2017, Action Movies, Adventure Movies, Alien Invasion, Alien Technology, Alien Worlds, Aliens, Based on a Toy, Blockbusters, CGI, Daniel Keohane Reviews, Giant Robots, Man and Machine, Michael Bay Epics, ROBOTS!, Science Fiction, Summer Movies, To The Cinema And Beyond! 0
To the Cinema and Beyond! Presents:
TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT (2017)
Film Review by Dan Keohane
So, here we are again, reviewing the newest smash ‘em up fest by Michael Bay (ARMAGEDDON, 1998, THE ISLAND, 2005) within Hasbro’s Transformer movie franchise: TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT (2017). If I sound a little angst-ridden here, it’s simply because, for the third time in a row, I have to review the newest smash ‘em up fest by Michael Bay within Hasbro’s Transformer toy movie franchise.
One might assume this is going to be a biased, negative review, but I honestly went in with an open mind – negative expectations, true, but an open mind. Even so, I have to be honest and say this movie was a bit of a train wreck. You could probably stop reading now, but there were also some good aspects. Quite good, in fact. But the overall feeling as I walked out of the theater was that this was two hours and twenty-eight minutes of unmitigated chaos, and not in a good way like the FAST & FURIOUS films (pick a year).
The premise is interesting for a Transformers film, considering what our metal(ish) heroes have gone through in their previous outings: there is a direct connection throughout history between the legendary King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table and the Transformers. There is a clarifying revelation to all of this towards the end, but I promise I’m not giving anything away here, since the film opens during a one-sided battle circa 500 AD (“AD” fits better when talking about King Arthur than the modern abbreviation CE, so stop whining) between Arthur and his army of Britons and the overwhelmingly large and brutal Saxon army. Everyone wants to retreat but the king promises the magician Merlin will arrive soon to help. Once uttering the movie’s tag line (something to the effect of “There comes a moment when we are called upon to make a difference”) they rally behind Arthur and head for their slaughter. In the meantime, a drunken Merlin approaches a crashed, hidden spaceship and begs a large humanoid creature (its features are not completely revealed) for help. He admits his “magic” is really whatever assistance these beings have given him using their advanced technology, but this is the end of the world and they must save civilization. When the alien shouts “Transformers Assemble” (a cross between their usual battle cry and the Avengers’), a bunch of Transformers exit the ship, reassemble into a single dragon and save the world (at least for the Britons).
The devastation on the battle field fades into the devastation of Chicago, along with the words “1600 Years Later.” I thought that was clever.
No, I did not just insult Chicago.
Two films ago, in TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON (2011), Chicago was laid waster during the climactic battle between the good Transformers (called Autobots) and the bad ones (called Decepticons). A voiceover gives the audience a quick summary of the past few films to catch us up, though there’s a lot of ground to cover and I wasn’t sure I followed all of it. In short: The Autobots came to Earth ages ago after their world was laid waste, and are marooned here. Decepticons arrived in more modern times, and an age-old battle ensued. Humans, tired of being nothing but ants under the monstrous robot(ish) creatures’ war, fought back, eventually fighting alongside the Autobots. Until they decided even the Autobots (led by the silver-tongued Optimus Prime) were a threat and began hunting them down and destroying them. The Autobots had an ally in Sam Witwicky, until the actor got weird and the producers replaced him in the previous movie (TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, 2014) with Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg, if you read my review of said film, was a positive addition to the franchise. He plays Cade Yeager (can’t get a more American name than that!) a single father who, after the last film is now a fugitive from justice, helping to hide the surviving Autobots from capture or, worse, death. End of recap. Cade makes his dramatic, if not confusing, entrance in a devastated Chicago at this point.
But I wish to digress for a moment. Because I have some questions—as I always do when watching a Transformers movie—about these creatures.
Why does this guy always review the Transformer’s movies? He obviously doesn’t get them. In fact, I think he’s a little hostile towards the whole franchise.
I know, but I heard that no one else wanted to see the film, and he’ll use any excuse to go to the movies and eat crappy food for two hours.
How can you possibly know that?
…wait, wait, he’s typing again.
So, I ask these questions every few years, but never get an answer. They bleed green motor oil. They can die. They can come apart and reassemble into cars or trucks. But they’re alive. And, early in this newest film, the dinosaur Transformers from last time are now under the protection of Yeager and have, apparently, bred since there are a bunch of baby dinosaur Transformers running around learning how to breath fire. And they’re growing. How? What do they eat? Their Mom, or Aunt, eats a police car but throws it up… so what exactly do they –
Hey, buddy! They’re toys. Get off your high horse and review the film, you moron.
