CONTAINS SPOILERS(2.5 / 5)
A barbarian horde swarms across a green-gray hillscape, their cries rending the air.
The earth is torn beneath their feet and the hooves of horses.
Sword meets sword; shield, shield.
Balls of fire envelop the unfortunate and unwary.
A small band in steel breastplates prepare to renew the charge against overwhelming odds.
But enough about Gladiator.
Ridley Scott’s 2000 historical epic is just one of the films from which The Last Knight, latest installment in the ludicrously overblown Transformers, semi-memorably draws. The battle in question is between King Arthur and the Saxons and all seems lost. A sozzled Merlin1 rides to their aid and, in a desperate gambit, calls upon the aid of an alien race – no points for guessing which.
The secret history of the Transformers on Earth, it seems, goes back even further than we thought2
In the present day, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), the franchise’s musclebound, mullet-sporting mechanic protagonist3 just so happens to be the one to discover the Seal Of Arthur4 on a crashed alien spaceship; thus setting him apart as the savior of mankind. Sort of.
There’s also Viviane Wembly (Laura Haddock), who, perhaps in an attempt to counter the previous film’s inherent sexism5 is an enormously overqualified, but of course still hugely attractive, Professor at Oxford.6 As his sole descendant, she alone can wield the Staff of Merlin, an object of huge if ambiguous power7 that is being sought by various Transformer factions.
Meanwhile, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen)8, noble leader of the Autobots, is out there in space9, seeking his devastated homework, Superman Returns-style. He barely features in proceedings10 – nor for which matter does the evil Megatron, leader of the Decepticons.11
Instead, we get a whole new selection of transforming robots.12 These include Cogman (Downton Abbey‘s Jim Carter), a psychopathic robot butler13 and the diminutive Sqweeks14, and a few more Decepticons of varying degrees of offensiveness.15
As a work of film-making it’s pretty indefensible.22
Falling just behind Universal’s Fast And Furious on the list of highest-grossing franchises23, Transformers has none of the charm or self-awareness of its closest rival24 and yet it is, admittedly, remarkably even, not boring.
Two days later the only bits I remember are utterly piecemeal – the presence of esteemed actors like Sir Anthony Hopkins25speeding down the Mall in super-car, flipping off tourists26, or The Thick Of It‘s Rebecca Front as one of Viviane’s prying aunts, obsessed with her sex life or lack thereof,27 or just bizarre real-world inconsistencies28.
The action mostly occurs on a huge scale, but there’s nothing to rival, say, the zombie car swarm from Fast & Furious 8. The smaller moments are fine, but easily matched by this year’s other revisionist King Arthur film, Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword.29 Transformers: The Last Knight sublimely stupid30 and borderline incoherent.31 It’s over-loud and overblown and a mess, but it’s not, for all its sins, boring. It’s got too much going on for that.
Now we know why the Transformers keep coming to Earth32 and the setup for the sequel has already been put in place33, Transformers 6 seems like an inevitability.34 All I ask, Michael, is this: try to keep down the carbon footprint down a bit.35
- And yes, that is Stanley Tucci beneath the beard; affecting an amusingly plummy, if somewhat incongruous, British accent. Presumably they just couldn’t fit his usual character into proceedings.
- But probably could have guessed. At this rate the planet itself will probably turn out to be one of those damned shape-shifting robots. Oh, wait…
- After Shia LaBeouf went Method, started doing performance art, yanking his own teeth out, appearing in Sia music videos, and, in my (possibly controversial) opinion, actually becoming that bit more interest.
- Or whatever it’s called – honestly, I didn’t take notes on this one.
- Albeit in the most ham-fisted way possible.
- Given a blaster or a staff, she even bears a strong resemblance to Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens – a clear contemporary reference point for strong female protagonists.
- The first time we see it used it seems to have the ability to summon a three-headed dragon Transformer made of blades. We later discover that it’s essentially a Power Rangers Megazord made up of other Transformers and is perfectly capable of turning up of its own accord.
- But at this point, honestly, who knows.
- SPACE space space…
- Apart from getting brainwashed by his creator, Quintessa (Gemma Chan). Then un-brainwashed. Then promising never to betray his friends again. Presumably unless he gets brainwashed again.
- They both seem to pop up whenever the film’s marketing team decides they need to remind the audience of the original toy line – now available with new designs from all good retailers and some McDonald’s Happy Meals (presumably).
- Or maybe they’re the same ones. I honestly don’t even know how many of the Transformers films I’ve watched. I thought I hadn’t seen the most recent – Age Of Extinction– but apparently that was the first to feature John Goodman, whose voice I vaguely remember recognizing as a giant robot before this.
- Essentially C3-PO crossed with Ultron.
- Wall-E by way of BB-8.
- Michael Bay tries to subvert the usual accusations of racial insensitivity by featuring a Native American character played by Hell Or High Water‘s Gil Birmingham, whom Cade gets scolded for calling Chief – even though he is both Chief of Police and a tribal leader. It’s cute, if not particularly funny, but you lose the cred somewhat, Michael, when you then include the likes of Mohawk and Dreadbot, who play into some pretty appalling stereotypes. One, upon his release from prison, quotes Martin Luther King.
- That’s when the plot doesn’t forget about them; such as with Cade’s new streetwise ‘tween sidekick Izabella (Isabela Moner), who gets abandoned at a junkyard for a chunk of the running time.
- Who knew Oxford was so close to London or that the Thames emptied out around the White Cliffs of Dover?
- Enormous spaceships touching down in unearthly verdant fields.
- Said spaceships plowing through human cities, causing devastation on an unacknowledged scale.
- Choice quotes include,
“Don’t kill the messenger… Or the messenger will kill you”
“Oh my god, it’s a huge spaceship”
or, to draw directly from the IMDb quote page,
- The production hung swastika banners at Blenheim Palace, the ancestral home of Winston Churchill, in order to shoot a World War Two flashback that does nothing except contribute to the film’s two-and-a-half hour run-time.
- And with three fewer films to its tally.
- The Transformers themselves are boorish, aggressive, and potty-mouth – and that’s just the good guys.
- Yes, even he. At least he seems to be enjoying himself.
- Or else screaming at them to clear out of a naval submarine tourist attraction.
- The film manages to cram in an abridged, impromptu date between Viviane and Cade aboard the previously referenced submarine – immediately prior to which Cogman fires himself out of a torpedo tube, only to return with two huge, wriggling salmon, which he proceeds to beat to death and turn into sushi.
- In the Transformers-verse, Steven Hawkings is reportedly dead, Castro is alive, David Cameron (or at least a lookalike) is British Prime Minister, and Tiger Woods is still a relevant cultural figure
- Reviews of both of which should be coming shortly.
- There’s a bit involving the prehistoric super-continent Pangaea that the writers – all four of them – were obviously pleased enough to keep in. It’s the only way to explain the inclusion of the Earth’s six horns – a throwaway bit of (in all fairness) actual creativity I won’t bother to explain here.
- I’m convinced the only way to enjoy a Transformers film is in the abstract. Watching this one occasionally bordered on an out-of-body experience.
- Probably a good question, but not one I ever cared enough to ask.
- Possibly sans Mark Wahlberg, who, I guess, already has a pension plan: making real-life disaster movies with Peter Berg.
- Depending on the box office.
- When aliens eventually arrive on Earth to find a planet devastated by global warming and us extinct (or else fucked off), Transformers: The Last Knight would answer a lot of questions about how we destroyed the world; more than any other film I’ve seen.