Transformers: The Last Knight Review
This week, directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired from the untitled Han Solo movie. The key issue was said to be a difference of creative opinion between the pair and Lucasfilm President, Kathleen Kennedy. Besides igniting the concerns of fans once again, the news also gave resurgence to the continuing issue of directorial control in big studio pictures. Many (myself included) seemed to side with Lord and Miller purely because they feel creative vision on the part of the director (or ‘the auteur’) trumps that of the studio, citing examples such as Quentin Tarantino or Christopher Nolan.
Watching the latest product of another undeniable auteur, Michael Bay, my allegiances switched so fast I’m surprised the event didn’t give me whiplash. If this is what happens when a director is given free rein with the best technology the medium has to offer – at the helm of the summer’s biggest tentpole release, no less – then I’m no longer sure that Nolan and co. are worth it. Transformers: The Last Knight is easily the worst blockbuster I have ever seen; a deafening, disgusting, depressing exhibition so eager to blow its load that the Paramount logo is still onscreen when the first fireballs appear.
We begin in the realms of Arthurian legend (with ancient Egypt, the moon landings and the dinosaurs previously covered, I guess that’s the next logical step in the franchise’s conspiracy theory leapfrogging – Diana, Princess of Wales for Transformers 6, anyone?), where, quelle surprise, robots show up. Twelve knight robots gifted by the wizard Merlin (a returning Stanley Tucci) with his mystical staff, now buried somewhere deep beneath the Earth and subject to a search by Autobots, Decepticons and a new human faction bent on kicking them all off-planet. Optimus Prime has vanished, and Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg, somehow managing to introduce his character without giggling) is left to protect the fledgling Autobots and their new accomplice, a plucky young scavenger named Izabella (Isabela Moner).
I’ve always attempted to do as short a synopsis as possible in my reviews, but the plot of The Last Knight is so needlessly labyrinthine that summarising the setup alone in a single paragraph is beyond even my minimalist abilities. The storytelling is incomprehensible even by mainstream standards. It’s also very unfunny. And loud. And boring. Having it wash over you is a Ludovico-style experience where exposition is constantly dripped into our eyes while a Dapper Laughs Vine compilation loops endlessly in the background, occasionally interrupted by two active washing machines trying to ingest each other.
The machines in question are the Transformers themselves, who have what must amount to 15 minutes of screen time, tops. The remaining 140 are devoted to Mark Wahlberg’s embarrassing mullet, apocalyptic yet utterly empty visual effects and Anthony Hopkins torching what’s left of his career in a conflagration so large it’s probably visible from space. I genuinely couldn’t tell if the look in Marky Mark’s eyes were a desperate yearning for the return of Optimus Prime, or a plea for anyone watching to save him from this nightmare. Newcomer Isabela Moner shows a glint of promise, but is forgotten for great swathes of the film. None of the robots have any personality besides being ‘the Asian one’ or ‘the one that loves guns’. Take a drink every time you forget their names, or when Optimus Prime says his own.
A staggering 98% of this fever dream is captured in IMAX, which should be a cause for celebration. The large format is preferred by Nolan and is rather a personal love of mine, bringing that dash of epic that classic spectacular cinema used to promise. Here, it’s used so extravagantly that all impact is lost, noticeable only during shots where the frame reverts to letterbox. In a dialogue-heavy scene between Wahlberg and Laura Haddock (stuck in another thankless female role this series can add to its horrendous roster), shots focussing on the former are in mid-shot letterbox, the latter in extreme close-up IMAX. The new space in the frame is largely taken up by her exposed bra and cleavage. Nolan uses IMAX to take us beyond the stars, Bay uses it to take us beyond the valley of the dolls.
About halfway through I paused to wonder if I’m asking too much, if my expectations for the film were pitched too high or if I’m simply out of touch with those around me stuffing popcorn into their mouths and guffawing as Anthony Hopkins cracks a joke about a civilian car accident his robot butler just caused. I decided no. I’m sick of critics being guilt-tripped out of bashing dreck such as this because we’re being ‘elitist’. Am I elitist for just wanting two hours of colourful smashy-punchy robot fun that isn’t so callous about its casualties, that doesn’t reduce its female characters to plot engines and that’s slightly easier to follow than Last Year at Marienbad?
Again, no: this really is the pits, and we shouldn’t, nay, mustn’t stand for it. It’s an insult to cinema, an insult to audiences, even an insult to those who’ve clung onto their enjoyment of the series so far. For all his talk of pleasing the fans (a refrain I’m rapidly approaching with the same attitude as I would a particularly pungent bin bag), Bay’s level of ignorance towards them and anyone else has peaked with The Last Knight. It displays all the self-awareness of someone pleasuring themselves in a public toilet; frenzied, indecent, and totally oblivious to the fact that those in neighbouring cubicles can hear it rasping and banging its elbow on the wall.