Transformers: the last knight has some truly spectacular special effects. That’s just about all there is to say about this film. The script is incomprehensible, the acting is subpar, and for a film ostensibly about giant talking robots they only feature in about a third of the film.
I don’t think I’ve ever had an opinion like this of any movie I’ve watched before, and I don’t think I’ll have the same opinion of any movie or watch again, but this film had too many humans in it. These movies are supposed to be about giant robots who transform into cars and fight other giant robots. But with the exception of a character named Cogman, the transformers themselves don’t feature very prominently in the film. This is the same problem that each of the films has had, but it only really makes sense in the first film.
The first Transformers needed to ground the story, meaning that it needed a device to introduce the world of Transformers to the viewers. Even I, who had been a massive Transformers fan as a child had forgotten most of the lore until the films came out. The decision to have the first Transformers film focus on humans and human stories was a smart decision, and it worked for the first film which coincidentally is the only halfway decent one of the franchise.
But The Last Knight is the fifth film in this franchise. We don’t need humans to ground this story anymore. It’s exactly the same problem that Zack Snyder’s Batman V superman had: in the eighth feature film starring Batman you do not need to show his origin story. Likewise, and the fifth feature film starring transformers you don’t need to feature humans so prominently, without a good reason.
The real problem with The Last Knight, aside from the truly incomprehensible plot, is that none of the human characters matter. Only a single character has any relation to the plot, and this role could have easily and more comprehensively been filled with a transformer.
Mark Wahlberg is under contract, and in standard Hollywood logic he would need to be the star of the film. After all, he is a huge name and therefore would be a huge box office draw. Additionally, he is cast as an everyman character, someone to which the audience can relate.
But the last thing a movie about giant transforming space robots needs is an audience substitute. As far as films go, this is one of the few films that would actually be well-suited to a director like Michael Bay. You’ve got giant space robots that turn into trucks, shoot things and cause other things to explode. Why w the film down with too much script, too many characters, and too many subplots?
The other major problem with this film, which is the same problem that every film in this franchise has had since the first one, is that there is no story continuity. These films have only a tenuous relation to each other. Each time the franchise keeps making new films the continuity has become more of a mess, and if you’re the average moviegoer that just wants to see things explode that’s fine. But for me, when the film makes such a huge error in logic it takes me right out of it.
This film at least tries to rectify some of the problems in the previous films. In the first film the reason why the Transformers are on Earth is because of the allspark had landed there, which the transformers need to rebuild their homeworld of Cybertron. As far as MacGuffins go it’s a good one: it gets the job done and explains why the transformers are on earth in an easily understandable manner. But in the second film, Revenge of The Fallen, we learned that the transformers have been coming to earth for millions of years in order to harvest energon. We also learned that one such transformer, The Fallen, rebelled against his bretheren and was injured, necessitating his escape to a random moon in our solar system where he could heal. We also learned that it was The Fallen who corrupted Megatron and caused him to start their war. Additionally, the transformers have to look for the Transformer Matrix of Leadership which has the power to revive Optimus Prime, and also can kill The Fallen… somehow. This artifact is not to be confused with a small sliver of the allspark, which also has the ability to revive dead transformers… somehow.
In Dark of the Moon we learn that Sentinel Prime created a device that will build a space bridge between two planets, and he escaped Cybertron to Earth in order to connect the bridge between the two planets. He had also made a deal with Megatron to end the war and bring Cybertron to Earth which would rebuild Cybertron… somehow.
Lastly, Age of Extinction saw the exit of most of the principal human cast from the previous films, and would have been an excellent point to have the films start focusing on transformers. In Extinction we learn that transformers killed the dinosaurs and spread an element called transformium on the planet. We also learned that the transformers’ creators want their creations back for some nefarious purposes.
In each iteration of the Transformers franchise the backstory becomes harder to follow and more convoluted. Even more confusing, Michael Bay has this insistence upon revising history to allow for transformers being on earth essentially since the beginning of time. To be honest, this is an issue with the source material itself, which has the transformers crash land on earth millions of years in the past only to be awakened in the present day.
