Review: Michael Bay is back to — well — being Michael Bay. In keeping with the trend set forth by a decade of progressively worsening “Transformers” movies, he and the team at Paramount have hit rock bottom … again … for the fourth consecutive time. There’s not enough industrial light and magic in the world to mask the fact that Bay might be one of the worst working directors in Hollywood today. The franchise he’s commanded for the past ten years has been a raging dumpster fire of unimaginably detestable cinema with an average critical score of just 32% on Rotten Tomatoes. And while there have been a myriad of opportunities to correct course along the way, Michael Bay has taken no such notice. Instead, he’s committed to his vision with reckless abandon, electing to go down with the proverbial ship, taking a reluctant and naively optimistic audience down with him.
A major city is in shambles. The world governments and their respective armies are in a scramble to deal with the aftermath of an all-out assault on our planet, implementing an array of regulations and taking varying degrees of defensive action to combat the alien Transformer race still hiding in plain sight around the globe. Autobot or Decepticon, the age of the Transformers is over. And if the species will not willingly abandon our world and return home to Cybertron, specialized military forces — equipped with the latest technology “borrowed” from the invading robot shapeshifters — will hunt them down and kill them all in order to prevent another mass tragedy. Just when it looks as though Optimus Prime and his loyal legion of Autobots have given up all hope in humanity, a deadly new adversary emerges, forcing the Transformers out of hiding in order to wage war against the evil Decepticons and cancel the impending apocalypse.
Sound familiar? It’s the same unimaginative tripe that Michael Bay has been rolling out since “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” Only this time, there are a few more bells and whistles, some paltry improvements in the animation department and maybe (definitely) a couple more explosions sprinkled in just for kicks. The cardinal problem with this saga persists — the writers keep repackaging the same lazily manufactured refuse and promoting it to audiences as a brand-new extension of the “Transformers” continuum. But perhaps the most insulting aspect of this ignoble conduct is the simple fact that it appears as though they’ve completely given up on even attempting to tell a coherent story altogether. The dialogue and all fledgling stabs at establishing a narrative serve as merely a stopgap between the pandemonium disparagingly described as “Bayhem.” It’s madness without any discernible method, except that Michael Bay gets to put on his own dog and pony show of advertising the latest from GM, Mercedes-Benz, Lamborghini, McLaren, Nike, Beats by Dre, and whatever soda/energy drink “the kids” are into these days.
In the end, the root of the series’ dysfunction is its sole constant, whose name has been mentioned here ad nauseam: Michael Bay is a victim of his own creative vision, consumed by his insatiable lust for “the shot.” And on his set, “the shot” is king. Each and every facet of the film’s technical execution is subservient to “the shot.” Script, edit, even cinematography as a whole — none of them have to be confluent as long as Bay gets what he wants in-camera in the moment the image is being captured. Just watch an Honest Trailer for any of the “Transformers” films and a noticeable pattern emerges: pyrotechnic equipment visible in the frame, entire characters appearing and then disappearing between edits, green screens left unchanged by the VFX team and so on. There’s a demand in all of his films to achieve a baseline standard of epic-ness that requires him to see everything from a decidedly macro perspective. And because of this, the finer intricacies of the filmmaking process are consistently playing second fiddle.
Rather than solidifying a truly gripping narrative and then basing the imagery around it, Bay’s track record suggest that he takes the exact opposite approach to his movies. “Transformers: The Last Knight” is surely no exception as it seems to rely on a handful of big “moments” to serve as the driving force for the story, leaving the audience with anywhere from 75-80% of the remaining film’s non-battle scenes that make no sense whatsoever. And even though this strategy has occasionally paid dividends in the form of some really innovative camera moves, the same cannot be said for this particular blockbuster.
Before the release, IMAX and Bay himself proudly reported that somewhere in the neighborhood of 98% of the images in the final film were captured using IMAX’s state-of-the-art digital 3D camera system with the leftover portion coming from more traditional camera manufacturers like ARRI and RED. In the past, directors like J.J. Abrams and Christopher Nolan (the first director to use IMAX cameras in a feature film) have opted to reserve IMAX for select scenes due to the dramatic and noticeable discrepancy in aspect ratio (1.90:1 (IMAX) vs. 2.40:1 or 2.35:1 (RED, ARRI, Panavision, etc.)) as well as the special methods required to film on IMAX cameras; However, with the advent of this new stereoscopic camera system, Michael Bay vowed to push the art form to its limits in order to achieve a wholly avant-garde cinematic experience for audiences looking to view the film in the premium format. Spoiler alert: he fumbled. Big time.
About halfway into the picture, the editor begins cutting in and out of IMAX at such a schizophrenic pace it’s practically vertiginous. Worse yet, the cuts themselves contain so many continuity errors that it’s bewildering how the movie made its way to public release at all. It’s inexcusable. And the only consolation to be found here is the fact that Paramount is openly promoting “The Last Knight” as the end of the “Transformers” franchise. Let’s all hope Paramount keeps their word on this one because honestly, no one should have to endure another overlong succession of camera sweeps, Dutch angles and explosion after explosion after explosion masquerading as actual entertainment.
Final Take: For those who are on to Michael Bay’s schtick, you know what you’re in for. If you’ve seen any of the last three “Transformers,” you’ve seen them all. If you happen to be among the minority that actually enjoys these films, you’ll likely fall in love with “The Last Knight.” Otherwise, steer clear. Everything about this movie left me with more questions than answers. It doesn’t tie up any loose ends from the previous movies, nor does it serve as a satisfying conclusion to the five-film series, and it introduces so many disposable characters into an already tumultuous timeline that I had a hard time understanding why I’m supposed to care about any of these people at all. Mark Wahlberg improves upon the most excruciatingly cringeworthy performance of his career (except for maybe that one scene in “The Happening”), but it’s still phenomenally bad. The new kids on the block, Isabela Moner and Laura Haddock, and the legendary Anthony Hopkins are also expressly uninteresting. Their presence contributes nothing at all and totally inhibits the audience from being able to form a meaningful connection to the story itself (even though there truthfully isn’t one, but I digress).
If anything about this train wreck can be considered “good,” it’s the sound — which is excellently designed, mixed, mastered and panned across the soundstage. Obviously that doesn’t help much considering this is a medium that relies so heavily on visuals, but it’s always worthwhile giving credit where credit is due. There are some really funny bits of dialogue strewn about the two-and-a-half hour runtime as well, which would bode well in the movie’s favor if the other 3,000 written jokes weren’t so awkwardly stale. As much as the kid in me loves Optimus Prime and Megatron, I pray Paramount finally makes the right call and scraps what leftover bits and pieces of this franchise still remain.
Parental Guide: There’s much more language in “The Last Knight” than I recall hearing in previous films, which should be considered before taking kids to see the movie over the weekend. But other than that, it’s the same old movie we’ve seen time and time again since 2007. There is also a notable lack of sexualization, which has been a constant complaint about the “Transformers” films since Megan Fox’s first appearance in the original. It’s not absent entirely, but it’s nowhere near as overt as we’ve seen in the past. PG-13 is an appropriate rating, but I’d always suggest doing some digging around the internet in order to evaluate how appropriate films like this are for your children and/or younger teens.
Recommended Format: If you’re determined to see this film, I highly recommend an IMAX screening. Though it was poorly executed when compared to films like “Interstellar,” Bay definitely planned this movie to be seen on the largest screen imaginable. IMAX is the best this film is ever going to look and sound. So, if you want to get the maximum experience humanly possible, definitely cough up a few extra bucks and see it in IMAX.
The Verdict: 2/10