In “Transformers: The Last Knight,” director Michael Bay does little right, but he can’t be faulted for at least posing challenging questions: How bad must these movies get before people stop seeing them? How obnoxious can a film be before theaters are obligated to offer complimentary ibuprofen? How did I drag Steve Buscemi into this?
Even if “The Last Knight” offers answers, you won’t hear them over the film’s constant cacophony of noise — which at this point would be a better name for the franchise. This film fails in every conceivable way — all this, despite a writers room assembled in 2015 to spice up its story.
This writers room was headed by Akiva Goldsman though, and hiring the man who wrote “Batman & Robin” (the bad one with George Clooney) to fix a franchise is like asking Hannibal Lecter to be your personal chef. Even if the writers room cooked up something interesting, it’s not in this film.
“The Last Knight” poses as a mishmash of Arthurian legend and trademark Transformers action, but the former is limited to the film’s first 15 minutes. King Arthur fighting alongside Optimus Prime could’ve been ridiculous enough to breathe life into the series, but instead we get Stanley Tucci as Merlin drunkenly speechifying to a robot nobody will care about.
In fact, the film abandons Arthurian mythology only to rip off other properties. “The Last Knight” features a plucky group of kids à la “Stranger Things,” TIE Fighters from “Star Wars,” a good-guy-versus-good-guy battle that “Captain America: Civil War” did better, “Suicide Squad”-style character introductions and the planet-resurrecting premise of “Man of Steel.” If you liked any of those things, prepare to hate them all in this film.
“The Last Knight” is a trashy pastiche of popular properties, none more so than itself as a franchise. Everything awful about previous films returns to lay siege on the senses. The film doubles down on racist robots (Bay finds new, spectacular ways to make them increasingly offensive) and does everything in its power to fail the Bechdel test. Even the robot that humped Megan Fox’s leg in the second installment makes a return.
One wonders if Bay purposefully excludes from this film the elements of the franchise that make it even slightly interesting. Like “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” Grimlock, a fire-breathing robot T. rex, has only slightly more screen time than a bottle of Bud Light. Don’t expect much from fan-favorite Optimus Prime either, who is having offscreen adventures that are too interesting to include in the film.
Bay may lack auteurial nuance, but at least he’s consistent. It doesn’t need saying, but the third act of the film is utterly incomprehensible. Cut and paste the ending of “Age of Extinction” onto this film, and the results would be the same combination of loud noises and CGI vomit. Bay even takes the time to give science the middle finger. “This is the dumbest idea you could possibly have,” one physicist says before being humiliated by Bay’s vindictive streak.
What’s most frustrating about this franchise is that a good “Transformers” film certainly exists in some parallel dimension. The first half hour of “The Last Knight” sets up (but promptly abandons) themes of xenophobia that could have made for strong, dare I say smart, social commentary.
Even its cast — which includes the ever-reliable Mark Wahlberg and Oscar-winner and actual knight, Sir Anthony Hopkins — is top notch. Series newcomer Isabela Moner does a fine job at being a young, precocious mechanic, even if she is spouting dialogue scribbled in crayon.
Ultimately, nothing about “The Last Knight” justifies buying a ticket to see it. No matter where you are in the world, if you are considering seeing this movie — even ironically, to laugh at the on-screen stupidity with some friends — stop now. Instead, check out “It Comes At Night” for its dark, smart thrills. Hell, rewatch “Wonder Woman.” Every dime spent on “The Last Knight” assures Hollywood that we don’t care about quality blockbusters. We should.
Harrison Tunggal covers film. Contact him at [email protected].