Overview: As their planet Cybertron begins to collapse, Transformers must partner with Earth-bound humans in order for both of them to survive. Rated PG-13; 149 minutes, 2017; Paramount Pictures.
Bay, The Maximalist: Transformers: The Last Knight marks the newest nosedive into Michael Bay’s maximalist style of filmmaking, piling on visual stimulation through action sequences in exotic locales and sarcastically ridiculous comedic scenes. Never one for subtlety, Bay’s been ramping up the intensity of his Transformers franchise for a decade. Though Transformers: The Last Knight can be an assault on the senses at times, its decibel levels and explosion count aren’t far removed from Bay’s war film 13 Hours and certainly fall short of the worst entry in the Transformers franchise, the excruciatingly boring Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen. But the time period since that critical failure has seen changes in consumer demand and a cautious upturn in the economy. When Bay began his Hasbro-toy franchise in 2007, we were on the precipice of a recession that would rock the country. The years following 2008’s global financial crisis saw the release of Revenge Of The Fallen and Dark Of The Moon, neither of which were widely acclaimed, but performed far better in their domestic opening day box office figures than The Last Knight. That’s something that could be attributed to recession-affected audiences finding Bay’s big, bawdy action scenes and state-of-the-art special effects more palatable; back then, audiences were willing to shell out their reduced disposable income for a cinematic experience that wasn’t as widely available as it is now.
That over-the-top style of filmmaking has permeated the culture, leading to umpteen superhero films, countless reboots and late sequels to cherished properties, or in this case, a fifth Transformers. But, as Transformers: The Last Knight is set to reveal, what worked for Michael Bay in the past decade is no longer in commercial demand, thanks to an over-saturation in the action movie market and a growing consumer demand for original films with an emphasis on story over effect. Even Power Rangers, the latest toy-to-movie franchise, made some effort to focus on characters and go light on the action sequences, leading to generally positive reviews from critics. Transformers: The Last Knight, in its tired commitment to brand, symbolizes a changing of the guard in franchise films; a fitting end to Bay’s directorial tenure of a series that set the tone for recession-era big-budget action/sci-fi.
Plot?: Now, let me be clear. Transformers: The Last Knight is not good, and it is incredibly confusing. You could ask me to explain what happens in the movie, and I’d go full-on Pepe Silvia on you. T:TLK ultimately lands as a series of vignettes crammed together in a 149 minute runtime, as there’s very little narrative thread holding the whole thing together. The film is bloated with too many introductions and a total lack of character motivation. Between the many Transformers taking up screentime to the boring supporting characters in the England storyline and Transformers Resistance Force (TRF) storyline, there is hardly any time to explain the actual plot. Thankfully, Mark Wahlberg is affable as always—he’s able to go from high intensity car chases to being the butt of a joke as naturally as one possibly could. There are moments that are genuinely funny in this movie, with the film even poking fun at itself in a way. I mean, how often does one get to hear Anthony Hopkins roast Mark Wahlberg for not getting laid, or describe a car as “bitchin”? The voice actors were fairly entertaining as well, with one of the biggest laughs coming from Bumblebee after an interaction with Steve Buscemi’s Daytrader.
There are some interesting ideas that are teased in Transformers: The Last Knight, like learning about Bumblebee being a soldier who loved kicking some Nazi ass, or an allusion to immigration and subsequent xenophobia that’s hinted at by the TRF, who’ve turned against the Transformer race as more and more of them arrive on Earth. But again, these are just teases that aren’t parsed out to anything commendable.
For The Fans: I had the opportunity to attend the Transformers: The Last Knight United States premiere in Chicago, and after seeing the film itself, it’s evident to me that this movie will please those who were pleased by earlier entries. The amount of young children dressed in Transformers costumes at both the premiere and the opening day screening I attended reminded me of my own youthful excitement over films such as Harry Potter. The fight scenes are plentiful, and play to please the little boys and girls who don’t care about plot as much as they do Optimus Prime and Bumblebee battling it out. The emotional beats are as clear as they need to be to appeal to a kid, and as long as the good guys win in the end, all the other stuff (plot, structure, etc) doesn’t really matter to that audience. Despite this being a poor movie, I’m sure it will delight Bay’s young fans who can’t wait to see their favorite heroes tough it out on screen. In that, there lies some redemption for Transformers: The Last Knight. If a movie makes its most eager audience happy, then in a way, it was a success.