In The Last Knight we learn that Quintessa, a CGI robot goddess with the power of mind control and tentacles, created the transformers and is alive on Cybertron. Cybertron is in several disjointed pieces, having been destroyed in Moon. Quintessa’s evil plan is to transport Cybertron to Earth, and use a magic staff to drain the life force from Earth (which is also Unicron, the planet sized transformer devil from the 1987 movie) in order to rebuild Cybertron… somehow.
Not only does this essentially negate everything that happened in Dark of the Moon, but since she spends the majority of the film in transit, it means that this film has no real villain until the latter part of the third act. Although Megatron is present, his story line and motivation are completely incomprehensible requiring evil government agents to play the part of the villains. However, when Quintessa finally arrives in the third act the humans decide that they are all good people and join the fight to save earth.
This was actually the same flaw that the first Transformers film had. Megatron didn’t show up until the third act in that film as well, needing the human government agents to play the role of villain for the first two acts, only to turn out to be good in the end as the Decepticons become the true enemy. In both instances this is sloppy writing. It’s not that having an antagonist become an antihero, or even a hero, is bad, but when this happens there needs to be some actual character development and nuance. Something that Michael Bay is completely incapable of delivering.
The real flaw with this story is that the true threat takes 2/3 of the film to even arrive, necessitating various pointless side plots that are used essentially to eat up the bulk of the movie. And, to be perfectly honest this wouldn’t be inherently bad, so long as the side plots were interesting and weren’t riddled with plot holes.
The biggest plot hole of all is derived from the title. In the prologue of the film we learned that Transformers arrived on earth sometime around King Arthur’s reign. Keep in mind that Megatron has been on earth frozen in ice for thousands of years, The Fallen is in hibernation around one of Saturn’s moons, and Sentinel Prime is slumbering safely on the darkside of the moon. Despite all of this, a group of Knights steal Quintessa’s staff and hide it on planet earth. It’s not really clear when they left Cybertron and arrive that earth, or if Quintessa had been on Cybertron all along or was somewhere else at this point. When Optimus Prime meets her he has no idea who she is, and has to be told about the staff, indicating that she likely wasn’t present on Cybertron before the civil war broke out.
In most of the films of the Transformers franchise the main characters know about the various MacGuffins, they just have to find them. This film adds the complication of Optimus Prime not even knowing about the staff, and being unwilling to retrieve it before Quintessa takes over his mind. Yet Megatron (who is actually Galvatron but has gone through another name change probably to keep things simple for the viewer) knows all about it. But nowhere in the film is it established that Megatron either already knew about the staff or has been in communication with Quintessa.
The only real reason why Megatron is searching for the staff is because otherwise there would be nothing for the Decepticons to do with the film. They certainly aren’t acting as the villains, that role is taken by the humans. They certainly don’t have any plan to save Cybertron, because that role is taken by Quintessa and Optimus Prime.
In this review I haven’t spent any real time on the humans in the story, and that is for good reason. With the exception of the one human who is capable of wielding the MacGuffin staff, every single human in this film serves absolutely no purpose. Anthony Hopkins, who is trying his best in this film, does a good job of explaining the lore and the backstory, but the backstory itself is completely inconsequential. Viviane Wembly (Laura Haddock) is the only person who can wield the staff because she is a direct descendent of Merlin. Which means of course that when Quintessa to finally gets the staff (is there any doubt that she would) it must be Viviane Who pulls it out, stopping Quintessa’s plan. Essentially this plot point is written into the film for the sole purpose of having a human save the planet. Which again would have been fine if the plot had been good.
After Anthony Hopkins collects the principal cast they spend the rest of the film on the great quest for the MacGuffin. They provide the necessary objective for the main character and help further the plot. But this one is so convoluted (a magic staff created by a previously unknown transformer goddess that will allow her to suck the energy out of the planet earth which happens also to be Unicron, while also being able to control a transformer dragon that is made up of 12 smaller transformers that can only be used by a descendent of Merlin who happens to be the world’s most attractive British woman) that I honestly could not care whether or not the humans found it.
The real problem with this movie, with all of these movies, is the same problem with all Michael Bay films: story elements are less important than getting the characters to the big explosions. And, aside from the truly awful script, it is a competently made film. The special effects are truly breathtaking, and from a technical aspect it is competently made. But the script falls prey to the same problem which the original television show succumbed. Namely that story elements and plot devices serve the purpose of introducing new characters to be made into toys.