Yeah, yeah, I know, this review is waaay past a day late and a dollar short. But I have been busy, and the film was so poorly reviewed that watching it as soon as it hit DVD was not a priority for this blogger. Not until a friend decided to see it and asked that I join in to watch the (hopefully) entertaining film.
*Sigh.* Mi compadre liked the film; I have mixed feelings about it. There were elements/characters/scenes of The Last Knight which I enjoyed, and then there were things I did not like. I will list the problem parts to get them over and done with quickly before mentioning the positive aspects of the movie:
Problem #1: The Plot – As one reviewer said, if you want to watch this movie, enjoy the robot fight scenes and forget about the plot. Even I, a relatively well-informed Transformers fan who kept (most of) the plot for this film clear, found it switchbacked and retread ground too often. It’s like three or four of the seven people writing this story left in elements from one another’s original script when they should have excised or changed them. There is too much going on that either happens too fast or occurs too slowly.
Problem #2: Not Enough Optimus Prime and Bad Brainwashing – In a continuation of the modern trend to delegitimize heroes Optimus Prime, the noble leader and the father figure in the Autobot faction, gets brainwashed temporarily into attacking and killing some of his allies. Obviously, I didn’t like his being brainwashed to begin with, but I could have handled that if the filmmakers had at least convinced me that he was being influenced by another’s will after enduring severe torture.
However, from what little we see of Optimus before the end of the movie, it looks more like the villainess of the film just talks him into being bad. Having the good guys snap him out of it fast is fine, but how about a little lead up to his being mind-controlled? The Avengers had a MacGuffin (the Mind Stone) which allowed for instantaneous brainwashing, but the bad girl in Last Knight is only shown beating up on Optimus twice. Bottom line, we didn’t see enough of Optimus in this movie, and most of what we did see was negative in the extreme. That’s an automatic demerit in my book.
Problem #3: Too Much Foul Language – Truth be told, this has been one of my main problems with the Transformers films from the get-go, along with the oversexualization of the main female characters. While Last Knight dropped the more explicit sex stuff, almost everyone in the film had a potty mouth, with the worst offender being Anthony Hopkins.
This is why the Transformers movies rank at the bottom of my entertainment media. The franchise started life as an innocent children’s show, and even in its darker TV incarnations, it isn’t anywhere near this foul. I have never understood, from the POV of a Transformers fan, why the writers decided to sexualize the franchise and allow the characters – human or not – to be foul-mouthed twerps. It’s like they cannot believe anyone would take a film like this seriously unless the humans in it were screaming epithets or hooking up every five scenes.
Hello, bozos, this was a children’s franchise!!! You should have been aiming to please the PG-13 to G rated audience. So what if the critics carp about the films being unrealistic? They are not and never were the ones you had to please to sell your product. Why can’t you respect Transformers fans as much as the guys running Marvel Studios have respected theirs?
Yes, I know this is a relatively useless aside, readers. But I have been holding that paragraph in for years. It is past time I let it out – and it feels soooo good to have done it at last!
Problem #4: Merlin as a Joke and Stanley Tucci Needs a Better Agent – Seriously, the best part I have ever seen Tucci play was in Captain America: The First Avenger. Every time I see him in a new film, he is either playing a foul-mouthed jerk or a washed-up annoyance. He should fire his agent or choose better parts.
Yes, it is true that Merlin appears in The Last Knight, which decided that tying the Transformers to the Pyramids and the moon landings wasn’t enough. Now they have to go back and add Tranformers to the Legends of King Arthur, since mankind is apparently too stupid to figure out knighthood on his own. Rather than being a wise, powerful, and benevolent magician, Merlin is portrayed in the beginning of this film as a drunk and a charlatan. Thanks but no thanks, Hasbro; I like my Merlin to be a respectable magician, not a souse. Go beg for someone else’s money.
Problem #5: Quintessa as Transformer Goddess – Okay, first off, the Quintessons were aliens opposed to BOTH races of Transformers in the original stories, and it was their homeworld which was called Quintessa. Now we get this film revamp where there is only one Quintesson – a female, at that – who claims to be the Transformers’ deity, when even in the previous films it was the Transformers’ deity Primus that made the Autobots and Decepticons? *Author pinches nose and sighs.* Can someone please stop the revisionist train so I can get off now?