But these are legitimate questions we all should be asking –
They… are… toys, now stop it! Bay is working with this lone limitation, the nature and “physiology” of the Transformers based on the toys and the wildly successful cartoon series (and comics). He can do whatever the heck else he wants in these films – and does – but he does not touch this one, sacred cow: the Transformers themselves.
Hmm. OK, I’ll buy that.
Now do your job and review the film!
The post-prologue scene is often hard to follow, or overly long filler scenes that reintroduce the characters, many times using unsuccessful humor. There is some very good humor in this movie, but it comes primarily from two characters. We’ll get to in a moment.
Let’s just do a Cliff’s Notes version of the early plot summary so we can get to what worked and didn’t. Cade and the TV-talking Transformer Bumblebee save a group of kids from being blown up, then arrested (in that order), in Chicago, which is now a containment zone for the military and their Transformer butt-kicking special forces, the TRF, trying to control the spread of Transformers throughout the country and world. As the years pass, more Transformers arrive on Earth, but no one can explain why. The TRF blow them up as soon as they land. Cade meets one such alien before he dies, a Transformer who looks like a knight, who gives him a special amulet which he will need to find the Staff of Merlin (!) More on that in a moment (it’s the key to the whole film, and also the lynch pin which sends it crashing into the sea, plot-wise). Cade escapes with a young orphaned girl and his Transformer friends, to a massive junkyard where they are all hiding.
Meanwhile, the Autobots’ leader, Optimus Prime, has been drifting through space trying to find their homeworld and their creators (they have forgotten this over the eons, or something like that). He finds it – a planet-sized ship (well, a ship/planet hybrid) called Cybertron. The Transformers homeworld is mostly dead, however. Ironically, Cybertron is heading to Earth and will arrive in three days. So, Optimus Prime pretty much drifted around the cosmos for nothing. The plan: get the Staff of Merlin and use it to destroy the Earth by sucking its energy dry, thus restoring Cybertron to its original, glorious state. This plan is being carried out by an evil, liquid metal woman named Quintessa (Gemma Chan, FANTASTIC BEASTS AND WHERE TO FIND THEM, 2016) who captures Optimus Prime, brainwashes him into joining her evil minions, then renames him Nemesis Prime (!) Quintessa, according to the Internet, is of the race which built the Transformers as slaves, until the Transformers rebelled and gained their freedom. Optimus, now Nemesis, is serving her kind again.
That’s the last we see of Optimus for about an hour and a half. He returns near the end, but mostly just to give some misplaced speeches. His role in this film is vastly diminished from the previous ones. I guess there isn’t enough room in two hours and twenty-eight minutes to develop many characters deeper than surface level.
The army, after interrogating the imprisoned arch enemy of Optimus Prime, Megatron, learns that Cade’s amulet (which has attached itself to him) is the key to finding the Staff, though we never learn how Megatron knows this. The army wants the staff, because the bad robot convinces them it’s the key to stopping the approaching monster planet-ship and whatever evil-do it is planning.
It should be noted, so you don’t get your hopes up, the thingy attached to Cade is never used to find the staff– the writers forget this point later on. The Decepticons team up with the army and TRF in an attempt to try and capture or kill Yeager and get the magic thingy, in return for their freedom (which makes no sense since the last time the Decepticons roamed free they tried to take over the world).
They track Yeager to the junk yard and a battle royale ensues. The second in the film, with more to come.
OK, enough plot summary. It only gets weirder (but at times entertaining) from there.
Speaking of “royale,” the best part of TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT is Sir Edmund Burton, played with gleeful delight by veteran actor Sir Anthony Hopkins, and his C3PO-like Transformer butler Cogman (voiced with even more gleeful delight by Jim Carter, the man we all know and love as head butler Carson from the DOWNTON ABBY TV series). Cogman’s constant, proper—but seething—British banter with Burton and Yeager is reminiscent of Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO in ROGUE ONE (2016). Unlike some of the other, major humor fails—especially with Cade’s business associate Jimmy (Jerrod Carmichael), who spends most of his time screaming about getting arrested while machine guns and evil robots are literally trying to kill (not arrest) him, any scene with Carter’s Cogman—the Transformer butler with anger issues —is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise suffocating film. As is every scene with Hopkins, whose calm demeanor only slightly masks the absolute joy he emanates at playing this crazy, fun role.
