Is Michael Bay the worst director working in Hollywood today? Popular opinion would have you believe the man was a modern-day Ed Wood, a blockbuster helmsman with little talent, zero-panache and a truckload of bad habits.
Whilst it may be true that Bay’s cinematic style is problematic at best and downright insulting at worst, you can’t argue the fact that the man has a visual signature that is consistent and competent. Which is probably the nicest thing we can bring ourselves to say regarding Transformers: The Last Knight, the fifth installment in Bay’s Transformers franchise.
Now, by no means is The Last Knight the worst Transformers movie inflicted upon the world. That accolade goes to 2014’s Age of Extinction, a film so awful and morally bankrupt it devoted an entire scene to justify the sexual-objectification of its lead female character, who just happened to be a teenager in high school! The Last Knight never hits such lows, instead plumping for back-to-basics CGI robot vs robot, only with about ten other movie plots thrown in for good measure.
There’s a real lack of cause-and-effect to the story that suggests the screenwriters merely threw every idea they had at a wall and chucked whatever ones stuck and suffice to say, s**t sticks. The tale is a loud, bombastic mess, a checklist of plot lines and story threads that fail to mesh together in any way matching clarity.
The central conceit of combining Arthurian legend with Transformers mythology may seem a fun idea, but here its mishandled, swamped by other plot lines that happen to include: a brewing war between humanity and the Transformers, the fate of the planet Cybertron, a Cybertronian sorceress with the power to takeover Optimus Prime’s mind, a secret history of Transformers fighting in World War II and other historic Earth conflicts, and a load of giant metal ‘horns’ jutting out from the Earth’s surface for some reason.
It’s a muddle and the four screenwriters here seem content to simply get to the action and ignore any detailed exposition, perhaps out of fear that someone may actually experience an aneurysm in the brain should they attempt to connect the dots in any coherent form. Character dialogue fares just as bad, ultimately falling into one of three camps – awkward exposition, almost inaudible one-liner or unconvincing over-emotional schmaltz. The amount of flat one-liners and godawful gags don’t help win the audience round either. The movie throws in every obvious joke and gross-out gag it can, so desperate is it to get us to laugh with it, as opposed to at it!
At the very least, Anthony Hopkins seems to be enjoying himself, his eccentric Sir Edmund providing a few decent chuckles here and there. Mark Wahlberg is decent enough by Wahlberg standards, and the return of Transformers alumni like John Turturro and Josh Dehemel is welcome, even if their character’s presence is ultimately ineffectual to the narrative (they certainly fare better then new female lead Laura Haddock, who exists solely to be the typical ice-queen/eye-candy until the time comes for her to hook up with Marky Mark). Once again, the script lets everyone down.
If anyone is truly to blame for how bad these films have gotten over the years, then the writers should take the heat for once. Maybe Michael Bay deserves a break? Though you can add lots of unnecessary slow-motion, big explosions, strangely fetishist shots of military hardware, some slightly racist stereotypes, a touch of sexism, bland performances and a predatory camera that practically leers at its female protagonist like a drunk in a strip club…maybe a break for Mr Bay is a step too far.
Ultimately though, Transformers: The Last Knight‘s failings lie in its screenplay – it’s overlong, underdeveloped, incoherent and depressingly dull, even when it does finally get down to the business of giant CGI robots punching the living daylights out of each other (which is surprisingly scarce in it’s two and a half hour running time). The usual Bay tropes are here, both good and bad, but we’re honestly so used to his brand of loud, obnoxious filmmaking by now its almost become predictable and tame.
Unnecessarily complex, overstuffed and incredibly haphazard, this latest Transformers movie is not a decent film in disguise – lacking wit, character or charm, it relies on stale action, ropey dialogue and cheap gags to justify its own existence. Michael Bay‘s unsubtle, overcooked direction may surprisingly lift this garbled mess of a script up a peg or two, but beyond the usual CG slugfests, The Last Knight proves to be yet another unsatisfactory entry in a franchise that desperately needs to transform into something fresh and decent!