Monday, 26 June 2017

Transformers: The Last Knight - Movie Review

WARNING: This review contains spoilers. You'll be warned again once you get to it but still.

There was arguably no movie franchise in the world that was as critic-proof as Michael Bay’s Transformers series. It doesn’t matter that they’ve been given overwhelmingly vitriolic reviews by the critics (the sequels, in particular – the first film actually did get semi-decent reviews and naturally was the lowest grossing), audiences keep flocking out to see them in droves. It’s easy to see why – audiences see them as fun high-budget popcorn flicks with plenty of big explosions and robot fights. They were also great for international audiences too – though the domestic box office shrunk a bit with the third and fourth films their international takes were so big that both films grossed over a billion worldwide; clearly explosions need no subtitles. China in particular is key as fourth film Age of Extinction is the highest grossing movie ever there – no doubt a result of some pandering from the producers and Michael Bay to appeal to the biggest international box office countries. As such, whilst the Transformers films are deservedly the whipping post of critics everywhere and consistently receives low scores from audiences (see IMDb), it’s not too hard to see why they kept making money over and over, even from the audience members who hated the previous films (one of which is me – I am only too aware of the harm I do).

But the tide is starting to shift now. The Last Knight grossed less than $70 million in its first five days in the US, much less than the $100 million of the first three days of Age of Extinction and significantly less than the opening weekends/weeks of the first three movies. The international box office, especially China, is coming to the rescue to an extent but it still looks like it’ll be a big fall from Age of Extinction, showing that everybody seems to be absolutely fed up of Transformers at this point. This isn’t surprising given how the movies have continued to stay the same, something that’s true with The Last Knight. The Transformers are unpopular with the army who’s hunting them down, there’s a mysterious Macguffin (in this case relating to weaponry from Arthurian times where the Transformers were already in place), the main protagonist Cade Yeager (once again played by Mark Wahlberg) stumbles into the adventure to get this Macguffin to stop the Decepticons (because fate said so or some mumbo jumbo) and there’s once again fighting between the Autobots and Decepticons. If you’ve seen a previous Transformers film then you probably know the drill by now.

And therefore you should know about most of the problems that exist in the films – and a great deal of them come back in full force. The Transformers once again take a back seat in their own movie as the human characters hog the screentime, none of whom are interesting enough to propel the movie forwards. There’s an overabundance of characters, both with the humans and the robots. Many characters disappear off-screen for long stretches of the movie and when they come back you’ll completely forget that they were in the movie at all (the two biggest examples to this will be discussed in the spoiler section later) and you’ll barely be able to remember the names of the characters afterwards. A number of these characters, including many of the robots, are only there for comic relief – a surprising voice appearance from none other than Steve Buscemi, an actor I absolutely adore, is the crowning example of this as Buscemi’s talents are wasted on a not particularly funny character who disappears as soon as he arrives. Speaking of which the majority of the comedy falls flat – there’s nothing on the sheer level of obnoxiousness as the twins from Revenge of the Fallen, for instance, but there are still many a groaner. The acting overall is ho hum, with the only real stand out being Academy Award winner Sir Anthony Hopkins as an Earl who knows about the history of Transformers on Earth – though he’s mainly there for expositional purposes, Hopkins’ natural gravitas makes him the most engaging person in the film by far and delivering the rare chuckles that the film can elicit. Finally the action – there’s a ridiculously small amount of it but when it happens you’ll almost be thankful that it’s so minimal. Bay’s ADD inspired filmmaking comes through once again as the fights are shaky and littered with appalling editing, and though it feels as though there are fewer massive explosions this time you’ll still leave the film with a headache. And this terrible directing doesn't stop in the action scenes - the aspect ratio is constantly changing back and forth thanks to the film being filmed in IMAX and it's ludicrously distracting. This shows just how business as usual the Transformers films are, with all the bad stuff still being pushed around. This gives me not a lot to work with – so how about we go into some BIG DRAMATIC SPOILERS?? (They'll be between the pictures, flick past them if you don't want the film to be spoilt for you.)

The posters and trailers would have you believe that the main conflict of the movie is about Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) being brainwashed by his makers on Cybertron before coming back to Earth all angry and violent and against the humans and Autobots, leading to much of the film being about trying to get him back to his usual heroic badass self. It is true that Prime gets brainwashed by Cybertronian sorceress Quintessa (voiced by Gemma Chan) to destroy Earth, which turns out to be Cyberton’s enemy Unicron, to rebuild Cybertron in a greater glory. But Prime only appears on screen for 3 tiny scenes during the first hour and he doesn’t reemerge on Earth until over 100 minutes in. His beatdown with Bumblebee lasts for only a few minutes until Bee uses the deus ex machina power of his real voice to convince Prime that he’s doing wrong. That’s right – it takes less than 10 minutes for Optimus’s conflict to be resolved, making the whole plot seem like a complete waste of time (and the film’s 148 minutes, it doesn’t need to be padded further). The final attack against Quintessa, which feels like it was inspired a little too much by Independence Day, also makes Optimus feel redundant aside from a few brief moments where he saves Cade and his new lady friend Vivian (Laura Haddock) from danger, a role that could have been filled by Bumblebee or any of the other Autobots. As such, Optimus feels shunted in solely because of his big name status and the attempted shock value for the trailers concerning his “evil turn”. Megatron (Frank Welker) is even more redundant though; he does absolutely nothing of worth in his brief screen time and he doesn’t have the luxury of being the main villain, instead serving as a bit of an obstacle for the heroes, especially at the end where Prime takes him and the other Decepticons out with laughable ease. This shows the sheer amount of fluff that The Last Knight has with the crowbarring of the two biggest characters in the franchise where they don’t really belong. (END SPOILERS)

Transformers: The Last Knight is exactly what you’d expect from the Transformers films by now – too many humans, not enough robots, a storyline brimming over with too many story threads and characters, a formulaic narrative, unfunny humour, atrocious dialogue and action scenes that are far too poorly edited to be of any enjoyment. This all adds up to a film that isn’t the worst of the film series but is definitely another bum-numbing and tedious action flick from Bay, made worse by the complete deception made by the advertising. If you enjoyed the previous films then you’ll most likely have fun with this but to everybody else, stay far away. There is not more to this film than meets the eye.

Transformers: The Last Knight – Directed by Michael Bay, screenplay by Art Marcum, Matt Holloway and Ken Nolan, story by Marcum, Holloway, Nolan and Akiva Goldsman, produced by Don Murphy, Tom DeSanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Ian Bryce, starring Mark Wahlberg, Josh Duhamel, Laura Haddock, Santiago Caberra, Isabela Moner, Jerrod Carmichael and Anthony Hopkins, with the voices of Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Gemma Chan, Jim Carter, John Goodman, Ken Watanabe, Omar Sy and Steve Buscemi. A Hasbro/di Bonaventura Pictures production, a Paramount Pictures film

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