Transformers: The Last Knight is a bad movie. I don’t know if you harbored hopes that Michael Bay had finally figured out how to make one of these Transformers sequels worth watching (I don’t hate the first one), but he has definitely not learned how to crack that magical nut. The problems aren’t new. If you’ve seen one of these, you know where they go wrong and this one follows suit.
But while I cannot recommend anyone spend their hard earned money or fleeting time on this exaggerated example of Hollywood blockbuster filmmaking gone mad, I actually liked aspects of the film, which is a step up from Bay’s normal Transformers fare.
One of the film’s stronger benefits is its absolute lunacy, which makes describing the plot difficult. Mark Wahlberg is back as the wonderfully-named Cade Yeager, a shitty invented turned Autobot freedom fighter who, along with Craigslist hire Jerrod Carmichael has some kind of sanctuary for a crew of good robots. While doing something I didn’t understand, he comes across an orphan waif (played by Isabela Moner) and her cute robot buddy (played by Not-Quite BB-8). He also gets attached to a shifty medallion that can save the world for reasons I don’t understand.
This is bestowed upon him by a Transformers Knight (I think), for reasons I don’t understand. These knuckleheads have been on our planet for centuries, helping humanity at least as far back as King Arthur days (holy shit, wait until you see who plays Merlin) and protecting a staff that can [rest of sentence omitted because I didn’t understand]. For reasons I don’t understand, only a descendant of Merlin can wield it. So while Cade’s medallion tattoo thing is important for reasons I don’t understand, a super hot PhD from Merlin’s bloodline is also needed to save the day.
Surprisingly not needed to save the day: the little orphan kid or Optimus Prime. Neither are in this movie as much as you’d think. The kid in particular could get edited out and nobody would notice. Bay attempts to open this film’s point of view a bit, but deep down he just cannot make himself care enough to follow through in any meaningful way. Meanwhile, Optimus is saved mostly for the last half hour, and he’s still the embarrassing, violent idiot he’s always been.
My lack of understanding here is not my fault. I tried. Michael Bay just does not have patience for any of this stuff. He has a directorial drive, and it’s somewhere, but it is not with logistics or explanations. This is a robot explosion movie, and by god, nothing’s getting in the way of that. But out of all these, this is the most propulsive and benefiting of Bay’s myopic relentlessness.
Normally movies like this get bogged down with second act exposition, but oddly, this is where The Last Knight shines because it’s where Cogman and Anthony Hopkins’ Sir Edmund Burton come into play. With his easy gravitas, it’s no crime that Hopkins would phone it in for a dumb Transformers movie, but that’s not what he does here. Instead, he goes full weird with it, playing the part of Ultimate Information Keeper like a hyper chubby kid waiting until old age to finally play his role in a massive cosmic drama. There’s real joy in Hopkins’ physical performance and affected line readings. The Transformers series has a fun history of debasing actors of great dignity. It will never peak this.
And then there’s Cogman, an ancient ninja butler Transformer who doesn’t even transform (my dude literally drives cars). If Skweeks (or however you spell it) is a poor BB-8 ripoff, Cogman is possibly a superior version of Rogue One’s K-2SO - a sassy, mean robotic son of a bitch that totally steals the show. I have not been amused by all the Cogman memes leading up to this movie, but now I’m a total convert.
In the end, Cybertron itself is coming to Earth to kill all of us and only several things I didn’t understand can stop it. The film is filled with all the Bayisms we’ve come to inspect: juvenile humor, disregard for any narrative connective tissue, and absolutely incoherent robot action. Bay is a straight-up master in certain situations, but this series has always brought out the worst in him. This is the rare film that’s best when people are just talking. Unfortunately, they don’t talk that often. One of these days, someone other than Michael Bay will make one of these and we’ll all see what we’ve been missing for a decade.