IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 149 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
484 AD, King Arthur defeats the Saxons, aided by the twelve Knights of Iacon, Transformers who have hidden on Earth, who transform into a dragon. In the present day, Transformers have been declared illegal, and the multinational Transformer Reaction Force [TRF] has been formed to eliminate them. New Transformers continue to arrive though; the newest ship crash-lands in Chicago, where it is found by a group of children. On the far reaches of the Solar System, Optimus Prime discovers that the Transformers’ home world Cybertron is now in pieces and is heading directly for Earth under the control of Quintessa, who professes to be the maker he is searching for but is actually Cybetron’s enemy Unicron and is out to destroy Earth. She places Optimus under her control, dubs him Nemesis Prime, and charges him with recovering the staff Merlin found….
If you’re a regular reader of this website you’ll probably remember that I don’t deem the Transformers films to be anywhere near as bad as all that; in fact I don’t consider really them to be much different from most of the other CGI-drenched blockbusters around. Maybe I’m a little biased: this Godzilla fan also can’t help but love the sight of big robots knocking ten bells out of each other, but, while there are major flaws in all the films, I remain utterly baffled by the vitriol directed against director Michael Bay [the worst director ever, really? Do the people who say that have any clue about filmmaking at all? Have they ever seen an Ewe Boll movie?] for these films, when so many other similar pictures and directors get let off lightly. I genuinely feel that – and you may very well no doubt laugh at this but I’ve often found myself not going along with the herd mentality of so much film fandom, especially of a comic book/science fiction nature] – Age Of Extinction corrected many, if not all, of the problems with its predecessors, and certainly satisfied me as big dumb action entertainment. And I can’t help but think that they should have ended it there, because The Last Knight, while undeniably fun for some of the time and with a two hour and a half running time that zips by, is really one great big mess that explodes all over the place but never makes an ounce of sense.
Now that wouldn’t be a problem if the film had the lightness of touch required to make such silly but almost admirably daft ideas such as [SPOILER ALERT] – its heroine being the last line of a family of geniuses beginning with Merlin and including Mozart and Shakespeare who have kept the Transformers a secret throughout history [I haven’t just made this up by the now] – work. But the storyline is handled with bizarre seriousness, and is also pitched at idiots who need to remember every five minutes what the film’s characters are searching for [honestly, someone constantly tells us]. Yet elsewhere, and this is what’s odd, this is easily the most comedic of the Transformers films, with every other scene featuring some attempt at comic relief which at times seems to be copying the approach of many of Marvel’s films where so many moments have jokes shoe-horned in. I find what Marvel do often rather grating, but at least many laughs do result. I did chuckle at Grimbott’s predeliction for eating cars, I couldn’t help myself, though that should give you an idea of the level of the comedy. Sadly most of the humour here, much of it involving a C3PO lookalike called Cogman, just does little more than annoy, though there are two wry if very obvious responses to the accusations by the PC mob of some racial stereotyping in earlier films. The result, though, is an extremely awkward film that seems to be pulling in two different directions, while it seems that the four screenwriters were mostly working independently of each other going by how tenuously linked much of the script. It’s quite involved and is even almost complex, but only sometimes in a good way. And there’s not even much robot action, which is surely the main reason why these films should exist in the first way.
Yet it has its pleasures [well, as long as you don’t think that these films are the work of the Devil] and most definitely begins well with some great action shots [love the backwards track through the combatants] of a Dark Ages battle and an amusingly sozzled Merlin. He finds a staff and twelve Transformer knights who turn into a three-headed dragon who saves the day, and the kaiju lover in me had to grin, though the resulting scene could have been longer. Cut to the present day, and some kids find a crashed spacecraft containing another robot. The TRF turn up, and both their walking and flying craft heavily resemble Star Wars scout walkers and TIE fighters respectively [overall the design element in this film wins no prizes whatsoever for originality]. Then some more humans, some robots and eventually Cade Yaeger himself show up and we get some good action in the accustomed Bay style, though there’s far less of that frantic cutting and shakycam in this film than in his previous two, which is definitely a good thing. In fact in terms of action directing this may be the best one in the series, which makes it such a shame that a lot of other things drag it down, including – for goodness sake – the word “b***h” spoken seven or eight times, once again rendering a film which would otherwise be totally suitable for young kids not one that they should be viewing. Why? Just why?
