Review: Transformers: The Last Knight

Proving the saying ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’, the fifth iteration in the Transformers franchise is a hulking, incoherent, frequently sexist, disaster. A thunderously crushing bore.

Transformers is one of those franchises that continues to surprise me how lucrative they are considering how atrocious each subsequent entry turns out to be.

These films have no logic, have no interest in narrative and, moreover for this author, really live on the outer edge of being classified a movie in the true sense of the word. But I am in the minority on this point and the figures speak for themselves.

Check this out:

Transformers (2007) – $319m U.S. + $390m Int = $709m global on a $150m budget. 55% from foreign markets.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) – $400m U.S. + $434m Int = $834m global on a $200m budget. 52% from foreign markets.

Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon (2011) – $352m U.S. + $771m Int = $1.122bn on a $195m budget. 68.6% from foreign markets.

Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014) – $245m U.S. + $859m Int = $1.104bn on a $210m budget. 77.8% from foreign markets.

Increasingly, as we are all aware, it’s the foreign markets that are really picking up the slack on U.S. franchise films who are facing increasing diminishing returns domestically. Other recent examples include: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales – $651m – 76.9% foreign, xXx: Return of Xander Cage – $346m – 87% foreign, and The Fate of the Furious – $1.24bn – 82% foreign. It’s such a mystery to me that these movies create such enormous box office when they are uniformly terrible exercises in cinema (outside of The Fate of the Furious, that franchise lives in the ridiculous and builds preposterous stories around it to suit its mythology). So, with that baffling preamble in mind, my gaze turns to Transformers: The Last Knight.

Michael Bay’s self professed final outing as director and the first offering from the new Transformers brain-trust that Paramount/Hasbro have built around it, Transformers: The Last Knight shows that, even with 4 writers on board, they still have no clue how to make cinema. The breathtaking use of IMAX photography (and some of it is truly spectacular) is little comfort against a hulking mess of a 159 minute movie.

All the pitfalls that have plagued the sequels are ever-present here and, in some cases, amped up. Trapped in a narrative nadir so convoluted and overloaded with entirely superfluous caricatures (there’s no real character work here at all), the only logic the film can seem to find is to overload the frame with copious amounts of CGI of varying sophistication.

There are several subplots here that have absolutely no impact on the resolution or over-arching main story, key characters appear in the opening minutes then vanish for two hours, 5 separate sequences are entirely devoted to insinuation, implication and insistence of sex and Bay’s trademark utterly misogynistic treatment of women is ever present.

Most all women are sex crazed fiends who simply cannot exist without a man. Of course, there is a lesbianism reference played for comedy that is just as revolting as the entire scene the line is found in. Our heroine Vivien (Laura Haddock), who is as convincing as Denise Richard’s Christmas Jones Nuclear Physicist from 007, is mercilessly decked out in breast-and-cleavage accentuating garb. She is constantly sexualised and grotesquely ogled throughout the leering childish dialogue.  Entire sequences are devoted to ridiculing her for not having a man or to insist she (and, by extension, Mark Wahlberg’s Cade) most not flirt with the opposite sex. These sequences have absolutely no point to the story and serve to only slow the whole thing down and satisfy the deep sewn sexism that’s been rife in this franchise from day one.

The other female led subplot involves an orphaned 14 year old Izabella (Isabella Moner) who’s entire story line has no relevance to the plot whatsoever and is most likely included as the requirements of a focus group from the writers room to try and get teen girls in. That her existence in this film is treated so dismissively is as cynical as the whole affair is.

Stories live or die by their narrative cohesion, be it linear or non-linear (this one is linear), and a viewer should be engaged as you go along. Transformers: The Last Knight has very little, if any, cohesion to its narrative at all. There’s no editorial balance in giving equal time to service the story, it frequently gets distracted with nonsense that has no purpose and, as a result, keeps you emotionally disengaged with what’s happening.

The aforementioned introductory sequences of key characters who vanish for two hours only to return in the final act, the unnecessarily long establishment scenes, the frequently garish and barely indecipherable Transformers conversations, a big bad that doesn’t really do anything, and a complete lack of responsibility to some rather globally devastating actions disengages the viewer. You’ve seen this type of mess before – 3 times.

Worse still, the film is painfully dull and horrendously violent. Make no mistake, just because the fluids are green or black, you are full on watching decapitations, blood letting, point blank gunshot wounds, limbs being severed, people and robots being blown up, and, continental destruction. Sure, it’s all incredibly loud, expertly staged VFX and practical effects – but it is wanton gratuitous violence.

I’ve tried to do my best not to reveal anything in the plot but here’s one tiny spoiler to give you an idea of the level of creative bankruptcy this franchise is at: Optimus Prime says ‘My Name Is Optimus Prime‘ 5 times throughout the feature.

Visually arresting in sequences but nowhere enough to cover the outright mess it is, Transformers: The Last Knight goes for the wow factor but instead lands as a calling card of a franchise that has long since lost its charm.