Michael Bay’s time with the Transformers franchise has to end. There can be no more changing of the mind, and Paramount has to let him go, now and forever. He has completely overstayed his welcome, and if there is no other takeaway from the newest giant transforming robot film, Transformers: The Last Knight, it is that.
Even with an outlandish, nonsensical plot that begins in “the dark ages” with Stanley Tucci burning off the rest of his Transformers film contract by playing a drunken Merlin — yes, THAT Merlin — in a ridiculous beard and spewing lines better meant for a comedy spoof than a sci-fi action blockbuster, and so much retconning that this might as well be a reboot, as essentially any history established in the four previous films is wiped away without a second thought so Bay can finally tell a Arthurian story, The Last Knight is, by far, the biggest mess of any of the Transformers films.
Transformers: The Last Knight begins in the time of King Arthur, and establishes that Merlin made a deal with a group of Cybertronian warriors to gain their power to turn the tide in a battle between Arthur and the Saxons. The Knights of Cybertron (which are actual Transformers comic book canon) give Merlin a staff that allows him to control a giant, robotic, three-headed dragon, a gestalt of the knights themselves. This staff becomes an item of great importance, and is the MacGuffin that all of the major characters are seeking throughout the film for reasons that barely make sense.
When we get back to present day, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) is still gone, having flown off into space at the end of 2014’s Age of Extinction to meet his maker — literally. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) and the remaining Autobots, including Bumblebee (Erik Aadahl), Hound (John Goodman), Drift (Ken Watanabe), Crosshairs (John DiMaggio), and Grimlock are in hiding, as the world is now hunting them — Autobots and Decepticons — openly.
And more and more Cybertronians keep falling to Earth, complicating things. When another bot drop occurs in Chicago (as if this city hasn’t been through enough), Cade rushes to recover him, meeting a young orphaned girl named Izabella (Isabela Moner) and her personal Autobot, Squeeks. Cade finds the crashed pod and discovers another Knight of Cybertron, who is damaged and dying. This knight gives Cade a medallion that ends up bonding with Cade’s skin, but that plot point is forgotten until sometime in the third act.
I’m not even sure I can explain the background plot of Transformers: The Last Knight, as I’m not even sure I comprehended it all. Anthony Hopkins plays Sir Edmund Burton, a guardian of the secret history of Transformers on earth. His organization is the Order of Witwiccans, of which Sam Witwicky, Shia LeBeouf’s character in the first three films, was the last. Harriet Tubman, Winston Churchill, and Frederick Douglas are also members of this group. Seriously. The Witwiccans have been waiting for the last decedent of Merlin to appear to take ownership of the staff given to Arthur’s magician to save the world from destruction, as Earth is not really Earth, but goes by another name — one so steeped in Transformers lore that the revelation made me so angry that I wanted to walk out then and there.
Across the galaxy (I guess, by now, Cybertron seems to be a few miles away from Mars, as characters seem to come and go as they please), Prime lands on his homeworld and confronts Quintessa (Gemma Chan), the creator of all Cybertronians (who are now retconned to actually be called “Transformers” as the name of their race). Quintessa, recruits Prime to go find the staff so she can rebuild Cybertron, because it has that power, apparently, and Optimus Prime not only changes allegiances, but he changes names; he adopts the name Nemesis Prime.
Back on Earth — or that other name — Megatron (Frank Welker, probably the one bright spot for true, long time TF fans), who is back with zero explanation, after being killed and dismembered by Optimus Prime in Dark of the Moon, makes a deal with the TRF, the Transformer-hunting human force that includes Lennox (Josh Duhamel). Megatron will help them find and kill the Autobots, as long as the humans release his captured soldiers. I am very well aware that none of this makes any sense, but it must be highlighted to fully explain why Transformers: The Last Knight is as non-sensical as it is.
Cade is summoned to London by Sir Edmund, who also recruits an Oxford professor named Vivian (Laura Haddock) and tasks both humans with a DaVinci Code-like quest to find the staff, while staying a step ahead of the TRF and the Decepticons, all the while the rest of the world is falling apart, as huge metallic horns seem to be protruding out of the Earth’s crust all over the planet.
The third act has Vivian and Cade find the staff, Nemesis Prime come back to Earth to beat the shit out of Bumblebee, only stopping after Bumblebee is able to tell him to stop with his own voice — an issue that the Autobot scout has dealt with since before the first film, only to have the voice go away in the very next scene, and then Cybertron collides with Earth, as the Autobots and the TRF have to join forces against Megatron and Quintessa and… and… I just can’t go on. Things blow up, Michael Bay shoots the humans from slow motion low angles, Wahlberg’s Cade Yeager does things that no human can do, and Quintessa is stopped and the planet is saved.
Transformers: The Last Knight, if it is the last Bay Transformers film, leaves no idea on the cork board. The script by Art Marcum, Matt Holloway, and Ken Nolan, based off a story by the three and Akiva Goldsman, just throws everything at the audience, and Michael Bay seems all too eager to use it all. Arthurian legends, iconic Transformers lore, Autobots fighting Nazis in WWII, a psychotic C-3PO-like butler named Cogman (Jim Carter), and a world-spanning chase that even involves a submarine battle, a romantic fish dinner in the middle of the chaos, and Steve Buscemi as a shady Autobot parts dealer all get screen time here, whether they make any sense to the plot or not.
I can keep shoveling the dirt on this film, but I’m not sure I can completely bury it. As the events played out on screen, there were fans in my screening cheering and whooping and hollering at the big notes, meaning that this film, like the films before it, will probably make bank at the box office and another Transformers film will be upon us in a few years, this time with another director and yet another retconned story, and longtime fans will be left scratching their heads as to why Hasbro would let anyone do this to one of their most prolific — and profitable — IPs over and over and over.
For now, we can celebrate that Michael Bay is leaving the franchise, and taking Mark Wahlberg with him. The last two films have done more damage collectively to the Transformers mythos than Revenge of the Fallen and Devastator’s testicles. Transformers: The Last Knight is a swan song of a franchise that was basically stillborn creatively since 2007’s first film. In many ways, it’s fitting that this is how it would play out. What began as a simple story about a boy and his car has turned into bloated, mystifyingly awful film franchise that has taken a hot steamy dump on my childhood, and the collective childhoods of my generation. The fans deserve better than this, and Hasbro, Paramount, Steven Spielberg, and certainly Michael Bay should all be ashamed of what they did to this wonderful and unique property.
Primus help us all. Michael Bay is gone. The franchise is in shambles, and maybe, just maybe, it can be saved. If the Transformers franchise has taught us anything in the last 33 years, it’s that hope comes in the darkest times. And these are very dark times for the Transformers property. It’s time to open the Matrix. It’s time to light the way. ‘Til all are one.
Transformers: The Last Knight is rated PG-13 and is in theaters now.
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