Problem #6: Rewriting the Timeline – It’s not as if the films’ series of events was hard to keep track of before the writers decided to redo everything from the ground up. What exactly is the purpose of re-aligning a timeline that you have practically killed already? Your circular logic is giving me a headache, Hollywood!
Problem #7: Planet-wide Devastation? You went with that trope AGAIN?!?! – In this film, the destruction of the moon and many major population centers really hits home in a bad way. Like the X-Men films, this movie focuses on nihilism and despair; although the heroes win in the end, the enormous loss of life and near global destruction makes their victory a Pyrrhic triumph. They lose more than they save – the film ends with more torn up cities, more catastrophic human body counts, and irreparable damage done to the face of the Earth.
This is another problem I have with the TF film franchise. Heroes in most stories always try to minimize the damage the bad guys inflict on innocent civilians. It is a mainstay of the Avengers films AND the Transformers TV shows. The fact that Hollywood has most of the Autobot/Decepticon confrontations occur in large population centers, where they make sure to show massive devastation and imply great loss of life, is directly anathema to the franchise’s roots. The Autobots are supposed to care about and work hard to protect humans, but the films never really demonstrate this – and, in a couple of cases, they directly oppose the idea. This is probably due to the filmmakers’ desire to make the movie franchise “more realistic” than the TV shows.
I’m sorry, but since when were we supposed to take ANYTHING in a movie seriously?! Films are supposed to be a form of escape wherein we (the audience) are encouraged to reach for heights of grace and heroism by following the example(s) of the hero(es). They are not and should not be used as vehicles for nihilism. If that is all you want to feed us in theaters, Hasbro, then you can kiss my money and precious time good-bye. There are much better things for me to spend both those things on.
Okay, with these seven big complaints covered, I can expound on what actually made this film worth my time. Most of the reason I was able to sit through this movie was Mark Walhberg’s performance as Cade Yeager. Whether you love Walhberg or not, the fact is that he did an excellent job in this film. He sold the audience on the idea that he was talking to living, thirty foot tall robots and not tennis balls on sticks. The scenes where he deals with the Autobots under his command/care are the closest this film comes to touching on why children around the world love the Transformers TV franchise(s).
His character, Cade, has also softened somewhat since we saw him in Age of Extinction. (You can read my review of that film here, if you would like.) Watching this movie, you can almost feel the brotherly camaraderie he has come to share with the Autobots, especially Bee. His relationship with Optimus gets short shrift in this film, but that’s the fault of the writers, not Walhberg. Cade’s transformation (pun not intended) from down-on-his-luck-independent-inventor to trigger-happy Autobot ally and fugitive doesn’t feel particularly forced, either. He is doing what he needs to do to help the Autobots survive until Optimus returns and he will not let anyone – human or Decepticon – dissuade him from his purpose.
Once again, he gives us very few screaming and “freak out” moments than we saw in the previous movies, where Shia Labeuf was always having panic attacks during a battle. The gentleness and compassion he shows to a dying Cybertronian knight in the beginning of the film is especially touching. It cannot have been an easy scene to film, either, given that Wahlberg was probably talking to a lump of plastic and a green screen.
This leads to another great aspect of Cade’s character in the film: the title Last Knight is not a reference to Optimus Prime, but to Cade Yeager. The knightly attributes which allow Cade to help save the world become more and more obvious as the film progresses. It is really nice to finally have a “chaste” character in one of these movies, even though it is too little, too late. Walhberg pulls off a splendid performance here. I have virtually no complaints about his acting, even when he has to use foul language. Given the rest of his presentation, I can put up with that relatively easily.
In a similar vein, the two girls who appear in the film are not tarts used to titilate/“intrigue” the audience. But while the fourteen year old girl (Izabella) is fun, adding depth to Cade’s character and touching on the childhood wonder of the Transformers, I am not exactly sure her presence was truly needed to complete the film. She wasn’t a bad character, but I do not think she was necessary for the story to work.
