Sonic Cinema

Sounds, Visions and Insights by Brian Skutle

Transformers: The Last Knight

Grade : F Year : 2017 Director : Michael Bay Running Time : 2hr 29min Genre : , ,
Movie review score

It’s not often that someone can say this, but I really miss Shia LaBeouf. From the “Indiana Jones” franchise? No, but say what you will about the films as a whole, the first three Michael Bay “Transformers” films, if they required a human protagonist, couldn’t do much better than Shia’s Sam Witwicky. That the first film hinged on the right of passage of a teenager getting his first car, giving a palpable emotional connection between Autobot Bumblebee and Sam, was the best thing that 2007 film did. With these last two films, Bay’s franchise just doesn’t have the personal, emotional pull that first film had, and it’s really hurt the franchise. Of course, that comes to the ultimate conundrum of the series, which is the need for human characters to ground the series at all. The last film, “Age of Extinction,” hinted at intergalactic conflict that might just drive the franchise into being primarily about the civil war between the Autobots and the Decepticons, but would Bay, in his (supposed) final film in the series, deliver?

One does not go to a “Transformers” film, especially one directed by one of the shallowest filmmakers currently working in Hollywood, for anything more than mindless action escapism, but even that has felt like a tall order with the last two entries in the franchise. It’s hard not to blame the deficiencies of this and “Age of Extinction” solely on the hubris of Bay, who has made “bigger is better” his ethos as a filmmaker on the films he’s made based on the Hasbro toyline. The screenwriters are there to concoct some sense of a storyline to hang the action sequences on, and honestly, it feels like an afterthought to Bay, who would rather just utilize the IMAX cameras for the purpose of showing big things blow up. (And a note to Bay- Christopher Nolan will always top your use of IMAX because he doesn’t have the editing attention span of a squirrel searching for nuts, much less switch between standard shots and IMAX shots as aggressively as you do.) There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but who cares if you don’t have an emotional investment in anything going on on-screen? I could barely tell you anything about the story for “The Last Knight” other than it shows Transformers as having a big role in the King Arthur legend, Stanley Tucci ruining his reputation as Merlin, Anthony Hopkins funding his retirement as the narrator of how all of these things fit into place, and Mark Wahlberg’s Cade Yaeger somehow being the titular “Last Knight,” and Laura Haddock playing the last decedent of Merlin himself. The film pays off Optimus Prime leaving the Earth, but it all comes back to Earth, and Megatron trying to recreate Cybertron by destroying the Earth, which has felt like the endgame in every damn one of these movies. Not even a new transformer, Quintessa, who recruits Prime in her quest to restore Cybertron, can make me care about this happening again.

Three of the last four films I’ve seen in theatres involved franchises that have been going on for a decade or more now- the “Fast and the Furious” series, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” and now, “Transformers,” in that order. It’s fascinating to me that the least obvious series in that group, the “Furious” films, has arguably set itself up best for long-term growth and success, while “Pirates” and “Transformers” have seen diminishing returns the longer they have gone on. The reason is a concept that feels antithetical to the nature of franchises- adaptability. By the end of the third film, the “Fast and Furious” franchise seemed to have petered out creatively, but when it came to making a fourth film, writer Chris Morgan and director Justin Lin decided to reinvent it into a series of heists and turn the main characters into a strongly-bonded family that allowed the series to be grounded emotionally as it got bigger in scope. The result is a franchise that has gotten better with age. In “Pirates,” the need to have Captain Jack Sparrow at the center of the action in each film has led to the series being about the same 4-5 pirates over and over rather than finding new territory, and stories, to tell- the result has been a circular franchise that has teased expanding into new stories, but ends up doing the same thing each time. “Transformers” has found itself having a similar problem to “Pirates,” but in a different way. “Transformers’s” issues lie, as I mentioned in my “Age of Extinction” review, with the fundamental nature of requiring human protagonists and a human connection by setting the film on Earth. That’s why the ending of “Extinction” was so exciting, and why “Last Knight” feels like the end of the road for this franchise- instead of expanding the world of the franchise, it’s only returning to where it started. Bay leaving this franchise, and finding a more adventurous filmmaker to shepherd it into the future (and more importantly, giving them the freedom to do so) would be the very best thing for Paramount to do at this point. If they don’t, I’ll stick with “Pacific Rim” and Legendary’s Kaiju movies if I want epic smash-fests.

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