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TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT is the Purest Explosion of Bayhem in Years (Review)

TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT is the Purest Explosion of Bayhem in Years (Review)

When it comes to Michael Bay‘s fifth Transformers movie, The Last Knight, there’s good news and bad news, and how you weigh them will determine your reaction to the movie overall. The good news is that this is the purest, most unfiltered explosion of Bayhem since Bad Boys 2 (thank, you, Edgar Wright, for making it cool to like that one). The bad news is that if you were somehow expecting a course correction, one in which Bay hypothetically watches the old cartoons and says to himself, “Wow! I’ve been getting this all wrong!”, it’s not happening.

I’m on record as a fan of even some of this film franchise’s most hated moments. But if you’re not, this will not likely change your mind. There’s a meta-joke late in the movie in which a stereotypical “nerd” (using the ’80s definition of that word, i.e. glasses and a whiny voice) yells repeatedly that the real solution to the climactic crisis is “physics!” Not only is his specific application of such rejected, but if he’d been even remotely paying attention to the fact that he lives in a Michael Bay-created universe, he’d have realized that actual science has been off the table for quite a while. (I imagine our own Kyle Hill having a head-splosion trying to reconcile the laws of nature under which this particular reality operates.)

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Because here’s the thing: Michael Bay directs these movies with the gaze of a 14 year-old boy, but he works with stories that have the unassailable logic of a five-year-old playing with toys. “What if… there was a dragon, and he was a Transformer, and he knowed King Arthur… and then there was another Transformer, and he was French… and then our planet hitted another planet… and Optimus Prime and Bumblebee fighted because Optimus turned bad… and then there was more Transformers… and one was funny because he said a bad word… and some of them were baby Transformers… Who would win?” Even the reappearance of Stanley Tucci as a completely different character than in the last movie is a total toy box move–action figures in their backyard battles frequently have to assume new identities besides the ones they were created in the image of.

Now, every film critic has different standards, but one that serves me fairly well is this: judge the movie, where possible, by what it aspires to be, even if that isn’t necessarily what you personally want it to be. And if by now Transformers movies are still making you mad, despite the fact that there are four other films to prepare you for exactly what you should expect, well, caveat emptor. Given how much money these movies make, I assume there are others who like them, even though I’m the only one in my personal social circles who does. And I love The Last Knight.

TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT, from Paramount Pictures.

Beginning with King Arthur and a drunken, lying, womanizing Merlin fighting alongside a total rip-off of Mecha-Ghidorah from the Japanese Godzilla films (I’ll be astonished if Toho doesn’t at least try to sue), The Last Knight leans hard into its absurdity, with depictions of the robots throughout human history in roles ranging from Leonardo da Vinci’s muse to Hitler’s secret assassin. Also, the Witwicky family, of which Shia LaBeouf’s Sam in the first three movies was a member, are apparently among many descendants of the Witwiccans, an Illuminati-like secret society bent on the protection of Transformers; conversely, the New World Order, mentioned by name, are killing them in the present day. Naturally, Anthony Hopkins is who Bay hired to dump all this exposition, as he can make it sound somewhat coherent. And in Mark Wahlberg, he has a leading man who can stare back unironically, as though he has just been handed a revelation on the level of the Ten Commandments.

Should I mention that Jim Carter, best known as Carson the butler on Downton Abbey, plays Hopkins’ robot butler Cogman, who is a man made of cogs and yet pronounces his name “COGmun” rather than “Cog Man”? Yes, I think I should. Should I also mention the baby Dinobots? By all means.

transformers international trailer

The action, shot and necessarily viewed in IMAX 3D, is near nonstop, quite comprehensible, and involves a reconstituted planet Cybertron preparing to crash into the Earth and drain its resources. So yeah, whatever it was that supposedly happened to Cybertron in Dark of the Moon has been mostly undone somehow; meanwhile, Optimus Prime pulls a Charlton Heston Beneath the Planet of the Apes move and only shows up for the climax in order to try to ruin everything by having turned bad. I won’t spoil why he’s now evil; suffice it to say some elements of the animated Transformers movie have been remixed and reappropriated, to the inevitable annoyance and/or delight of old-time fans.

Some critics, myself included, have noted that the first three Transformers movies could be read as an allegorical justification for the invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq. But this one, if anything, suggests that it’s not refugees (Transformers) who are the real problem, but a combination of our overreaction to them and the people that radicalize them, all while suggesting that such radicalization can be reversed. It’s a mistake to read politics too deeply into Bay’s movies–he’s heavily pro-military but suggests that he’s “not conservative”–but the subtext shift is interesting.

transformers

Finally, a mea culpa; I’m the guy who thought Rom: Spaceknight would be in this, and he’s not. I do think some design elements from other Hasbro properties were thrown in as Easter eggs, and this movie is definitely setting up a larger sequel, but not necessarily one to incorporate disparate IPs. It’s frustrating that a massive namedrop is done mainly just to get us hyped for part 6, especially if this really was Bay’s last one…but I’ll be waiting patiently, and happily.

Rating: 5 out of 5 Bay-ritos

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Images: Paramount

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