The adult woman in the story, Vivian, has the second-worst potty mouth in the film. Though she is (thankfully) not a trollop, she is a jerk with a chip on her shoulder. It is made abundantly clear from her first appearance onward that she hates men. Normally, that would grate on my nerves and, while I am not fond of her, it was really nice to FINALLY have a female jerk in a Transformers film who did most of the screaming. This meant that I could easily accept her; in a real situation where humans meet thirty foot tall mechanical humanoids, I am fairly sure it would be the women freaking out more often than the men.
Another nice touch to her character is that she is an Oxford professor. While Izabella is given the position of mechanic-in-training, the writers somehow got it into their heads that Vivian should not be mechanically savvy. (YAY!) While Vivian is a fighter, she is not a terribly great one. It is nice to see a strong woman who is rather pathetic at physical combat but who nevertheless has a will of steel. I will take a feminist Oxford professor who fights hard but improperly, who is fluent in medieval languages, and who knows history over the faux Amazonian stereotype any day.
That reminds me, one of the best things about the addition of Vivian to this film is a brief spat she and Cade share in Hopkins’ manor house. Having been “kidnapped” by a young Autobot on Hopkins’ orders so that she can help save the day, Vivian is not in a good mood when the explainations begin. She becomes especially upset when she sees her world-saving partner is a male American fugitive. Vivian tries to slap Cade down at once but he bites back at her, criticizing her education and her dress. “Well, then, perhaps you would like it better if I took [the dress] off?” she snaps waspishly. Clearly, Vivian is expecting Cade to become embarrassed by her retort and to stutter a rejection, giving her leverage against him.
You can see that he almost falls for the bait – almost. To my infinite delight, Cade instead does a quick one-eighty degree turn and says, “Yes [I would].” He doesn’t actually mean it; if you look at him closely, you can see he is worried that she might carry out her threat to undress in front of everybody. But his decision not to accept Vivian’s abuse quietly leaves her gaping and temporarily at a loss for words. It was probably the best scene in the movie! 😀
This scene is also important because, as she continues to verbally spar with Cade, Vivian starts to grow and change. Cade’s continuous refusal to take her vocal mistreatment makes her soften; she becomes less abrasive and demonstrates more feminine characteristics the longer they work together. In a fascinating reversal of Hollywood trends, Cade is allowed to be a “manly man” and Vivian is allowed to become a real woman. She is not the Femi-Nazi, faux Amazon warrior we are fed too often these days in modern fiction, which is a really nice change – especially for a Transformers film.
Cade and Vivian’s character arcs, while slow, were the best in the film. Bumblebee was good and even Hot Rod, a franchise character I despise, was fun. (Can we get his time gun for the Avengers? They could really use a gizmo like while fighting Thanos!) Seeing so many Autobots hidden around the world was really nice, too, since we got brief glimpses of more Transformers as characters, not just gimmicks. It was a surprisingly touching addition to the film.
Another nice thing about it was having Josh Duhamel return as Colonel Lennox. (His comment about lawyers and Decepticons was a scream!) He pulled off the weary soldier act very well; my only complaint is that he wasn’t given as much of a chance to show his faith in the Autobots as Cade was. Hopkins’ Transformer butler Cogman was fun, too, if a little foul. The “kidnapping” of Vivian by Hot Rod was a good scene as well.
This is all I can really think of to praise the film for, which isn’t much. As my list of complaints at the top of this post made clear, this movie really isn’t recommended. But that has less to do with the actors’ performances and more to do with the way the story was executed. I will probably watch this film again in the future at some point. But when I do, there will be a lot of scenes I skip, since most of the ones I liked had Cade in them. The rest of the show can go hang; Cade is the star attraction this go around, with Bumblebee a close second.
This is my opinion of Transformers: The Last Knight. It isn’t anywhere near as palatable as Age of Extinction, but it is an improvement over the first three films, and that says a lot about the quality of those movies. There is also some genuine character growth for the humans here, which is a nice change. If none of this makes you want to see Last Knight, though, don’t worry – I understand completely. That’s why I wrote this review; The Mithril Guardian is watching out for you, so that you don’t have to watch bad entertainment to learn something good from it. 😉
‘Til next time, readers – “Autobots, roll out!”