Movie Review - Transformers: The Last Knight

From director Michael Bay, who seems to be finally relinquishing the mantel of the Transformers series after five films spanning over a decade, comes the fifth installment in the explosive robot-vs-robot franchise, The Last Knight. Planting its feet firmly in its thinly-concocted Arthurian theme, and tossing us a whole new wave of over-the-top characters, the latest blockbuster to leak from the mind of Michael Bay managed to balance its many parlor tricks well enough to deliver another compelling end-of-the-world scenario. With its runtime at times draining, however, and its shortcomings outweighing its spectacle, The Last Knight begged the question on all of our minds: How much more of this can we possibly take?

Following a grim battle for mankind in the clouded highlands of medieval England, the once-coveted staff of King Arthur's wizard, Merlin, is lost to time. 1600 years later, the truth behind the staff that granted Arthur and his army victory so long ago is unlocked when struggling inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) receives a talisman from a fallen Transformer from Cybertron. With Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) now vanished, Yeager, along with a street-smart kid named Izabella (Isabella Moner), a feisty Oxford professor (Laura Haddock), and an eccentric historian (Anthony Hopkins) must race against time as ancient threats from Cybertron rise to claim Earth. With Prime now swaying between allegiances, and the government on the hunt for all Transformers, trust can only be found in those who have the will to fight for mankind.

While the prospects of a new installment in the blasphemous Transformers franchise seemed all but certain to pop up once more this summer, I never expected myself to be reeled back in with The Last Knight. More preposterous and cluttered with insignificant human characters than 2014's Age of Extinction, The Last Knight, to my great surprise, managed to snatch up my interest with its surface premise alone. While the thought of alien robots existing around the era of King Arthur and the Dark Ages, or anytime before then even, might raise more questions from the franchise than answers, some internal calling within me told me this could be one of the series' most compelling tales to tell. In the end, I guess I was half-right. With the latest from Michael Bay spinning a tale of Arthurian lore backed by magic and swordplay, I found myself once again relishing in the ambition, childlike as it may be, of it all.

Right off the bat, I went into this movie knowing good and well that while it would not strike any sub-level emotion or grand reaction from within me, it would allow me to turn off my brain for two-plus hours and bask in all its hellish delight. I knew it wouldn't bring me to tears, nor would it leave my gut busting with uncontrollable laughter. It would, however, make me consider something about the franchise I probably knew all along. That fact is that Michael Bay makes these movies not to inspire any deepened thoughts on life or its complexities, but to simply pit you into a fantasy world where all humans are childlike and massive alien robots punch each other on the backdrop of pure, explosive ecstasy. While I may have seen the earlier films in the franchise as visual masterpieces (what 10-year-old wouldn't) with enjoyably idiotic teenagers and stumbling government subordinates, I know see these films for what they've always been: The fiery playground of an ambitious and single-minded filmmaker.

While Michael Bay's latest choppily-cut, visual stimulus in The Last Knight might not take itself that seriously, after four films of boastful and riotous set pieces meant for preadolescent boys, the plot of the film did keep me mostly invested in its many illogical sequences -- only until the film veered its focus from the titular robots to the ever-devolving cast of humans. One of my most disconcerting issues I've always had with these films (yes, even while John Turturro's Agent Simmons getting peed on by a massive robot in the first film might have left me with an immature giggle in my throat) is how its human characters often garner the spotlight over the often-more compelling Transformers. With the first three films stringing together a muddled storyline for the franchise's once-dominant hero, Shia LaBeouf's nerdy Sam Witwicky, the series lost any indication of the mature human interaction it might have once had when it started to rely too heavily on establishing its non-robot stars.

