Sunday, 6 August 2017

Transformers: The Last Knight (2017) - Movie Review

Of all the cash cows for critics of bad films, no franchise can compete with the lumbering juggernaut that is Michael Bay’s Transformers series. From the rampant idiocy on display throughout to the frequent moments of sexist, racist and otherwise crappy behaviour in the characters, right down to his widely-lampooned visual overload style of direction, Bay has been a walking target for at least a decade by this point. And finally, after showing sympathy for the guy’s more recent efforts as director and even producer, I have an excuse to get involved in this whole mess myself.
To date, I have seen all the previous Transformers flicks in the cinema, and I can hardly recall a series with so many immediately and hilariously terrible moments as Bay’s ode to the adolescent boy in us all. And apparently, judging by initial press reactions, this seems to be the worst entry yet. How in the hell is that possible? Let’s dive right in and discover the extremely depressing answer.

The plot: Alien robots attack each other. Some humans get involved but don’t do that much. Anthony Hopkins dies a little on the inside.

The acting here is probably the only consistently good part about this whole thing that doesn’t involve some form of computer wizardry. Mark Wahlberg is decent, although not a patch on his turn in Age Of Extinction; Isabela Moner is so good that you’ll legitimately wish that she was the lead, or at the very least given more agency than what she’s thrown here; Laura Haddock is a painfully mediocre love interest, in-line with all the others as per this franchise, and it really says something when you have someone this connected to the story of King Arthur and yet she never feels like a person of actual importance.
John Turturro and Josh Duhamel make a return to line their wallets, and are quite wasted in the process, Jerrod Carmichael fulfils the Annoying Racial Humour quotient that these films must carry out by law, and Hopkins gives a performance that in no way is deserved by his dialogue. It is legitimately cringe worthy how much of a fuck he shouldn’t be giving here.

Back when I discussed Age of Extinction in my Critical Disagreements of 2014 list, I mentioned that Bay seemed to be improving somewhat. Well, I’ve come to the realisation that that was largely due to the overall juvenile tendencies of the scripts for these films, which in AoE were very muted. Of course, that is overlooking a far bigger problem to do with Bay himself: His approach to action scenes. To put it simply, he basically treats action films like Brazzers treats their productions: Make everything look exciting, never keep the camera still and get through the boring crap as quickly as possible to get to the good bits.
Now, in small doses, this isn’t a half-bad idea: Hell, Mad Max: Fury Road was arguably just one giant action sequence and that garnered praise to the ends of the Earth. In the hands of Michael Bay, however, it results in a film where the audience is constantly bombarded with set pieces and firefights to the point of eventual numbness. There’s no real break in the action here; the closest we get is the main scene with Burton, and that was just a massive exposition dump before getting right back to the explosions. This is a two-and-a-half-hour long fight, the action constantly running over every single locale we get given without any chance to actually absorb where the fight is, who it is involving and, more importantly, why we should care about any of it.

This isn’t helped by the writing, brought to us by the duo behind the original Iron Man, a mostly-producer and a story credit from everyone’s favourite hack Akiva Goldsman. Like any other Transformers film, it is a complete clusterfuck: Numerous groups all running in unison against and occasionally alongside each other, about three different plots to destroy the world and an incredibly vain attempt to involve human interaction in the whole affair. Said attempt results in not only far more time being given to the humans than anything Cybertronian, but also barely anything for the Transformers to do other than shoot things. I don’t care how cool John Goodman sounds a cigar-chomping alien robot commando; not when he feels as much a throwaway as Optimus himself. 
Yeah, I don’t know how they did it but they managed to screw up even the basics of this kind of story by giving Optimus Prime an embarrassingly ill-thought-out heel turn and then failing to actually do anything with it. When you turn your franchise’s most recognisable character into the enemy, you better be able to do it well; take a lesson from Fate Of The Furious on that front. The film seems far more interested in hinting at other stories that would probably be a lot more interesting, like Transformers fighting alongside the Knights of the Round Table or Bumblebee fighting Nazis. It is quite remarkable how a film can have all of these story ideas, look at them, and say “Nah, let’s just do the same old shit we always do.”

And that, ultimately, is the biggest problem with this whole thing: Nothing has changed. The slim alterations I saw in AoE have been completely removed, defaulting back to the casually racist quips and characterisation along with using women largely as objects rather than human beings. The action scenes, the nauseating camera work, the genuinely impressive effects work that the film never gives us a chance to properly enjoy, the shoehorned-in human element, the global-level threat; none of this is new. But somehow, it gets even worse. See, even though the other films aren’t exactly well-regarded, they still had their own memorability to them. From “I’m directly below the enemy scrotum” to Ken Jeong as Deep Wang to Shia LaBullshitArtist awkwardly talking with his parents about him supposedly masturbating in his bedroom (yeah, for the uninitiated, the Transformers films are weird), the other films were certainly bad but were at least notably bad.
Not here, though. The hateful dialogue may still be in effect but it’s as if it’s been toned down just enough so that it’s noticeable but doesn’t leave any real impact. The film even tries to lampshade its own racism in a scene between Cade and the owner of his home/junkyard, before just proceeding as normal; remember, it’s not stupid if you admit that it’s stupid(!) It’s all just noise and sparks and clunking bodies shuffling across the board at this point, and more than anything resembling anger, all I have is apathy.

All in all, while the special effects are still very high quality and the acting manages to work through the frankly embarrassing dialogue, there’s no escaping the simple fact that this film doesn’t need to exist. At five films in, it seems that even Bay himself is getting tired of it and it definitely shows, recycling the same overblown story and not even bothering to properly use the intriguing plot elements buried within it while lathering it in constant action nausea. It’s dull, it’s not worth your time, money or bandwidth, and if Michael Bay is serious this time about stepping away from this franchise, it would be the smartest decision he’s made since doing Pain & Gain.

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