Thursday, June 22, 2017


One of the oldest axioms in storytelling and filmmaking is that the higher the concept, the simpler the story must be. This is done to keep the audience engaged, interested, and grounded when the elements are not of this earth. In the universe of the TRANSFORMERS, where giant alien robots who turn into vehicles are battling for supremacy or freedom of the human race, simplicity is key. But don’t tell that to director Michael Bay and his team of writers in the 5th entry in the adaptation of the Hasbro toy line, sub-titled THE LAST KNIGHT.

Humans are at war with the Transformers; both the heroic Autobots and the evil Decepticons. The Autobot leader Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen), is in deep space searching for his maker, while the remaining robots on Earth remain in hiding. Helping the Autobots along is Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), who finds a talisman from the dark ages which can lead to Merlin’s Staff, which can unlock a terrible power underneath the Earth which can wipe out humanity. In a race to the Staff, Yeager is joined by an old professor (Anthony Hopkins), a young professor (Laura Haddock), an orphaned girl (Isabela Moner), and the military leader against the aliens (Josh Duhamel).

Find the staff, save the world. The story could not be simpler in this sci-fi fantasy flick where robots from space battle among us with historical ties to the Knights of the Round Table, World Wars, Stonehenge, and the Super Continent which eventually formed our planet. The concept is as far out there as another galaxy; Merlin (played by Stanley Tucci), was a real guy who received his staff (mistaken for magic back then), by ancient Decepticons, and the Transformers have been among us for decades assisting in WWII and other global conflicts. It borders on ridiculous at times, and steps are taken to make it believable, and THE LAST KNIGHT sets itself up as a grand, sci-fi and fantasy war tale.

There’s a lot going in the film, including Yeager and his new companions having ancient blood-line ties to everything (a bit contrived), and THE LAST KNIGHT gets bogged down in a hurry. There’s way too much plot, and the film has to get through it all with endless explanations after explanations when we’d rather see robots punching each other. The narrative eventually gets so confusing a road map is needed, and things get so plot-heavy that even characters are shoved aside; too many are introduced and forgotten about too quickly.

While Bay is dishing out a soup sandwich of a story, he’s filming one gorgeous looking movie. Every frame is filled and stunning, and the battles are a lot of fun, with the scenes in the dark ages a real highlight. But there are still a lot of head-scratching decisions happening. Hero-bot Optimus Prime vanishes from the story way too often, and even though he gets some huge moments worthy of applause, it doesn’t seem like he was well utilized and it’s easy to feel cheated. On the technical side, the film is an editing disaster. There are many odd cuts, breaks in continuity (Yeager acquires an ancient weapon which vanishes and never spoken of again), and sections of the film feel like they’re missing. But worse of all is the goddamn screen format. THE LAST KNIGHT was shot in two different screen formats; widescreen and IMAX. We’ve seen this before with many films going from one sequence to another, but Bay switches formats between cuts within a scene. It’s distracting and jarring and absolutely bizarre to witness, and very odd for a Bay film which at the very least is technically proficient.

With such a large cast, there are no real standouts. Mark Wahlberg is fine, as is the always-great Anthony Hopkins. Young Isabella Moner is a true find, and Josh Duhamel continues to play a great military man. John Turturro shows up in a pointless cameo. The voices of the many robots are provided by John Goodman, Ken Watanabe, Gemma Chan, and Jean Dujardin, to name a few…and all are perfect.

Similar to its predecessors, the final battle is eye-popping and done on a grand, magnificent scale, and then halts abruptly and we’re in the closing credits before we can process what the hell just happened. There are so many issues to speak of it’s hard to blame any one thing; the overstuffed script points towards indecision (not to mention seven credited contributors to the script and story), and the editing issues makes one wonder what was going on during shooting and in the editing room. The ambition behind the history-altering story is admirable, but the presentation is messy and confusing, and brevity is sorely lacking. Save this one for the car-crusher.


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