Can filmmaking as inept as this really be inept if it’s intentional? This is but the first of many befuddling quandaries that will tilt your head in confusion so hard that you run the risk of accidentally decapitating yourself, should you be subjected to the cinematic paradox that is Transformers: The Last Knight . Some people have given into director Michael Bay, and have started appreciating his signature style, judging him not against the rest of cinema, and basic human decency, but against his own work as one might do a Bond film. But I’m not going to praise a movie for being horrendous just because that’s how it was designed. Bay hasn’t beaten me yet and Transformers: The Last Knight hasn’t killed me but, bloody hell, it tried it’s hardest.
The cinematic equivalent of Homer Simpson’s barbeque pit, The Last Knight was made by screenwriters and CGI artists violently throwing every idea they’ve ever had at a pool of wet cement and screaming in a frustrated rage when it doesn’t create a cohesive whole. Lines of dialogue pepper the narrative with the speed, power and accuracy of a sawn-off machine gun. Not a single line of speech is given a solitary heartbeat’s worth of room for the audience to comprehend what the character has said or how it fits into the context of the story. The same is true for the shot composition. Each frame has a thousand points of focus and each scene has more cuts than a butcher’s convention. I don’t think a single edit in this entire film ever reached the loft heights of lasting one whole second.
I wish that I could say that these frames were deserving of at least a few more moments of time to be appreciated on screen, but alas, they are not. The CGI is chaotically overdesigned. Each of the film’s mechanical constructs seems to have been put together by robotic birds, building sentient nests out of the debris from any one of the movie’s devastated war zones. Take the Decepticons for example. Each is introduced one at a time, with their own theme music and logo, à la Suicide Squad, but even with their elaborate intros, none of them can be picked out of a lineup, as they are all just walking piles of scrap tied together by irresponsible wiring. So disposable are they that, spoiler alert, half of them die ten minutes after their debut. Just don’t ask me to remember which ones. Being blown apart did nothing to help distinguish them from their surviving comrades.
The plot is as overstuffed as the chassis of the mechanised characters. A child is made an orphaned refugee by the Decepticons’ assault on her city. She tries to win over the affection of Mark Wahlberg’s character with her knowledge of an advanced alien technology, an expertise it would take a normal person several lifetimes to learn. Marky Mark is left unimpressed. Meanwhile, Whalberg’s character is being hunted by Sir Anthony Hopkins, as he has been chosen to wield a magic weapon that will save the Earth from total destruction. Ditto for the character played by The Inbetweeners’ Laura Haddock, an Oxford professor who’s outfits are so impractical even the screenplay slut shames her for wearing them. Stay classy Mr Bay.
But wait, there’s more! It turns out that the Transformers have been on Earth since the days of King Arthur, helping humanity out in their most desperate moments, so look forward to dozens of minutes being dedicated to expositioning that. Oh, and Optimus Prime meets the god of the Transformers and is persuaded by her to destroy the Earth and save Cybertron, pitting him directly against his oldest friend Bumblebee. We’re not done yet however, as Megatron is brought back to life by a government agency that hates Transformers, but is willing to acquit the most dangerous ones to find a weapon of immense power that will hopefully be used to destroy all Transformers. I hope you understand how stupid that plan is, because I can’t explain it. There simply isn’t enough space in the word count.
Bay needed a trilogy of two-and-a-half-hour films to make that all work and Universal gave him just one. They’ve thrown everything they could at this movie and didn’t think for a second whether or not it might have possibly been a tad too much. There’s Arthurian Legend via of Game of Thrones, Suicide Squad, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, WWII and WWI, a disaster film, a romance, even a long stretch of the Transformers’ version of Downton Abbey. The Last Knight hasn’t been created, but beaten into existence with the approach of a pugilist who keeps punching his opponent hours after they’ve been declared legally dead.
Caught in this cinematic quagmire, Anthony Hopkins plays theatrical buckaroo, testing the very boundaries of dramatic delivery, hoping every next syllable is the one that gets him kicked off set. His expressions are pure daredevil exhilaration as he wonders if this is the line that will finally get him exiled from the Guild of Theatre Luvvies annual Christmas Party. You get plenty of time to study his expressions, too. The close-ups in this movie are distressingly intimate and will have you reaching for the pepper spray just so Mark Wahlberg will give you some god-damned personal space.
Transformers: The Last Knight doesn’t have the best filmmaking. It has the most filmmaking. It is a botched Frankenstein’s Monster of a project with more protruding limbs than a one-year-old’s first attempt at Lego. They have taken every popular cultural trend of the last three years and every attribute that ever scored high in a 15-to-25-year-old male’s focus group survey and stuffed the film fit to burst with them. This is more of a Domino’s Pizza than a movie, except when I eat one of their 2,500 calorie monstrosities I don’t feel half as guilty or as grubby.
Dir: Michael Bay
Scr: Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, Ken Nolan
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Duhamel
Prd: Ian Bryce, Tom DeSanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Don Murphy
DOP: Steve Jablonsky
Music: Jonathan Sela
Run time: 149 mins
Transformers: The Last Knight is out in cinemas now.