these movies, and then gaze sweatily into the middle distance as a crane shot swings around them. But here’s where things get interesting: The final act of the movie is actually … pretty good. This is a radical departure from the previous Transformers movies, which featured indistinguishable punch-fests and lots of screaming. This time, it’s… well, still punch-fests and screaming, but also a far more engaging series of action sequences, filmed with some clever changes in scenery — between massive underwater sets to battles happening on ships falling from high altitudes, it’s clever and creative and fun. What’s more, for once the female lead is actually relevant to the story itself — arguably, Haddock is a more important character than Wahlberg to the story with a more clearly defined, and certainly more interesting character arc.
I’m not sure what happened to Mark Wahlberg, who was quite good in films like The Departed, The Other Guys, and The Fighter, but in the Transformers films it’s like he’s standing in a charisma vortex. He lamely mumbles out the preposterous dialogue, but he mostly sounds strained, as if it’s causing him physical pain to act. Haddock, on the other hand, is mostly enjoyable to watch, arguably the first of all of the female leads in Bay’s five Transformers films to be written well enough to exhibit any semblance of personality. Faint praise, perhaps, but it’s Michael Bay, so the bar is rather low. May I remind you, he once introduced a female character thusly:
So we’ve got nowhere to go but up, really.
Acting-wise, in typical Bay fashion, almost every actor is wasted. Hopkins dodders around and spouts prophetic bullshit, and he’s clearly enjoying himself, but the character never really connects and the jokes never land. John Turturro embarrasses himself slightly less than in previous films. Stanley Tucci — OK, Tucci is kind of amazing as a drunken Merlin, even if he’s only in the film for 90 seconds. Everyone else — all of the other Transformers, both Autobot and Decepticons — are barely there other than to be part of the scenery. It’s actually rather baffling that Bay has made so many of these films, but has yet to give any real sense of character to any of the robots other than — barely — Prime and Bumblebee. The others are little more than broad stereotypes — the Asian robot! The fat one! The clumsy one! But they barely speak other than in painfully unfunny exchanges with each other. It almost felt like no one had any lines, and I was just watching things smash into other things with the occasional lame joke peppered in there. The only other standout was Isabele Moner as a spunky 14-year-old orphan who ends up in Wahlberg’s care, and while she’s terrific in her role, she’s not there nearly enough.
Anyway, the finale is cacophonous nonsense, but at least it’s engaging nonsense. But the first couple of acts destroy any interest, being little more than a series of headache-inducing short films taped together and then squeezed into a ball in an attempt to give it the illusion of coherence. It’s another frustratingly wasted opportunity by Bay, who can’t seem to understand that the kitchen sink approach doesn’t work, and if he could maintain some sense of fluidity and nuance, he might actually have something worthwhile. But instead, just like the other movies, it’s exposition dump-exposition dump—EXPLOSIONS—exposition dump—PUNCH SHIT—exposition dump—attractive people artlessly flirting—exposition dump—PUNCHING EXPLOSIONS PUNCHING—FLAGS, MUSIC, SWEATY STARING—roll fuckin’ credits. I guess that’s what we’re doomed to have. At least this time, we can be grateful that there are a couple of decent female characters and that the final explodey-punchy was better than the rest of it.