Full disclosure – I actually quite enjoyed the first Transformers movie. It wasn’t a great movie, but it was decent and, most importantly, fun. Unfortunately, lightening didn’t strike twice and each subsequent chapter in the Transformers franchise has gotten progressively dumber to the point that absolutely nothing on screen makes a lick of sense. When the second and third movies failed to live up to the first movie, I quickly placed blame on the actors. Shia LaBeouf wasn’t exactly a great leading man, and the supporting characters were basically wasted. Then, I had a thought – I wasn’t watching these movies for the performances, I was watching for an enjoyable story and crazy robot action. Now, after seeing the fifth (and worst) Transformers movie, I can say all blame can be placed squarely on the head of director Michael Bay.
A quick look at his directing resume will show he seems to have have experience in exactly two genres – action movies and music videos. Even though he’s been directing for nearly 30 years, he has only made 13 movies (five of which are Transformers films). He showed promise with the highly entertaining The Rock in 1996, but other than that and the first robot movie, the only movies of his I actually like are his two most underrated ones – Pain & Gain and The Island (his only true flop). His biggest issue is that he seems to be directing his movies as if they were rock videos. If you watch his movies in chronological order, you will see them gradually go from story based to a mix of random scenes slapped together for maximum impact. Entire plot points get dropped in favor of explosions and car chases. I’m fairly certain that he picks things that worked in his older movies, tosses everything in a blender, and distributes the results. I think it’s safe to say that his films have gotten to the point that you could show the scenes from any of his recent movies in any order and everything would make just as much sense. However, as dopey as many of his latest offerings have been, none have even come close to the sheer awfulness of Transformers: The Last Knight.
Another big issue with this movie is one that may anger Transformer fans more than regular movie fans, is that once again the character of Optimus Prime has been placed in a supporting role in favor of the more popular Bumblebee. Placing the focus on fan-friendly supporting characters and sidelining the “hero” may seem like a wise business decision, but angering the fans that made the property popular in the first place is a surefire way to get less people in the seats. For all intents and purposes, Bumblebee is the star of the show. If it was just a one-off, I’d say it was forgivable, but with it happening four movies in a row now, I’d say the focus has officially shifted. At least in the first movie, both Optimus and Bumblebee were featured equally.
Thankfully, one thing that seems to have improved with the latest movie in the franchise is that the producers seem to have removed the racial stereotypes that have plagued the films since the beginning. Anyone who has seen the prior movies knows exactly what I’m talking about. As bad as it got though, nothing will ever hold a candle to the pair of Mudflap and Skids – probably two of the most hated characters in action movie history. The fact that the only movie character I can think of with more hate is Jar Jar Binks, you know you have a problem. Luckily, much like the much loathed Gungan, they were more or less removed from the franchise. Unfortunately, their legacy left a massive stain on the franchise and it is only now being forgotten.
Sadly, that may be the only thing positive I can say about the movie. I just can’t find in my heart to say anything nice about a movie that completely wastes the talents of one of Hollywood’s greatest living actors, Anthony Hopkins. The acting is atrocious, but as stated above, acting isn’t why people see these movies. It is also far too long a movie for this genre, but that is something we have come to expect from a Michael Bay production. If you want to make a long movie, that’s fine – just make sure that there is enough interesting story moments to keep viewer’s interest. Having a ten minute segment about how Mark Wahlberg‘s character hasn’t spoken to his daughter in years isn’t just pointless, it just adds to an already too long running time. The worst, and saddest, thing about The Last Knight is that even the action scenes are just plain boring. Usually, if there is one thing we can count on from a Transformer movie, it’s some crazy and exciting robot on robot fighting and lots of destruction. There is surprisingly few big action set pieces, and those that we do get are very underwhelming.
I like to say that I really hope this is the end of the franchise but it most definitely is not. There is a Bumblebee spin-off next year (because of course there is), and there are supposedly 13 more movies set in the Transformers universe
threatened promised. There is even a Transformer/GI Joe crossover planned at some point. The silver lining in all this is that, if what he says is true, Michael Bay will be stepping down from directing any further installments in the series. If this is the case (please, God, let it be true…) then I would love to see some of today’s top directors take a shot at it. There are many great young directors out there who can easily balance action and an actual story, and I’d like to see what they could do to improve the series. I hear Phil Lord and Chris Miller are free…
FINAL GRADE: D-