Midlife Crisis Crossover calls Transformers: The Last Knight “The worst Knights of the Round Table film of 2017”! This may sound like nonsense, but I would say “You had to be there” if that weren’t the opposite of my final opinion about this misbegotten mess.
Michael Bay’s latest assemblage of toy robot fight footage extracted from a wheat thresher doesn’t stop at just King Arthur for his pop culture cribbing. After an opening fray that brings us the Game of Thrones/Armageddon crossover no one ever asked for, Bay and his four credited screenwriters go out of their way to photocopy portions of Suicide Squad, Downton Abbey, National Treasure, Aliens, Stand by Me and Three’s Company while trying to turn giant toy robot fights into Serious Business, to come up with clever disguises for sports-car placement ads, and to perpetuate the four previous films’ ongoing YVAN EHT NIOJ-style recruitment campaign.
Fair warning: I’m getting into MAJOR SPOILERS because I don’t feel like being kind to this ostensible “movie”. If your love for Transformers is so unconditional and fanatical that you’re hoping to keep the surprises fully preserved so that your first viewing will be as pure and blissful as possible, then this entry is not for you. Then again, you’ve likely avoided any and all critical analyses of your beloved robo-family’s entire series to date anyway, so I imagine I’m safe and talking to myself, which is not uncommon for me online.
Short version for the unfamiliar: We interrupt this regularly scheduled movie review section to bring you a much more robust recap as viewed through the eyes of a five-year-old making up their own story while playing with their Transformer toys and Barbie dolls, which I’m pretty sure is how this movie was actually written.
[deep, deep inhale]
Once upon a time there was a planet named Unicron and it had one continent with six horns, but then the continent broke up and they renamed it Earth and the center of the broken continent became Stonehenge. And there was this other robot planet called Cybertron and it had a queen named Quintessa, which I think is short for “quirky Contessa” like that Food Network show Mommy watches, and Quintessa was really mean and selfish, and there were these twelve guardian robots that decided they didn’t like her and they ran away to Earth and stole these two secret weapons. One weapon was a mini-robot shaped like a hockey puck and it was supposed to find a Chosen One and turn him into their thirteenth knight, and it would give him the superpower to summon a magic sword and use it exactly once and that’s it. The other weapon was Gandalf’s staff but made of computer parts and it could take over Unicron and make it do whatever Cybertron wanted. And so the twelve guardians made a new friend on Earth and he was a wizard named Merlin and he drank a lot and smelled like ugly Uncle Carl and looked like Caesar from The Hunger Games. And the twelve guardians could join together like Voltron or Power Rangers and turn into a big three-headed dragon and they helped Merlin and his friends who were King Arthur’s knights win all their battles by giving them magic made of their alien computer science. And Merlin lived happily ever after until he died and got buried with his magic tech staff, and the hockey puck got taken by another robot that looked like one of the twelve guardians but I don’t think he was one of them unless he was. And that was all sixteen hundred years ago, which is like millions and MILLIONS of centuries.
And then sometimes the Transformers would visit Earth and then go home again, like when Bumblebee helped America win World War II and there was this tiny angry robot watch that killed Hitler, but the watch got stuck in a glass jar and got taken by these old men called the Witwiccans who are all European guys and really smart except for Sam from the other Transformers movies, but one of them was Thor’s dad Odin and he has a mansion and a dog and a lot of grass and he’s kind of weird and he says long speeches and has a robot ninja butler named Cogman and he’s awesome except when he says bad words, but lots of grown-ups and robots and even the kids say bad words, even the kids, so maybe Cogman is just trying to sound cool and make them like him. But then Bumblebee went back home to Cybertron until he and all his friends and his best friend Optimus Prime decide to chased bad robots and they all came back to Earth and they made four movies and they kept fighting Megatron again and again and again and again and again and again and again and he’s still not dead or in jail, so I guess they’re not very good good guys.
And at the end of the last movie Optimus Prime said “I’m going home to Cybertron and I’m gonna beat up the bad guys FOR GOOD!” But he starts this movie and he crashes into Cybertron but Quintessa is alive and she hypnotizes him and says “Let’s make Cybertron eat Earth” and Optimus Prime’s eyes look funny and he says “Your wish is my command, and also now my name is Nemesis Prime because it sounds meaner and I’m a bad guy now. GRRRRRRRRRRRRR.” And so they turn on planet Cybertron’s planet rockets and fly it millions and millions of miles all the way to Earth and they run over the moon and they come right at Earth and it was really big like in Independence Day but really really bigger and it looked like The Claw!
