“For my world to live… Yours must die.”
I’ve got a Transformers tattoo. I saw the first two films in the series back in ’07 and ’09, both with a lifelong best friend. The memories of our super-nerdy childhood and the nostalgia which comes with the Transformers series meant that I just had to get Megatron inked in full colour across my torso, his arms going down mine. I’m totally kidding, of course. My tattoo is five little numbers in cybertronix (the language of the Transformers) on my wrist, representing Barricade’s interrogation of Sam with regards to the eBay item 21153 from the original movie. It’s basically dots and dashes, so no full body giant robots here! But my point is that I’m a massive fan of the series, and pretty dedicated to boot, hence ink, so I couldn’t contain my excitement when I found out about this, the fifth in the series.
Oh, Optimus, it’s been far too long. The Last Knight picks up where Age of Extinction left off way back in 2014. I say “way back” only because, in a time when Disney is successfully pumping out a billion-dollar-grossing Star Wars every year, a three year hiatus for a franchise is a pretty big deal. Either way, the events take place soon after the previous film, in a period where an evil corporation has taken to finishing the now deceased Lockdown’s mission to hunt what remains of the Cybertronian race. The timeline switches between this and the distant, medieval past, where Transformers shed precious metal with the blood of Arthurian knights against a vicious three-headed robodragon.
Lots of these are specific, I’ll be honest, so let’s just run through them in some semblance of the order in which they appear. Lots of the characters now have throwback designs, like Barricade’s arguably much more cartoony robot form, complete with a child-friendly (as far as evil, murderous robots go) blue paint job and ‘serve/protect’ knuckle dusters. This is a nice nod to the Generation One cartoons from the ’80s even if some of these characters are exclusive to the movie series. Speaking of nods, there are some insanely good callbacks to the original and proceeding cartoons, most of which I’ve seen at least half of, like Bumblebee’s famous “Sting like a bee”, Optimus becoming the evil Nemesis Prime (made me pee a little), Dragonstorm in all his glory, Megatron telling Prime that they were brothers once, Earth being Unicron, and so many more. On top of that, the return of Colonel Lennox is a very welcome one, although I stand with the majority of fans and wish Shia had been present, even in a cameo role (rather than just in a photo ripped straight from the first two films). And speaking of the army, the massive battle sequences complete with military jargon, huge explosions, fighter jets and the human race getting the living shit kicked out of it yet still firing just as much flaming ordinance right back at the ‘bots may not be anywhere near as incredible as the Strike Package Bravo and Operation Firestorm scenes from the first two movies, but there are plenty of epic moments and some gorgeous shots for sure. The climactic battle, though there are hardly any proper one on one fisticuffs, so none of the transformers get to show off their moves in all their glory, contains some amazing moments, like Optimus Prime asking six oncoming Insecticons “Did you forget who I am?” before launching into a sword swing which beheads each and every one of them in one go which he follows with “I… Am Optimus Prime”. Chills. Much.
And now, before we launch into my rather disappointing number of criticisms, let me just preface it with the fact that I really do think that the final half hour of this film did pull it back for me, and the fact that it ended on a cliffhanger means that Bay has one last chance (at least) to redeem himself, really hit home, and wrap this series up for good in a meaningful way. Which I hope he does, but am not in the least bit expecting him to. I’d much prefer if he stuck to his word and just effed off and let someone else take the reins. Hard reboot needed.