While this gripe might be a bit immature, as very few of Michael Bay's characters stem far from the simple-minded and the cliche, I always imagined what the franchise could be if it didn't spend so much time dwelling on the affairs of Earth. With the franchise always preaching so heavily on its alien origins on the planet Cybertron and beyond, why is it that we keep ending up watching soldiers pissing away bullets at transforming cars and hot girls falling into the hands of giant robots? Well, while the answer to that might be as simple as two words, "America" and "preadolescent boys", my issues with this franchise still remain. While The Last Knight might have stumbled through a mildly-compelling history lesson of ancient knights and three-headed dragons (stay with me, here), and gathered up some decent human characters in Josh Duhamel's Agent Lennox and Anthony Hopkins' bumbling nobleman, I still question if the affairs of the Transformers would be much more worth-while if the films shifted their focus to either how the Transformers actually came to be, or their significance in the galaxy beyond the extents of Earth.

My issues with the human cast of the film weren't all that changed when I settled in for the hyperactive premise of this film. My thin expectations for what might be a more competent array of characters were for the most part dispelled as soon as Stanley Tucci's drunken Dark Ages wizard, Merlin, appeared on-screen. While I'll spare you the details of why Tucci was even in this film, from there the film offered only a handful of inspired performances, as inspired as the humans of a film about fighting robots can be. While the return of franchise-newcomer Mark Wahlberg and veteran Josh Duhamel as inventor Cade Yeager and U.S. military colonel Lennox might have kept the train rolling with their respective placeholder roles as "unlikely male hero" and "encyclopedia on all things Transformers", the new cast offered little in terms of memorability. With the leading bots of Peter Cullen's Optimus Prime and Frank Welker's Megatron (who's still here for some reason) becoming simple foils for exposition, and the epicness of Anthony Hopkins easily wasted on a sparse comic relief, my anticipation for anything beyond gag-filled cliches of what we've already seen was quickly tossed out the window.

At this point, you could easily be reading all that I'm writing and asking yourself a very reasonable question: Who the hell watches these movies for the plot and/or characters? Well, if you are that person, you probably take in these films with far less intellect and reasoning than I secretly try to each time I see one. You see these films for what they are, and probably what Bay always aimed for them to be --  mindless, action-packed, off-the-wall popcorn flicks. Looking as his track record with the decade-spanning collection of robot-vs-robot films, it's clear that, on some level or another, Michael Bay knows what the hell he's doing. In his case, he might be one of the smartest filmmakers of recent memory, maybe even one of the most talented. I'm saying this simply because The Last Knight was a jaw-dropping spectacle when it came to visual effects. I could never downplay the ambitious eye of a director so determined in his goal to deliver feverish, fast-paced action as Michael Bay. Even while he introduces characters on the brink of stupidity, Bay relishes in his ability to chop together a story that's able to spin a far-fetched yearn about mythology and humankind, while also firing earth-shattering action set pieces at your face eighty percent of the time.

Overall, while The Last Knight might still beg the question of why these movies still exist (especially as its box-office returns seem to be lower than expected), the film delivered what we all have come to expect from the franchise -- towering action sequences brimming with misguided but all-together enthralling storytelling. With its medieval premise compelling enough to keep most fans of the franchise's ballsy mythos nodding along, and its visual style retaining the captivating allure of the previous films, Transformers: The Last Knight should satisfy any newcomer, and appeal to any seasoned veteran's suppressed childish fantasies. I mean, come on, who didn't smile when Bumblebee uttered the ungodly catchphrase of "Sting like a bee"?

I gave Transformers: The Last Knight a 5 out of 10 because even through its cringe-worthy character development, eardrum-shattering action, and numerous sexual innuendos, the passion of its director remains evident in the franchise's evolving self-awareness in the fact that its movies are not meant to make sense or be at-all pioneering in their storytelling -- they're just supposed to be fun.

So, somehow, I've now inherently considered director Michael Bay one of the most ingenious filmmakers of our generation. Never thought that would happen in this lifetime. With that said, are you a fan of Bay and its riotous way of making movies? If you are, then stay tuned next week for my breakdown of the director's explosive film career, from Bad Boys to Armageddon! June's Silver Screen Spotlight could be the most inflammable one yet!      

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