So the good guy Cade Yeager from the last Transformers movie comes back but he has to hide because America hates Transformers and all the Transformers’ friends now because they’re not white humans and they break lots of buildings and hurt people, but they don’t get that it wasn’t the good guys’ fault except when they crushed people by accident. his daughter was only on the phone, but his Autobot friends were still there and he has new friends like this teenage girl who yells at dumb boys and tries to fix Bumblebee’s throat and has a pet robot named Squeaks and when his arm gets broken, she replaces it with an awesome nuclear bomb cannon that shoots one nuclear bomb bullet out of it. And then Odin tells Bumblebee “Bring Cade to England so I can tell him stuff” and so he does but then Megatron makes lawyers let a whole big Bad Robot Suicide Squad out of robot jail so they can chase Cade and his friends, plus Barricade the mean police car robot from the other movies is back and he’s like “HA HA HA I WAS HIDING! BOO! I will kill you and I have new bully friends now!” And they blow up Bumblebee but then all his body parts fly back together like the Iron Giant and it’s literalalally the only actually really cooooool scene in the whole movie. And Bumblebee punches the bad guys a lot and then they go to England and Odin says “I got you a girlfriend and Merlin was her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandpa and you guys should go find the robot staff and the hockey puck and make Cybertron die.” And she’s a real smart lady but the top buttons on her shirts don’t work or they’re really itchy or maybe her shirts are too small. And they team up with the robots and go find the staff and the puck but it takes a long time because they have to go look for clues and ride in an old magic submarine and run from bad robots and also there are army guys chasing them and one of them is the good army guy from the first two Transformers movies and he’s like “My boss says we have to chase you” but then later he’s like “Hey guys we should stop chasing the good guys because I thought I was a good guy and that means we’re all good guys” and so they be good guys and help the Transformers and tear off their army patches and frown at each other and they’re all best friends ’cause they’re good guys now again.
But the good guys screw up and the Depecti — the Decesti — the Desecti — the Decepacol — the Deceito — the very bad robots steal the Robo-Gandalf staff and Cybertron flies up to Stonehenge so it can eat Earth and all the animals and people, and Nemesisisisis Prime beats up his friends and is really angry and all like “GRRRRRR! I KILL YOU ALL! IT’S PRIME TIME!” and there are lots more bad robots now and lots of mini-TIE Fighters flying ’round and ’round and ’round and ’round and ’round and there are these mini-Donobots running around real cute and real bitey and then the twelve guardians come out of nowhere and they turn into that Hercules Hydra Dragon again and all the humans are running and running and running and running and running and all the robots and spaceships all fight and fight and fight and fight and there’s lots of EXPLOSIOOOOOONS! BOOOOOOOM! BLAOW! BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM! PEW PEW PEW PEW PEW PEW PEW PEW PEW PEW PEW PEW PEW PEW PEW PEW PEW PEW! And everything keeps moving around a lot and I got really tired and kind of dizzy but they just kept moving and fighting and then Cybertron turned upside down and started falling and all the humans were floating in it while it was falling and the smart broken-shirt lady got the staff and Squeaks shot his nuclear hand bomb bullet and blew up a big cannon house and them Prime was about to kill Bumblebee but instead of looking up a radio station to talk for him, Bumblebee makes his real voice turn back on even though his voice box organ is gone and he says “Don’t kill me, we’re best friends! And then Prime wakes up because Bumblebee is his super friend and Quintessa is a bad hypnotist and then Bumblebee shoots Quintessa in the back and Cybertron stops eating Earth and just hangs around up in the sky and nobody know what to do with it so maybe they’ll get all the robots to push it away and they can make it Earth’s new moon. And they all live happily ever after and maybe Cade and the English lady will go marry and have babies but then SURPRISE, at the end Quintessa is alive but she’s a mean glowy human lady and she looks at one of Earth’s six horns that’s still sitting there and she says “This is mine, don’t touch it, I’m making a sequel.” Plus I think they forgot to put Megatron in robot jail again.
And then I went home and took a nap because I was really tired, and now this story made me tired again. Good night.
…hey, don’t give me those looks. Talk to the “filmmakers”.
Hey, look, it’s that one actor!: Human cast members returning from previous installments include Academy Award Nominee Mark Wahlberg, army guy Josh Duhamel, Stanley Tucci (as Merlin, no relation to his other jerk character), the once-again repulsive John Turturro, and military leader Glenn Morshower, who’s officially been in more of these things than any other live-action actor. If you’ve seen all the other films, you’ll know his face on sight but struggle to remember his name every time. He’s also played Lois Lane’s military dad — practically the same character — a few times on TV’s Supergirl.
