Friday, June 23, 2017

Transformers: The Last Knight — Should be junked

Transformers: The Last Knight (2017) • View trailer 
No stars (turkey). Rated PG-13, for relentless sci-fi action violence

By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 6.23.17

This isn’t even a good video game.

As a movie, it’s a $260 million disaster.

When Col. William Lennox (Josh Duhamel) inexplicably decides that the über-evil
Megatron might help U.S. forces find some all-important Transformers tech, he okays
the release of a ferocious quartet of evil Decepticons. Which immediately start fragging
every human being in sight. Like, anybody expected otherwise?
Actually, the term movie doesn’t even apply. Movies have plots. And characters. This cacophonous monument of soulless wretched excess has neither.

I’m frankly astonished that Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, Ken Nolan and Akiva Goldsman have the audacity to claim credit for a script. The spoken lines in this junkyard dog are so sparse — often limited to monosyllabic exhortations such as “We’ve got to go!,” “Hang on!,” “Good job!” and “Jump!” — and the action so haphazard, that one could watch the entire 149-minute mess with the dialog track eliminated entirely, and have just as much success trying to extract meaning from the bonkers narrative.

That also would spare us from the faux profundities in the film’s hilariously overwrought voice-over narration. The Monty Python gang, at their prime, could not have concocted more ludicrously silly monologues. But helmer Michael Bay intends us to take them seriously.

Bay began his career as a director of music videos, and it could be argued — particularly during the past decade — that he never shifted gears. Such video shorts are no more than a series of flamboyant, hyper-edited visuals solely in service of the music; with very rare exception, there’s no such thing as “story” or “character.”

The same could be said of Transformers: The L(e)ast Knight, fifth entry in this increasingly dismal franchise, which is no more than an overlong showcase reel for numerous special effects companies. Bay couldn’t care less about story, and he obviously couldn’t care less about character; his notion of an “emotional moment” starts and stops with a tight-tight-tight close-up of a given actor’s face, always bearing a silent, stricken, gape-mouthed expression. Pause and hold for what seems an eternity.

Tears are optional (but desired).

The result would be laughable, if the process of watching the damn thing weren’t so relentlessly repetitious, predictable, exhausting and tediously dull.

Bay doesn’t make movies; he makes product. Noisy, lowest-common-denominator trash designed for an indiscriminate international market.

Expensive and impressively mounted trash, to be fair ... but trash nonetheless.

The plot, such as it is:

Continuing where the previous film left off, the United States — and, one assumes, the rest of the world — has become a war zone where even the good-guy Transformers (Autobots) are no longer trusted, and hunted down by government-sanctioned military forces. The noble Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen), the Transformer ambassador who maintained cordial relations between humans and robots, is journeying through space, in an attempt to revive the remnants of his dead home world, Cybertron.

With Optimus Prime gone, the evil Decepticon leader — Megatron — has his own designs on what to do with Earth; the plot involves obtaining a medallion and Merlin’s magical staff. Yes, the Merlin of Arthurian myth, which gives Bay an excuse for a numb-nuts prologue that finds a three-headed dragon Transformer saving England for the Knights of the Round Table. (Don’t ask.)

Actually, that’s only the beginning. We later discover that the Allies only won World War II because of Autobot support and a nasty, watch-size Transformer that killed Adolf Hitler.


Good guy Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) has been repairing and sheltering benevolent Autobots for the past several years, in a desert-based junkyard. The place is guarded by all sorts of comedy-relief Autobots, such as the whining, pack-rat Daytrader (Steve Buscemi) and the (metal) cigar-chomping, mercenary-esque Hound (John Goodman).

Yep, it has come to this: Joke Transformers. Three Stooges time.

Cade is further saddled with Izabella (Isabela Moner), an adolescent orphan who’s pretty handy at repairing robots herself, donchaknow.

