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Transformers: The Last Knight movie review - A rusty, rotting heap of scrap metal

Transformers The Last Knight movie review: Director Michael Bay returns for the fifth time, and Mark Wahlberg for the second, to pound your brain into a pulp with wall-to-wall cacophony.

movie reviews Updated: Jun 30, 2017 12:35 IST
Rohan Naahar
Transformers: The Last Knight, the fifth in this series of films in which giant robots decapitate, sever, and butcher each other in the most violent manner, will be the acid test for fans.
Transformers: The Last Knight, the fifth in this series of films in which giant robots decapitate, sever, and butcher each other in the most violent manner, will be the acid test for fans.

Transformers: The Last Knight
Director - Michael Bay
Cast - Mark Wahlberg, Laura Haddock, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Duhamel, Stanley Tucci, John Goodman
Rating - 1.5/5

There is no worse treatment a movie fan could be subjected to than being made to feel guilty for liking a movie. Millions of fans of the Transformers saga would agree. How often have we been ridiculed for sticking by director Michael Bay’s most extravagant whims, despite knowing, deep down, that his movies were only getting worse. How often have we had to defend his almost fetishistic abuse of pyrotechnics, his blatant sexism, the occasional racism, and that ever-inflating ego which he represents so well in his art…

Transformers: The Last Knight, the fifth in this series of films in which giant robots decapitate, sever, and butcher each other in the most violent manner, will be the acid test for fans. It will either be the moment when you slip into full-blown denial, willingly ignoring everything that is wrong with these movies (and with yourself), or, it will be the moment you finally snap out of it (as I have).

Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, foreground, in a scene from Transformers: The Last Knight. (AP)

Full disclosure: It is my opinion that the first Transformers film is a modern action classic, endlessly re-watchable, and filled with memorable characters and moments. It is Michael Bay at his best. I even wrote a long defence of the movie, arguing that it was an excellent example of the sort of film it was, a coming-of-age story disguised, like its hulking heroes, as an action blockbuster.

The Last Knight is everything the first movie wasn’t. It is the evil, gloating Megatron to that film’s earnest Optimus Prime. It represents the worst, most self-indulgent, most conceited corners of Michael Bay’s personality, and is, despite not being the worst of the lot (that honour still belongs to Age of Extinction), a monumentally overblown film that constantly threatens to crumble under its own weight – much like an ancient building with a wobbly foundation upon which new floors are illegally added every year.

When it all comes crashing down, it will take the neighbourhood with it.

Bumblebee, top, fighting off a Sentinel in a scene from Transformers: The Last Knight. (AP)

Its story picks up soon after the events of Age of Extinction, which, to everyone’s surprise, made us miss Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox, who were – and I maintain – the best parts about the Transformers movies in the first place. But now, after causing more destruction to the planet than even the humans had managed in their thousands of years pillaging its resources, the Transformers have, in the absence of their leader Optimus Prime, once again become the enemy.

The world has seemingly turned into the United Nations of Donald Trump, where no immigrants are allowed in, and those that do manage to jump over the wall (or, in this case, crash land in burning fireballs from the sky into important landmarks), are hunted by the Transformer Reaction Force. The TRF is a multinational militia of sorts whose only purpose is to locate and destroy stray Transformers – without determining whether or not they’re the heroic Autobots or the villainous Decepticons.

Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeager in a scene from Transformers: The Last Knight. (AP)

And Cade Yaeger, played for the second time by Mark Wahlberg, has made it his life’s mission to protect the aliens. There is also a labyrinthine subplot involving King Arthur (how unkind has the summer of 2017 been to him, am I right?), Merlin the Wizard, and a bemused Anthony Hopkins, who, in one memorable moment that will no doubt cause much second-hand embarrassment on his behalf, utters the words, “That’s a bitchin’ car”.

So much happens in this movie, and yet, we get nowhere. It is a film in perpetual motion; new characters are introduced, and swiftly sidelined; there is, for the second time in the series, after the third film Dark of the Moon, a mini Coen Brothers reunion in the cast; the story spans thousands of years, but it feels like millions; and scenes cut - and not transition - to next one without a firm idea of where the story is headed. Often, it seems, the end goal is only to arrive at the next great action set-piece. The characters – the living ones, at least – are just stepping stones, crushed under the giant robots’ weight.

It took six human beings to edit together this heap of rusty scrap metal into a whole, possibly with hammers and screws. It took four people to write it, and thousands to composite its undeniably magnificent special effects, and yet, the one man whose job it was to bring it all together, was busy flexing his muscles and smouldering at his own reflection in the mirror. Michael Bay earned a paycheck, as did the rest of his cast. And there is no more to this story than meets the eye.

Laura Haddock as Viviane, left, and Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeager in a scene from Transformers: The Last Knight. (AP)

The Transformers universe is lush, and filled with lore, just waiting for a talented storyteller to come and play with all the toys – just as it was first intended. But Bay is satisfied with repainting an old chassis in glossy new colours, he is happy taking state-of-the-art tech (in this case, revolutionary IMAX 3D cameras), and cranking out the same, tired stories, populated with the same stock characters – the feisty female, the racist robots, the man destined to save the planet, and, of course, this series’ Death Star, Megatron.

Now, it is up to them to win us back. No more free passes. No more passionate arguments against strangers. Shamefully, we have now arrived at a time when we must hide our true colours, for fear of being mocked, for being made to feel guilty. Here’s hoping that we wear them with pride sooner rather than later.

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The author tweets @RohanNaahar