You know, it ain’t bad.
Back in 2006, I remember seeing the trailer for the first Transformers at the cinema before a screening of Nacho Libre. I went home telling my Mum about it and she gave me a strange look and a patronising “OK…” The following year however, on the way home from the cinema, Mum was raving about how badass it was and I gave a smug “I told you so.” Michael Bay gave us an amazing film with mind-blowing special effects, incredible action sequences and an amazing story that… Well maybe the story wasn’t the cleverest thing of all time but then again neither was neither was Space Jam and everyone loves that film. I suppose Space Jam‘s longevity is partially due to its nostalgia factor but then again, Transformers was also relying on nostalgia to some extent. Whatever works man.
Anyway, ten years since the release of the first film, we’re now faced with number five and I don’t know if it was the fact that Dark of the Moon (#3) and Age of Extinction (#4) set the bar pretty low but I couldn’t help being impressed with The Last Knight. I realise that the reviews aren’t great but hear me out.
It opens with a bang. But you knew that already. This is a Michael Bay film after all. But instead of giant fighting alien robots, we start off in 484 AD with an epic battle between the Britons and the invading Saxons. With knights clashing and colossal trebuchets launching burning explosives, this scene would have been at home in the TV series Vikings or even the recent King Arthur movie (which sadly didn’t do very well). I literally had chills from this opening and was really excited how well the film had started until we met Merlin. This was the unfortunate moment when the dumb jokes appeared. I’m not sure who it to blame as there were four writers on this film so I won’t list them but someone is guilty. Suddenly we’ve gone from noble kings and warriors to a farting drunkard arguing with his horse. Real mood killer.
And sadly there was more of this throughout the film; silly, dumb humour which I really think lowered the tone. Anthony Hopkins however, managed to pull off his entire performance with dignity and class. That man is a gift this world doesn’t deserve. But in every other case, it would often take me out of the emotion of the scene for the sake of a cheap laugh. Anyway, despite Merlin’s stupid character, I’m willing to forgive him because he’s only on-screen for a few minutes and he does summon a gigantic three-headed dragon Transformer and it’s cool as balls.
The lead is still Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) from the previous film. Formerly a single father and struggling inventor, he is now on the run, helping protect any Transformers he can find after most of the Earths governments issued a ban on all Transformers. Given the death and destruction that occurs each time the Autobots and the Decepticons have a punch-up, it’s understandable that the leaders of the world wouldn’t want these warring aliens on Earth. Yeager provides unauthorised sanctuary for the Transformers in a junk yard and great personal risk. The TRF (Transformer Reaction Squad) are a multinational taskforce who are deployed to eliminate any Transformers they find hiding out on Earth. While not evil (they are in fact protecting humanity from a very destructive alien species), they certainly aren’t friends with any of the main characters.
Other characters who make a return are Josh Duhamel as Lennox, now a colonel in the U.S. Rangers and John Turturro as Simmons, the irritating former Sector Seven agent. There is even a little cameo by Shia LeBeouf as Sam Witwicky, though only in a photograph.
Bumblebee is back (I’m still annoyed that he isn’t called Hotshot like he was in the cartoon) and we get to learn a little more about his past operations with the Human militaries on Earth which includes a WWII flashback, showing Bumblebee doing the whole Inglorious Bastards thing. Optimus Prime is off in space searching for his creators after defeating one of their mercenaries in Age of Extinction. He’s seeking vengeance and justice but things have taken a big turn south after making a shocking discovery. Most of the other Transformers, while cool in the moment on the big-screen, they’re pretty forgettable in my opinion. One Transformer that did stand out was the steampunk Cogman, a human sized and shaped Transformer who serves Anthony Hopkins. I wish I could say a clockwork Transformer would be cool (I’m a huge fan of steampunk) but his character was completely sociopathic and I found myself really disliking him.
I’m not sure if they were trying to make the film bigger with the large amount of characters but even for a film this big, there still wasn’t enough space for everyone. There were new people introduced in this film that were suddenly forgotten about for a solid hour before they were even mentioned again. I actually forgot about them until someone referenced them and I was like “Oh yeah. Those were people who were in the film. Whatever happened to them?” And they didn’t even need to be in the film. You could have cut them out and it would have made no difference. Because of this, I didn’t really care about them as much as I should have. When watching movies, I tend to care about most characters and these ones were no exception but I feel like moments with them would have been so much more powerful if they had been more essential and not missing for half the film. One of these characters, a young girl called Izabella (played by Isabela Moner), who was orphaned during the events of the previous film has a Transformer friend at the beginning of the film. This Transformer called ‘Canopy’ is killed within five minutes of us meeting him. As he lies dying, Moner is giving an amazing emotional performance as her only friend is dying before her eyes and I felt nothing, simply because this is a character who has only existed for around the time it takes to cook a steak.
Now onto the good stuff. Despite everything I just said and criticised, I do think this film was a definite improvement on the previous films. While I did find some of the characters irritating or the humour and dialogue stupid and low-browed, ultimately the story drew from an intelligent place and worked it into its own mythology. The Transformers series (cartoon or movie) have never really been a supply of subtext or deeper, high-level thinking. I mean they were a kids cartoon and toy-series in the 80’s and these days, are an action-film series, but with The Last Knight, I could feel the amount of backstory and old characters and storylines coming together to form a decent movie. Given the increased scale of the new threat the heroes face, the story becomes very international, with military forces and science agencies from all over the world becoming involved in the conflict. To me, the film actually felt a little like Independence Day. The encroaching alien presence, the militaries of the Earth fighting back against the alien offensive, even the sheer scale of the film bought Independence Day to mind. And moving away from science fiction, there is a moment when an ancient skeletal half-decomposed Transformer attacks Yeager, chanting that he must “protect the sword”, followed by a group of knights chanting the same thing. During this whole sequence I felt like I was watching a Dark Souls movie. Not that I’m complaining, mind…
This film isn’t the most intelligent thing you’ll watch all year, far from it in fact, but I really think it was incredibly exciting. There were car chases through London, intense fire-fights at Stonehenge and a gigantic space-borne transforming planet. It has its flaws and I do think that Michael Bay’s directing style is lacking substance, but I don’t watch Transformer films for cerebral engagement. I watch them because they’re mindless, they’re fun, and they have big explosions that appeal to the twelve-year-old in me. And I mean, they’re movies about giant transforming robot aliens fighting on Earth. You know what you’re getting, it’s exactly what the name says. So go see this film. Or don’t. I really don’t think you’ll be any better or worse for seeing it.