Anyway, TRF member and former Autobot ally William Lennox brokers a deal between the TRF and the evil Megatron, releasing from their custody a squad of Decepticons who will help Megatron recover a magic talisman from Yeager he found in the crashed spaceship. After another battle, Yeager is approached by Cogman, the Transformer envoy of British Lord Sir Edmund Burton, who takes him and Bumblebee to England to meet his master, who explains that he’s the last living member of the Witwiccan order, an ancient brotherhood dedicated to guarding the secret history of Transformers on Earth. He also tells him that he must find and use his staff to prevent the impending destruction of Earth by Cybertron who has Optimus Prime under his control, but the staff is underwater in the Cybertronian’s sunken ship. The middle section is dominated by Anthony Hopkins delivering endless exposition, though the actor seems to be really enjoying himself, giving the proceedings some class which it may not deserve. And then it’s more Bayhem, though of a rather more lacklustre kind than before. Age Of Extinction delivered some great action beats such as that almost jaw-dropping bit with the ship where you felt the screenwriters and maybe Bay were trying to top each other thinking of ever more outlandish scenarios. Here, it’s mainly just rehashed stuff from previous entries [people sliding down a falling structure] – though the shootout around Stonehenge where none of the stones are hit is funny.
In fact, while it was refreshing to have no city smashing aside from the destruction of the Pyramid of Giza, the endless CGI and lack of emotional involvement meant that I was almost as bored by the climax [which we’ve basically seen 20 or so times of late anyway] as I was by the last half hour of Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol. 2 which I’m sure caused me to nod off for a few minutes. The best action moments occur earlier, being a frantic car chase around some familiar London streets and a bit which is ludicrous but amusing as Yeager nearly falls to his death from a window edge and then from one of several miniature TRF flying devices. I will say that the CGI is by and large of a very high standard aside from some dodgy blue screen work towards the end, but the robots, surely the stars of the show, are inactive for far too much of the running time except for bleeding Cogman and a Wall-E variant called Squeeks who can’t transform, while Quintessa is a dull and unthreatening villain. Not enough is made of Optimus Prime turning bad either and the idea feels wasted. There’s more robot dialogue than in Age Of Extinction, but most of is just trying to be funny rather than feeling natural [perhaps a hard thing to write anyway].
Bay provides the usual constantly moving camera though I only spotted three magic hour shots. The humans in the film mostly come off quite well, though some of them, notably John Turturro as Agent Seymour Simmons and Isabela Moner as street-wise kid Izabella, feel like casualties of the editing room. Love interest, if you could call it that, comes in the form of Viviane Wembly, a Professor of English Literature at the University of Oxford who’s that descendant of Merlin I mentioned earlier. Laura Haddock looks rather like Megan Fox, though thankfully she can actually act. Viviane is introduced in the most cliched manner possible, her relatives moaning that she can’t find a man. Honestly! Some of her scenes with Mark Wahlberg do have a certain sweetness, though they tend to be cut short. In fact, quite a few scenes seem to end before they’ve actually finished, which is another reason why the extended Blu-ray version, which may run over half an hour longer, may be a rather better version of the film, and I will review it when it comes out. As I conclude I’ll say again that I can’t help but enjoy the Transformers film as guilty pleasures [I should probably hate myself, but I just can’t, after all there are certain much loved films, from Breakfast At Tiffany’s to Deadpool, I seriously dislike too] but when even I struggled in places with The Last Knight, a film that does have good and exciting moments here and there but is barely coherent overall, than it has to be deemed a failure. Time to end this franchise I think – or at least spend a bit more time thinking about this Transformer Cinematic Universe malarkey.