There, you see? This guy’s one of those stuck up reviewers. “Oh, I did not like the robots or the Americans, but give me SIR Anthony Hopkins and anyone from a PBS show and things are OK. Oh, oh, where is my tea?” What a wuss.
They’re Transformers, not robots.
I know that! Apparently, he doesn’t.
The cast, especially the voices of the Autobots, are a Who’s Who of popular actors, including John Goodman, Ken Watanabe, and Steve Buscemi. Even Mitch Pileggi (THE X-FILES TV series) is in there as a TRF honcho.
Everyone in the cast is having fun, and if I had to guess, so is Michael Bay. As the story moves from the United States to the United Kingdom, it’s as if someone dared Bay to ramp it up as far as he could, to see what will happen. We have Stonehenge; submarines; the Knights of the Round Table; sword fights (sort of); chases through London; battles underwater; a Transformer home world scraping the Earth to death; a beautiful woman who is apparently the key to saving humanity; and Mark Wahlberg’s abs. Name it, Bay threw it in there. There was a point, somewhere around the submarine scene, where I actually laughed out loud. Things were getting so insane plot-wise, I found myself caught up in the whole thing. I almost – almost – was enjoying it, mostly because it was just so outlandish I gave up and let go of logic enough to enjoy the ride as much as possible.
Which, I guess, is really the point.
Is he coming around?
Aside from the British actors who truly made the film bearable, there were other positive points. I mentioned that Mark Wahlberg has been a good addition to the franchise. He plays his parts straight, with such a passionate innocence you simply have to like his characters.
As well, the special effects were out of this world. No pun intended. One thing these Transformer movies have going for them is their visual effects are top notch. The interplay between CGI Transformers and the real world around them, especially the actors, is seamless (aside from the fact the humans should be suffering a lot more injuries than they do). There was a short but enjoyable car chase through London which had to be mostly CGI, otherwise it was either shot in the streets of London or a heck of a big sound stage. You couldn’t tell.
Overall, as I’ve said, watching this film is unbound chaos. The climactic battle scene (okay, there were about four of them) is so crowded and confusing I had a hard time following what was going on. Let me be clear: visually, it was easy to follow, but there is a story here, somewhere, and the motivations and actions of the characters have to move logically forward. Honestly, while the characters at the end are floating miles above the Earth in a last ditch attempt to save humanity, I was not sure what was supposed to actually happen for Earth to be saved. I just waited to see what unfolded. When the music died down and things settled a bit, maybe I’d know. In the meantime, I tried to follow the plot as best I could.
Merlin’s Staff, which everyone is fighting for, is kind of important, but only as a key. And Cade Yeager’s special device, which everyone was originally trying to get off, did nothing to find it. The staff was found via another plot point I won’t reveal, except to say it was part of the British storyline, so it was decently done.
A lot of loose threads were left dangling miles above the Earth with our heroes. If you don’t spend too much effort trying to tie them together in your brain, you’ll make it through mostly unscathed.
Anything else good, in this “stuck-up reviewer’s” mind?
See? He heard you!
Nope. The theater was pretty packed, and as soon as it was obvious the climax was winding down, but before the credits rolled, a dozen or so people got up to leave. As if they told themselves that since they’d stuck it out this long, they’d stay to see the resolution, but once that goal was reached, they left. Or maybe they simply had to pee, it was a two-and-a half-hour movie, after all.
I’m going out on a limb here, but after having reviewed most of the other movies in this franchise: I don’t think diehard Transformer fans will find this movie to be all that good, or at least not as good as the previous four films. An ambitious try, it was, at building the franchise’s world a little deeper, and introducing some possible sequel fodder. In doing so, however, TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT ends up with a story far too disjointed and scattered.
As for me, it was an adventure, I’ll give you that. There was good and bad to the movie, but as far as coherent story and undangled plot threads, it was mostly bad. If you’re a fan, I’d be curious what you’d rate it.
Only because Anthony Hopkins and Jim Carter added a humorous touch of class to the whole thing, I’ll be nice and give it One and a Half knights… I mean knives.
© Copyright 2017 by Daniel G. Keohane
Dan Keohane gives TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST NIGHT ~ one and a half knives!