To be Improved:
Let me just start with my biggest complaint about this film, that being the fact that it is NOT ABOUT GIANT ROBOTS. This is a film about Mark Wahlberg hitting on a decidedly objectified Englishwoman, with the army following them around with a fleet of mini TIE Fighters (seriously, look it up), and a couple of thirty second robot fights in the background. In this vein, nigh on dozens of characters are completely wasted. Barricade gets one full body shot in the entire movie, complete with one of his amazing ‘Punish/Destroy” knuckle dusters, but is then barely seen and certainly never heard from again, before he disappears right after the main climax starts. Megatron is kicked out of an alien ship in what is once again a cataclysmically poor five-second-fight, much like the end of Dark of the Moon, and once again it is vague as to whether or not he is actually dead. Hot Rod and the gorgeous military green Allied Bumblebee fighting against Nazis is also a tragically underwhelming sequence, and one that my girlfriend was eagerly awaiting the entire time only to be left feeling utterly let down. Starscream’s head makes a nice cameo, but if I’m honest I’d prefer to have him back in his entirety if it meant he replaced one of the graffitied, racially insensitive Decepticons on Megatron’s team. And the twelve, count ’em, twelve guardian knights don’t even go into battle with the Arthurian ones other than in the form of Dragonstorm, whom they all combine to form and who is decidedly pretty interesting but, as with many robots in Age of Extinction manages to look very much like a pile of metal rather than the sleek, tyrannical lizard he could have been. All of the child actors are piss annoying, and I wish they would get squashed under a giant Cybertronian foot every time they’re on screen, but that’s not even the worst part. After a massive sequence involving the aforementioned TIE Fighters and no robots whatsoever (see above), there is a shot of the child heroine waking up in Wahlberg’s character’s scrapyard. I turned to my girlfriend and managed “Oh god, I fucking-” and didn’t even get the “forgot about her” out of my mouth before she held up a hand, nodded and agreed: “Me too.” Overall, The Last Knight really just doesn’t respect the series roots, and moves even further away from bringing back some of that spark (or should that be ‘allspark’?) from the first three films that was decidedly damaged, almost beyond repair, with the floating pixel transformations of the fourth film. Furthermore, much to my dismay, the film has adopted a very unfortunate trend that was started by the only piece of cinema I have ever given a 1/10 rating to: Guardians of the Galaxy 2. And it follows that trend in almost every way. Scenes that would otherwise be emotional and cool are shat on completely by Bay’s… well, nonexistent sense of humour, with a near-record-scratch moment of music cutting off in place of a quip just as it’s getting to the good bit, or a death scene interrupted by a joke attempting to get ‘down with the kids’ (a particular chase scene featuring a robot butler with an aristocratic English accent chanting “Move, bitch, get out of my way” made me feel particularly like I’d taken a big bite out of a lemon). One of the coolest action scenes is a game of polo in slow motion, for god’s sake, because it’s the only one that isn’t shattered by a poor joke. In my review of Guardians, I complained that the awesome opening scene was all blurry and shoved into the background, and it was instead decided that baby Groot dancing was the thing to focus on. Last Knight also achieves this, with a submarine (that is arguably just a big black cylinder) rolling through the water in the middle of the screen after it has been knocked off course, interrupted by split second shots of robots, tiny in comparison, beating each other up in the corner of the frame. As with Guardians’ opening, I was actually physically craning my neck to try and look around the massive obstruction blocking what I had actually come to see. However, not only does it follow in the footsteps of the absolute worst film I’ve ever seen in my entire life, but on top of that The Last Knight rips off some of the best. Okay, perhaps Suicide Squad isn’t among the best, but a greatly out of place sequence where Megatron chooses his crew is not only completely devoid of the tone set by the rest of the film and more like something out of a comic book movie, but is also so similar to Suicide Squad (especially considering the fact that in the following few scenes the army are using the Decepticons to track down the bigger bads, sound familiar?) that it’s outright insulting. On the subject of stealing ideas, what is most debilitating is that Bay seems to care about neither his own franchise nor in how shitty a direction he has taken it, openly having a character quote “What’s with the C3PO ripoff?” as if hitting the audience over the head with his outright assholery wasn’t enough and he also has to hammer it down our throats that he’s now become self-aware, as if that’s supposed to make it all forgiven.
Five movies on and, in my humble, nerdy opinion, the Transformers series has absolutely lost its knack for creating awe-inspiring visuals in all their action-packed explosive glory, and is sticking well to the trend of including tamer and tamer storylines and acting as the series progresses. But come on, at the end of the day they’re based on children’s toys, for crying out loud, what did you expect? If you’re not willing to overlook that fact, then you really shouldn’t be spending money on a franchise you know you’re going to just hate and bash online later. Surprisingly, the child actors aren’t even the worst thing about the film, but instead it is the director himself. The humans are in the film far too much to not detract from the giant, metal T-Rexes and three-headed dragons, and sequences that could, nay, should have been five minutes long dragged on for half the movie, with none of the dry, actually funny humour of the first two films, and instead stuffed fuller with over-inflated sexual jokes than Vivian’s dress was stuffed with her over-inflated… Well, you get the idea. But did you hear me right? Giant. Robot. Tyrannosaurus. I can’t deny it: even if the Last Knight doesn’t make me all that proud to wear my ink, is barely hanging on to a positive rating and is honestly only doing so because of my love for the previous films… Shoot me, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy it.