So last night, I saw The Last Knight. No, that pun wasn’t intended, but once it hit me, there was no way I wasn’t going to run with it.
Anyway, I’ve had the better part of a day to mull over what I’ve just seen, and in a way, I’m at a loss for words. I will say, however, that The Nostalgia Critic’s “non review” — wherein he uses the repetition of the series to predict how this movie will go without seeing it first — is pretty spot-on:
Anyway, I’ll try to give my thoughts on the movie here as spoiler-free as I can — which, in this sense, means that there is an assumption that you’ve at least seen the trailers, maybe some of the toyline. But as to the actual story, such as it is, I’ll try to avoid the specifics beyond what’s known in that material.
One thing I’ll say about the movie is that it is chock full of lore and exposition. For me, that stuff is like candy, as I recognized a lot of elements from the greater Transformers mythology coming into play, and maybe a few new ones were introduced as well. The only problem? I don’t feel like they really did anything with it. I could have gotten as much satisfaction from reading a Wikipedia article with some pictures about the same thing.
I don’t feel like the movie ever really drags, though, and while long, it never quite got as bad as Age of Extinction‘s “This is still going on?” sense of indefiniteness. I didn’t really feel bored, but nor did some of the moments which were probably meant to pop really manage to stand out all too well, either.
Once the credits began, it just felt like “Well, that happened.” Stuff happened, but it didn’t feel like anything was really resolved. The imminent threat is ended, and it’s like “okay, movie’s over. Roll out for home now.” Meanwhile, pretty much everything which surrounded that imminent threat is still there.
It kind of reminded me of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, in a way, despite never having seen it. So rather, it reminded me of what people have said about it, that it spent so much time setting up future movies that would never happen that it forgot to be its own thing. We know that Paramount and Hasbro are keen on making Transformers into its own cinematic universe, independent of other Hasbro-based movie properties, and when The Last Knight ends, it feels like it’s done more to set up other movies than to tell its own complete story.
What’s ironic is that for all the continuity nods included, it feels so disjointed from everything else that came before it. I honestly believe you could skip the three movies between the first and this one and not really come out any worse for it (and, to go by some of the fiercer critics, be better off for it, but that’s neither here nor there). So much goes unexplained, such as Megatron’s return. So what happened to Galvatron? Did Galvatron somehow revert back to being Megatron? Who knows?! The movie sure doesn’t tell you; it gives you enough to hazard a guess, but that’s the best you’re going to get.
Oh, and those cute little mini-Dinobots? Yeah, they’re just kind of there. You don’t find out where they came from, you don’t know why they’re there, and they have no impact on anything except potentially toy sales. Sure, the whole franchise is basically an exercise in To Sell Toys, but this somehow manages to go beyond the pale. At least Sqweeks had the excuse of being Izabella’s only friend.
In the end, I felt unfulfilled. Whether Transformers movies have ever really been fulfilling is a constant subject of debate, but after some two and a half hours, I felt like there should be more than this. Which is kind of ironic, because there is just so much unnecessary bloat filling out that span of time.
You’ve probably seen the trailer with the kids caught in the war zone, right? Maybe you think they end up being a part of this whole thing. Nope. Only one of them does, Isabela Moner’s “Izabella,” whose entire participation in the movie feels extremely tacked on. You could literally remove everything to do with her and suffer minimal loss from a narrative standpoint. I didn’t dislike the character, much as I should have (and my wife did), but she’s pure filler who is only there for what I figure is one possible reason.
It’s hard not to get the feeling that Michael Bay is trying to fill a particular Megan Fox-shaped gap in the franchise with this movie. People have noted how Vivian Wembly (played by Laura Haddock) looks like a classier British version of Fox’s character, with some side-by-side shots really highlighting their resemblance, only distinguishable by whether they’re next to Shia LaBeouf or Mark Wahlberg.
But Bay seems like he’s doubling down by splitting the role of the Mikaela Banes character. While Wembly has the look and fulfills the part of love interest, Izabella has the “girl mechanic” thing going on while the boys her age are swooning over her — at least, for the thankfully brief amount of time they’re involved. I don’t want to dive too deep into this, but there were some other elements I noticed that felt like maybe she’s being groomed as Fox’s successor, introduced here to be ready to be capitalized on in 2019. But for what it is now, and maybe I’m reading too much into it, but it feels kind of skeevy, even for Bay.
