Friday, 23 June 2017

Film Review: Michael Bay's franchise hits rock bottom with Transformers: The Last Knight

Quite often with poor films you can pinpoint the moment you lose hope in enjoying everything yet to come. When David Hasslehoff popped up in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, I gave up hope. When Michael Fassbender started seductively teaching another Michael Fassbender how to play the flute in Alien: Covenant, I gave up hope. The Last Knight, the fifth (yes, fifth) film of Michael Bay's Transformers franchise, offers no such moment. That might sound like a surprisingly positive way to begin this review - alas, I simply mean that a moment like this was impossible to begin with. In order to lose hope you must have hope to begin with, and nothing - and I really mean nothing - in this movie gave me the faintest slither of hope that I could find something, anything here even remotely enjoyable.

But first, some history. Bay's first Transformers isn't a great film, but it's likeable and filled with a kind of giddy, childish excitement that somehow makes it work. The sequel, Revenge of the Fallen, loses all sense of this - it's plodding, overlong and borderline irredeemable. The third in the series, Dark of the Moon, is my personal favourite - it serves up a surprisingly high number of great action set pieces, and finally locates a somewhat interesting story after two failed narratives. Film four, Age of Extinction, ultimately abandons any notion of sense, taking forever to get going and, when it does, it eventually goes nowhere. Somehow, The Last Knight is worse than all of these films.

This time, Megatron has a new plan to literally bring Cyberton to Earth in some egotistical bid for domination. Y'know, pretty much what he tried in Dark of the Moon, just a different tactic - gotta give the guy credit for consistency. Optimus Prime has popped off to the shops or something, leaving a bunch of stranded Autobots essentially useless until Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) gets caught up in the mix. He soon finds himself - along with Oxford University professor Vivian (Laura Haddock) - recruited by historian Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins), who knows the long history of Transformers on Earth, and together they kickstart a plan to prevent Megatron's evil scheme.

And yes, it's all about as long winded and bland as it sounds. If it isn't bad enough that the base plot of the film is merely a retread of film three's narrative (I did say Dark of the Moon has the only good story of the bunch, I can't blame the writers for picking that one to fall back on), it's worsened by the fact that The Last Knight can't even tell a ripped off story well, let alone an original one. The Transformers franchise is hardly known for compelling, thoughtful storytelling, but this fifth film represents its most pitiful excuse for a plot yet - it's woefully thin, and stretched so far across nearly 150 minutes that you could snap it with a feather's touch.

Within the poor storytelling, we're forced to endure characters that still lack personality or likeability. Wahlberg does his best, but Yeager remains a hollow entity - if he isn't whining over his daughter being at College he's just shouting at people for disagreeing with him. At least in Age of Extinction we had a father/daughter bond at the core of the film, some kind of heart to bind the story around even if it wasn't exactly beating. Transformers film doesn't need to be emotionally resplendent, granted, but every film needs a soul. The Last Knight has no such core, this is a film so hollow that it plummets into sheer ugliness.

The Transformers themselves are just as lacking, they feel dull and lifeless. It makes you long for the days of Blackout and Ratchet and Jazz. These were hardly multidimensional characters, but they had distinct personalities and roles - their combat styles matched their identities, you felt who they were even when they weren't speaking. In The Last Knight, Autobots exist seemingly to absorb stereotypes and throw one liners around like a tennis match while the Decepticons are about as threatening and interesting as tarmac. These giant, incredible creatures should be the selling point of the film, but you'll just greet each and every one here with either an eye roll or a sigh.

As well as being narratively and thematically inept, The Last Knight can't even serve up a decent action sequence - there's not one display of effective, well choreographed action across all two and a half hours. There's no imagination on screen here, no new ideas or even one standout set piece. The original Transformers has that terrific opening battle with Blackout at the Army base, Dark of the Moon has the unforgettable skyscraper sequence. The Last Knight is wholly devoid of anything memorable - a submarine set sequence should be the film's strongest action moment, but Bay stages it with the energy and enthusiasm of a sleep deprived sloth.

VFX is really all that's left to save The Last Knight, and on a technical level it is admittedly flawless - but it's put to bad use. The CGI is undeniably impressive but what good is that when you know this already? Bay can't find anything new to do with his huge budgets now, mesmerising CGI is wasted away on bland cinematography. The film finally brings up a stunning VFX shot involving the moon - and, trust me, it's breathtaking - but Bay doesn't have the courage to hold on it. Instead he merely teases the idea and then, like an excitable kid hyped up on Smarties, runs off to the next scene - he spends the whole film chasing a plot that he has no intention of ever actually exploring.

For some bizarre reason the film's aspect ratio seems to change every other shot too but, quite frankly, there's little more I can say about this film's ineptitude that hasn't already been said. Bay's franchise was running on fumes back in 2014, but if Age of Extinction represented a car's engine spluttering on its final lick of petrol, The Last Knight finds that car upturned in a ditch somewhere far away. Transformers is beyond hope now, it can't be salvaged. Bay has supposedly confirmed that this was his last dovetail into the franchise, so (assuming he sticks to his word), to whoever has to pick up the pieces and craft film number six, I say this: good luck buddy, you're gonna need it.

In A Sentence

Thinly plotted, devoid of personality and unimaginative to the point of insult, Transformers: The Last Knight is the magnum opus of awfulness in Michael Bay's long lost franchise.

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