This time the adult female lead for Bay’s ogling pleasure is Laura Haddock, last seen for a few minutes as Star-Lord’s mom from the Guardians of the Galaxy series. Sir Anthony Hopkins, who has been candid on record about sometimes taking roles for anti-artistic reasons, is Lord Basil Exposition, caretaker and final member of Earth’s premier Order of Transformer Conspiracy Recordkeeping.
Jerrod Carmichael, co-creator/star of the just-canceled NBC sitcom The Carmichael Show, hacks computers and freaks out a lot in his role as The Black Guy From Transformers: The Last Knight. Tony Hale from TV’s Chuck is a science advisor who thinks the idea of a magic robo-staff saving the day is stupid. They sure showed him.
Toy robot voices include John Goodman, Futurama‘s John DiMaggio (sadly not playing Bender), Ken Watanabe, Steve Buscemi, and Downtown Abbey‘s Jim Carter, a.k.a. the crotchety Mr. Carson, aptly cast apart from his lack of robot ninja skills, as far as we know. World-class voice actor Frank Welker again replaces the long-gone Hugo Weaving as Megatron.
Meaning or EXPLOSIONS? Morals of the story include:
1. Bravery is cool. There’s some light talk about heroism in sacrifice; otherwise, a thumbs-up for courage is the only verbalized One to Grow On for the kids.
2. Eating other planets just because their people are not your people is selfish and wrong.
3. Diversity is keen, but does not make the worst films of all time any less worst.
4. YVAN EHT NIOJ. YVAN EHT NIOJ. YVAN EHT NIOJ. YVAN EHT NIOJ.
Nitpicking? It’s Michael Bay’s fifth Transformers film, so bothering to complete this section is like shooting overweight fish in an overflowing barrel with a nuclear hand bomb bullet. This bloated monstrosity is 2½ hours of split-seconds stapled together, some of which happen to form actual narrative, most of which grows increasingly incomprehensible until the final half-hour, a relentless montage of things whooshing past other things while the soundtrack detonates squarely inside our eardrums and the constantly rumbling subwoofers give the audience the least relaxing chair massage of their lives. Many of those split-seconds are wartime explosions sending characters into endless, slow-motion tumbling, flying and rotating and eventually landing and never letting us forget how The Matrix changed action cinema and how many filmmakers won’t let it go.
Science buffs with a rudimentary understanding of the interaction of celestial bodies will leave the theater rage-crying after observing the wholly fictional interactions between Cybertron and Earth, assuming any of them can be conned into seeing it in the first place.
The film’s other worst sin beyond its own egregious hodgepodge messiness: with Optimus Prime sidelined into an underused Head Henchman role, it’s up to the other Autobots to carry the entire picture and remind kids and kids-at-heart why they’re awesome. Outside of the silent Bumblebee and the barely registering Ken Watanabe, all the other Autobots are stunted man-children or malfunctioning idiots. They’re crude, ill-behaved, belligerent, temperamental, a chore to endure and impossible to cheer on their own merits. They’re the universe’s largest, densest, most poorly parented 10-year-old ragamuffins. They’re marginally less immoral than Megatron’s minions, discernible only by their company and their nearly invisible good-robot badges. The Autobots and Decepticons aren’t representing Good v. Evil so much as they’re representing Team A and Team B in Robot Fight Club.
So what’s to like? The film’s most succinct act of self-symbolism comes late in the game, the image of a CG-replica Academy Award Winner Sir Anthony Hopkins in his thousand-dollar business suit flipping head-over-heels high through the air after being blasted to smithereens by a CG giant evil robot toy. As he finds himself hurtling and crash-landing and incoherently mumbling while his brain cells shut down one by one.
So feel we all after being pushed beyond the point of exhaustion by an embarrassingly expensive, exasperatingly overlong B-movie that tries to disguise itself with a ludicrous, pretentious mythology rigged out of ill-fitting parts from other entertainment machines, all smothered in a later of EXPLOSIONS. Somewhere out there, I like to think Charlie Hunnam can feel a little less terrible about his career choices, because despite the failure of his own King Arthur vehicle, he could’ve done worse. He could’ve been invited to replace Mark Wahlberg and wielded Excalibur here to zero effect instead.
How about those end credits? No, there’s no scene after the Transformers: The Last Knight, though we did confirm the parts of both Chicago and a completely nondescript South Dakota were apparently played by Michigan, which manufactured some or all of those sports cars that the movie wants us to buy. Three cheers for corporate synergy?