For Mark Wahlberg’s part, I enjoyed his returning character of Cade Yeager, who — if I’m being honest — feels more like a movie version of Spike Witwicky than Shia’s Sam Witwicky ever did. Even some of his screams reminded me of Spike from the old cartoon. Better still, he wasn’t spending three hours doting on his daughter, who only puts in a couple of voice-only appearances as she’s off in college.
Oh, right, this movie is purportedly about the Transformers, isn’t it? Strange as it is to say, I feel like their roles were balanced out a little better here — the humans still get the meat of the script, but at least the Autobots feel more like they’re at the forefront of the story now. Well, sort of. Okay, mostly just Bumblebee, really. The others are there, but they kind of drop in and out of the story as needed, so it doesn’t feel like it’s really “their” story so much. They’re the Chewbaccas and Landos around the Luke, Leia, and Han of the piece.
Optimus Prime himself, for as prominent a role as he had on the poster and everywhere else, is absent for most of the movie. Even when he comes back, they find a way to sideline him further. And if I’m being honest, he felt so out of character at the start that I was kind of hoping that when he and Bumblebee fought (it was in the trailers), I was kind of hoping Bee would put Optimus, Peter Cullen, and the fans out of our collective misery. By the end, he’s resembling his old self again — by which I mostly mean his Generation 2 self, wherein he repeatedly makes sure that everyone knows his name.
For better or for worse, this installment also introduced as Bumblebee’s brother-in-arms, Hot Rod. I’m a fan of Hot Rod, so maybe I’m just slightly predisposed to enjoying the fact he finally got included in a movie at all, though he doesn’t look anything at all like virtually every other incarnation of the character. What’s more, despite his original bio describing him as the “all-American (or Canadian, if you lived north of the border) boy” of the Autobots, they gave him a French accent that even he doesn’t like having.
On the upside, they did give him a cool gun which fires these bubbles that slow and distort time for anyone caught inside of them. It’s used to some neat effect, and we haven’t really seen a lot of the “super powers” that so many Autobots and Decepticons used to have back in the day throughout this film series, so that’s unexpectedly welcome.
But much as I’d have liked to see it, he doesn’t become Rodimus Prime. I could almost see it happening in the sixth movie, though, but if I said why, that would be telling.
Another new addition is the Headmaster Cogman, who is basically like C-3PO crossed with Alfred Pennyworth and a bit of an aggressive streak. Fun guy.
There’s also a dragon, which you might have seen around. I won’t spoil the details there, but as a fan of dragons, I give this one a big thumbs-up.
Oh, but what about the Decepticons? “Well, what about the Decepticons?” says the studio. Even with Frank Welker reprising his role of Megatron, their presence is extremely lacking in this movie. Several new ones are introduced, with only one recognizable name among them, and only one has any memorable personality to speak of, though I’m not sure we’ll get to be seeing much more of him. When he and his cohorts are introduced, though, they got some name tags splashed on the screen in a fashion that’s apparently reminiscent to Suicide Squad. Sadly, they’re the only ones, so for the rest (Autobot and Decepticon alike), you’ll just have to hope you don’t miss the maybe one time someone’s name is mumbled — assuming they’re named at all, in which case you’ll just have to wait for the credits.
Visually, the movie looks quite nice, but things can get confusing at times — it is a Michael Bay film, after all. Heck, I’m still not entirely certain where most of the final battle was taking place. But at least it was usually easier to tell who was doing what, which is more than can be said for some of the earlier films in the series. Sure, the specifics of what they’re doing precisely may be lost, but at least more of them have some color now.
I’m not sure what else to say at this point, at least without getting into spoiler territory. I didn’t hate the movie, and I’m sort of glad I saw it, if only so I can discuss it with others at the Allspark with a real sense of knowing what I’m talking about (as well as having new content to produce here with a review), but I’d wager that doesn’t apply to most reading this. At the same time, I’m not exactly eager for a rewatch, and the end just left me feeling empty, like a lot of things just happened, and most of them didn’t really pay off in any satisfactory way. A fun ride while it lasted, but at the end, left me asking “is that it?”
There is something to be said for “leaving them wanting more,” but you probably shouldn’t leave them simply wanting, period.
All images via Paramount Pictures’ official Transformers movie website.
David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you’re interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.