Meanwhile, across the pond, the aristocratic Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) is the latest — and last — in a centuries-long line of “protectors” who have safeguarded Transformer secrets, in order to prevent a dire prophesy that somehow involves Stonehenge. Sir Edmund is assisted by a cranky butler Autobot named Cogman (voiced by Jim Carter, in his richest Mr. Carson/Downton Abbey cadence).

Sir Edmund knows that Cade is the “chosen one” selected to wear the medallion when the Decepticon merde hits the fan. Except that equal responsibility falls to university historian Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock), who — wouldn’t you just know it — is directly descended from Merlin, and therefore the only one who can wield his staff.

I therefore couldn’t tell you whether Cade or Vivian is the actual “last knight.” I don’t think the scripters know either.

Elsewhere, in Cuba, Agent Simmons (John Turturro) spends a few scenes yelling at Sir Edmund over the phone. (Yep; that’s it. Yelling into a phone booth phone.) Turturro’s character has appeared throughout most of the series, albeit in larger roles; I can’t imagine why he was limited to such a pointless cameo here. Maybe Bay’s special effects-laden budget precluded hiring the actor full-time.

God knows, the scripters couldn’t have concocted anything intelligent for the character to do anyway, so it really doesn’t matter.

Back in outer space, Optimus Prime has reached Cybertron, and his creator: a robotic, tentacled, female-ish thingie strikingly similar to Alice Krige’s Borg Queen, in 1996’s Star Trek: First Contact. This Transformer version is equally nasty, because she zaps Optimus Prime and makes him evil.

Because ... well, just because. Because it gives Bay an excuse for even more gratuitous destruction, when the “bad” Optimus Prime faces off against the remaining Autobots, most notably Cade’s boon companion, the forever loyal Bumblebee (Erik Aadahl).

Optimus Prime thus travels to Earth to wreak havoc, closely followed by the Transformer Creator-Queen-thingie. She drags along the entire planet-size Cybertron, which — displaying a stunning ignorance of celestial physics — destroys Earth’s Moon before more or less colliding with our world, which somehow doesn’t knock us out of orbit, or wreck our atmosphere, or damage more than what is located at the actual contact point.

But that’s the third act. Most viewers will have abandoned trying to wrest logic from any of this, hours earlier.

Bay obviously adores his four most frequent directorial tics, and clearly expects us to admire them with equal sycophantic fawning:

A) The aforementioned extreme close-ups;

B) Extended sequences of Transformers pounding each other, metal bits spraying in all directions, with trees, buildings and people galore pulverized, often in slow motion;

C) Our stars sliding, dangerously fast, down the sides of tall buildings, or upended landscapes, or chunks of Cybertron (once the good guys “invade” it); and

D) Montages of Transformers doing what they do best: jumping into the air, flipping about and morphing into trucks and muscle cars, which then roar down the highway. Particularly the roaring down the highway part. One assumes that Bay never matured out of the little boy who wanted to tinker with his daddy’s vintage Mustang.

Indeed, you could build the entire film from a specific sequence of these four items ... and that’s precisely what Bay has done. To wit:

Decepticons roar into the frame; insert A) nervous close-up. Then B) Decepticons and Autobots beat the crap out of each other. Cade, Vivian and/or others always seem to be standing on top of something tall that gets destroyed, whereupon C) they slip and slide, full-tilt, toward Certain Death below, only to be rescued, at the last possible second, by some Autobot. At which point, our human protagonists are scooped up by the Autobots, which D) morph into their vehicular selves, and speed down the road to safety.

If one or more Autobots has been hurt or destroyed during the skirmish, add A) tearful close-up.

Lather, rinse, repeat. Again. And again. Andagainandagainandagain.

I want my 149 minutes back. Better still, I want Michael Bay locked up, his director’s staff pried from his incompetent, hack fingers, and a monitoring bracelet locked onto one wrist, to prevent him from ever helming another film.

Because he is, by far, Hollywood’s worst offender when it comes to transforming film’s artistic potential into deplorable, infantile garbage.

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