Ah, Transformers. Love the franchise or hate it, there’s something to be said about mindless action that provides a sense of levity. I’m not going to lie, the Transformers films aren’t perfect by any means; in fact, looking at them through the lens of a critic, most of them are downright awful. But Michael Bay couldn’t care less about what you think, and that’s what makes them so much fun. There are some films you can tell right off the bat everyone involved is making the film for nothing more than the paycheck, or don’t understand the nature of the product they’re delivering. Neither can be said for Bay (or Mark Wahlberg, for that matter), who knows what he likes and puts every last ounce of that passion into these silly movies about alien robots and their love/hate relationship with Earth and the humans who occupy it.
Transformers: The Last Knight expands heavily on the franchise mythology Bay has set up throughout the previous four films, sending us back to the dark ages with a brief “history” lesson behind the myth of Lancelot (Martin McCreadie), Merlin (Stanley Tucci, returning for his second film in the franchise, evidently for no other reason than to be in it), and how the transformers are connected to King Arthur and the knights of the round table. This information sets up the two main plot lines of the film, the first of which deals with Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen).
After leaving Earth at the end of the last film, Optimus returns to his home planet of Cybertron and meets Quintessa (Gemma Chan), a mystical robot who claims to be the creator of the Autobots. She needs Optimus to retrieve a staff given to Merlin so that she can use it to destroy Earth and revive Cybertron. I won’t spoil it here, but the reasons behind wanting to destroy Earth expands on the mythology in a fun way that could lead the franchise in a couple of different directions.
The second plot line revolves around our resilient inventor, Cade Yeager (Wahlberg). Much like Zack Snyder did in the DC Comics universe, the destruction of Chicago that Cade was involved in has not been forgotten. In fact, it has led the government to quarantine the entire city, deem all transformers enemies of the state regardless of whether they helped save the world, and create a brand new task force, the TRF, to take them all down before the same can happen anywhere else. Cade is also in hiding, marked as a wanted man for aiding and abetting the Autobots. Doing his best to protect those he knows are heroes, Cade roams the states for other Autobots who may need a helping hand.
On one such mission back to the quarantine zone, Cade is unwillingly bestowed a relic that clings to him and, when the going gets rough, protects him from harm. This comes in handy when the TRF track Cade back to his junkyard hideaway, where he lives with some of his old Autobot friends (and a few pet dinobots). He eventually escapes, thanks to Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins), a mysterious old man who knows quite a lot about the history of transformers on Earth. He brings Cade together with academic/love interest/Megan Fox replacement Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock), who, it turns out, is the last of Merlin’s bloodline, something that becomes of great importance in keeping Megatron from destroying the Earth (at least, until the next film, when he devises another plan to do so).
Now if you’ve seen any of the trailers (especially this one in particular) you may be wondering why I’m halfway through this review and have yet to mention twelve-year-old Izabella (Isabela Moner). There’s a reason for that — no matter how much the marketing department wanted to make this girl seem important to the film, she’s not. I mean, she’s so inconsequential to anything happening in the film, with just a couple of tweaks, you could remove her entirely without skipping a beat. I kept waiting for her to live up to the hype, or be put in a situation where only she could do something to save the mission, but it never came. Moner isn’t a bad actress, and she holds her own against her other famous counterparts, but she’s nothing but dead weight, a cheap surrogate for Cade’s daughter, who’s conveniently “away at college” while her father places the weight of the world on his shoulders.
She’s not the only inconsequential character that Bay shoehorns into this movie either. Cade has a new recruit, Jimmy (Jerrod Carmichael), who was brought on to, I don’t know, offer some comic relief where there is already plenty to be had? Much like Izabella, he doesn’t do anything of major importance and you probably wouldn’t have missed him had he been excised completely.
Bay also brings back a couple of familiar faces. The first is Josh Duhamel, returning to the franchise after sitting out the last film. His character, Lennox, has joined forces with the TRF, even though he knows not all transformers are inherently evil. Though it was nice to see him again, he isn’t given a whole lot to do. The other is John Turturro as former Agent Simmons, who if I’m not mistaken, is the only actor (aside from a couple of voice actors) to have appeared in all five Transformers films. Simmons has exiled himself to Cuba where the transformers can live freely. The funny thing is, though he spends the entirety of his screen time doing everything he can to worm his way into the plot, once he does, he heads off to the beach to never be heard from again.
I know what you’re thinking. With all of this negativity, how could I possibly like the film? The question is valid, and I could go on and on about the contrivance of several plot points, how easily some events get resolved, and the confusion behind how Bumblebee is able to use his actual voice in a key sequence. But the bottom line is, whatever the reason, I genuinely enjoy the mythology Bay has set up in these movies. It’s been said that this will be the last time Bay directs a Transformers movie, and if that’s true, I have to wonder if the director who is given the reigns for the next chapter will continue to provide the same campy tone, bring something new and fresh to the series that will elevate it above the numbing mindlessness, or kill the fun because they aren’t sure what they’ve gotten themselves into. Whatever the case may be, this final Bay product lives up to the brand and does nothing more than what it sets out to do — whisk you away into another world for a couple of hours and entertain. And in my book, there’s nothing wrong with that.
My Grade: A
Next week, new movies include Despicable Me 3, The House and Baby Driver. If you would like to see a review for tone of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.