In the newest Transformers, Michael Bay has impressed me. Not because of the jaw-dropping special effects, the attractive stars, or the thrilling action sequences. No, I am amazed that the director has managed to degrade this appalling franchise to a new low.
Bay is quite possibly the most powerful director in Hollywood with an utter absence of talent. To fathom his baffling success lies in the understanding that he is not an artist in even the slightest sense, but a skilled businessman. He has engineered a technique of grandiose, superficial filmmaking so impeccably that he can surge his profit margins as regularly as he desires.
Cinema’s auteur of decadence has built a career on explosive extravaganzas that have frequently drawn nearly universal condemnation from critics. After accepting the job to helm Transformers from Spielberg, he has crafted the only series in film history that has simultaneously disgraced the art form, while concurrently shattering box office records at every turn.
The original Transformers was actually a halfway decent romp in mechanical campy fun, undermined by its shallow characters and flimsy plotting. The surprise triumph for Bay earned him a sequel and a larger budget, and it only served to inflate his already mammoth ego. Since then, our theaters have been molested year after year with sloppy, pompous fetishizations of metal and destruction.
In Transformers: The Last Knight, a lengthy roster of screenwriters endeavors to explore some new ground by retelling history in the same fashion of the last two sequels. This time, the story of King Arthur was all real, except he had help from alien robots. Merlin (a dopey cameo by Stanley Tucci) had no magic, but he had a Dinobot that could transform into a dragon.
Centuries later, Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) is a descendant of a British secret society tasked with protecting the Transformer “knights.” Quintessa, a god-like alien being that created the Transformers, brainwashes Optimus Prime, and tasks him and the Decepticons with reclaiming her “staff” so she can rebuild planet Cybertron by destroying Earth.
Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), down on-his-luck inventor and friend of the Autobots, is spending his days tinkering with machine parts in a junkyard. After befriending Izabella (Isabela Moner), a young orphan girl, he is approached by Burton, who convinces him and an Oxford professor named Viviane (Laura Haddock) to find the staff before Quintessa can reach it. The film then follows tradition and devolves into an effects-saturated eruption of havoc.
If the latest Transformers film has any saving grace, it would be that some of the acting is not as flagrantly atrocious as the past. Sprightly Mark Wahlberg picks up an easy paycheck, and child actress Isabela Moner shows promise. Laura Haddock is less vapid than actresses of the past, and you have to love Anthony Hopkins. In the end though, any acting ability is negated by foolish characterizations and dizzying mayhem.
The Last Knight is like any other Transformers movie in that it features some of the most chaotic editing that exists in film. Bay’s signature style emanates a profound insecurity that the audience would get bored if a shot lasts more than even a couple of seconds. The result is unwatchable, and it is the single most repulsive element of the series. It is worse in The Last Knight than it has ever been.
As is usual with Bay, the characters and plot appear only out of obligation, and there is a preponderance of unnerving, classless humor. The extreme objectification of women continues in his adherence to casting supermodels, and the dialogue is embarrassingly bad. A bizarre aspect to this installment is that the early scenes spend quite some time developing Izabella, only to have her strangely disappear from the plot. This is likely due to disparate intentions of a large writing staff.
Akin to its predecessors, The Last Knight’s concluding hour is an obnoxious assault of carnage. You are subject to disorienting camera cuts firing at you like machine guns, and you are engulfed by deafening blasts of noise. Everything explodes and gets demolished without any resemblance of logic. The fifth film’s final battle is impaired by taking place in the air, at times without gravity, lacking any sense of realism or relatability. What the previous films had going for them is that they took place on the ground.
If anything can be said of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, it is that they are so distinctively abhorrent that they are unforgettable. The worst a film can be is both horrifically bad and unmemorable, but that is not Transformers. Alluring like catastrophic car accidents you can’t divert your eyes from, they are offensive in a form that demands viewing, if you like that sort of thing. If not, then stay away at all costs.