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Categories: Movie Reviews

Transformers: The Last Knight is a film that you have very probably already made your mind up about, it’s not terrific but it’s certainly par for the course.

It’s hard to say exactly what it is that ticks so many people off about Michael Bay to the point of genuine fury. He does seem to get blamed for a lot of things that other Hollywood films get a free pass for and he’s rarely rewarded for taking initiatives that other filmmakers simply can’t be bothered to take. Not to mention his commitment to using the most up-to-date technology available. People often deride him as being purely visual, as if that’s a completely negative thing for a filmmaker to be.

While it’s difficult to say whether this would be enjoyable for people who watch Transformers films for their plots (they must exist, somewhere) it’s pretty safe to assume that, if you hate Michael Bay, then Transformers:The Last Knight will not change your mind. But, if you can still get a kick out of Bay’s overall oeuvre of absolute lunacy, then you may very well feel like you got your money’s worth out of the experience.

One thing people never tell you about mania is how tiring it is. It’s undeniable that, even if you can appreciate Bay as a director (warts and all), it’s still a slog getting through the runtimes of his films. Maybe that’s the thing that offends some people. They know he could actually make a pacy, albeit stupid, thriller if he only showed some self-restraint. Lack of it is often the defining characteristic of love/hate directors. (M. Night Shyamalan, for example.)

There is definitely enough enjoyable action material in here to make a satisfyingly bonkers feature of about ninety minutes to two hours. While there is also the excess baggage that comes with Bay’s mercilessly gaudy films. But the hard truth of it is that this isn’t even the only frustratingly bloated, and shoehorned, fifth entry in a meaningless franchise designed to sell theme park ride tickets and toys, that features a series of returning characters and underwritten villains searching for a magical staff with vague powers, that’s out in theatres right now.

One thing I can say about Transformers: The Last Knight in comparison to Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales (A.K.A. Salazar’s Revenge) is that at least Bay doesn’t, insultingly, try to force a moment of genuine emotion into his aesthetic of a junkyard explosion on really bad acid. From the opening few moments, where a heavily bearded Stanley Tucci plays an inebriated Merlin who nearly falls off his horse while declaring he’s “sozzled”, Bay sets a pretty consistent tone and informs his audience that under no circumstances should they be taking any of the following the least bit seriously.

Getting mad at the plot of a Transformers film is like getting mad at the plot that a six-year-old makes while they’re smashing together their Hot Wheels on the living room carpet. It’s easily achievable but it’s difficult to see what good it would do.

Transformers: The Last Knight is further proof that the real problem with the films isn’t the premise or Bay, it’s the human element. It’s a wonder that Bay keeps making them as live-action films when he could very probably do a substantially better job as a straight animation director. He’s never really been interested by people. He doesn’t know how they work, he doesn’t want to know how they work. He just wants to blow things up and film it with really expensive cameras.

It’s why the accusations of extreme racism and sexism never really seem to stick. The offending content is definitely there, and it’s definitely offensive, but it’s a tone-deaf kind of offensive. It doesn’t come from a malicious place, it’s just a director who couldn’t care less about human tropes being told to include more human tropes and throwing them in there haphazardly.

At the same time, though, it’s also why so many decent actors agree to work with him, his directing style just appears to be “crank it up to eleven, no wrong answers.” As long as you’ve got full energy, and you’re yelling it at maximum volume, then he seems okay with it. As a result, there are a lot of moments that garner genuine laughs. Because it’s genuinely funny people being genuinely funny.

It also bears mentioning that if you think this is the worst film that Anthony Hopkins has ever agreed to be in, or that this is his worst performance, then you should never check his IMDB credits. You will be deeply disappointed.

Michael Bay’s world is one where Mark Wahlberg is an inventor, Oxford University professors dress like runway models, Transformers kill Hitler with a watch and NASA sends oil riggers to blow up asteroids. If you don’t know what you’re getting into at this point then you really have no one to blame but yourself.

As mentioned, there are genuine moments of fun strewn amongst the wreckage, including a moderately creative finale involving a set piece that’s in free fall, and any film, in any franchise, that is numbered higher than three exists purely in service of the franchise itself. You can do a lot better this summer but you can also, honestly, do a lot worse.

Transformers: The Last Knight is out now in cinemas.

Mark Birrell

Mark is the editor of The Spread as well as a freelance copywriter and lifelong cinephile. For writing enquiries, you can email him at mark@cinemajam.com and you can follow him on Twitter @markwbirrell

Posted on Jun 23, 2017

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