Skip to main content

What happens in the alien spaceship, stays in the alien spaceship.

Transformers: The Last Knight
(2017)

(SPOILERS) Why do I watch these things? Because I’m an idiot, most probably. This is such an almost surreally odd movie series, attempting to overlay character arcs and motivation, mysticism and religiosity, on a range of Hasbro toys, that part of me would almost like it to succeed. Unfortunately – except perhaps during its first outing – it’s only ever bungling in its application of these ideas and entirely indifferent to its characters, an eye on other franchises (not least Star Wars and The Lord of the Rings) for “mythic” import married to an ultra-juvenile grasp of humour laced with unseemly sexism. Step forward Michael Bay, the Hollywood director out to prove the ‘80s never died. Transformers: The Last Knight may well be the end of the line for his decade-long association with the series, though, even if it isn’t the end of the series itself.


Because spin-off Bumblebee’s out next year, and somehow, a seventh Transformers is still on the schedule for 2019, despite the autobottom having fallen out of the market between 2014’s Age of Extinction and this ($500m less box office worldwide is fairly substantial, even for a series whose last two entries both made $1bn+). Paramount, desperate for some – any – self-perpetuating movie series, may have to shape up and face facts. After all, Universal has shuttered its Dark Universe due to the negative cost-reward on The Mummy, and if the stats Deadline Hollywood estimated for Age of Extinction are anything to go by, The Last Knight will be lucky to break even.


I’m only surprised the well hadn’t run dry before this (a similar thing happened with Fox running Ice Age into the ground last year, albeit that series wasn’t nearly as expensive). Bay and his team of writers (the hack’s hack Akiva Goldsman, Matt Holloway, Ken Nolan and Art Marcum) come up with an at least arrestingly screw-loose conceit – a group of Transformers hid out on Earth way back when, offering their services to Merlin and the Knights of the Round Table – but then do nothing much with it. Once the prologue is dispensed with and we flash forward 1600 years, we lose the main vaguely entertaining element of the picture, Stanley Tucci’s Merlin (even if his dialogue stinks: “God, I’m sozzled”). Tucci, in a different role, was the only genuinely worthwhile part of Age of Extinction, but he’s in this one for a fraction of the time and delivers only a fraction of the yuks (John Turturro also returns, but again, he’s barely there).


The plot is a virtually incomprehensible mishmash of Arthurian tropes, apocalyptic angst and English heritage (Mark Wahlberg returns as the absurdly named Cade Yeager, discovering he is the Last Knight of Iacon; Laura Haddock’s equally dafflily monickered Viviene Wembly, Professor of English Literature at Oxford but looking for all the world like the latest passenger boarding Bay’s Victoria’s Secret Express, is Merlin’s last descendant; Unicron – Cybertron’s ancient enemy, actually the Earth, no less – can be accessed via Stonehenge), vying for attention with the usual Bay onset combustion and puerility. There’s a subplot in which Optimus Prime is brainwashed by Transformers “creator” Quintessa (who resembles something out of Species) and then gets tiresomely self-flagellating about being a bastard under the influence, but really, it’s a fool’s errand to try to make anything coherent out of any of this. The robots are mostly either dull or stupid and the humans mostly likewise. But, while I’d in no measure suggest persevering with the movie, there are a couple of exceptions.


Sqweek, a cross between the droids in The Black Hole and Earth to Echo, at least has a wacky/cute personality. Jim Carter’s Cogman is a polite but belligerent humanoid robot, one who hams it up on the organ to “make the moment more epic” and serves Sir Ant’s Sir Edmund Burton. Yes, Ant is in this, quite why only his bank manager knows. Mark Wahlberg gets insulted quite a lot, by both Cogman and Vivian, which has some limited potential, but not enough. And that’s about it. On the more disturbing side, anyone keeping a track of Bay’s dubious record for lusting after minors (Age of Extinction’s Romeo and Juliet law) will be yet more concerned by his overt sexualisation of fifteen-year-old Isabela Moner.


Transformers: The Last Knight, in trying to ape any franchise teasing a future instalment, sets up Transformers 7 with Quintessa on Earth and in human form. I guess I vaguely wonder what this series will look like without Bay calling the shots (like Pacific Rim Uprising, probably, which is not good). He may be thunderingly inveterate in his mullet-headed machismo, but he’s also a master when it comes to photo-real effects work. It’s just a shame it’s put to such instantly disposable use when any number of big studio movies are churning out substandard SFX week in, week out. Who knows, Travis Knight may bring something of the sensibility of Laika studios to Bumblebee (who we now know was actively involved in defeating the Nazi menace in WWII). It might be a great movie that unlocks the secret potential of a cinematic Transformers…. Nah.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

We’re not owners here, Karen. We’re just passing through.

Out of Africa (1985)
I did not warm to Out of Africa on my initial viewing, which would probably have been a few years after its theatrical release. It was exactly as the publicity warned, said my cynical side; a shallow-yet-bloated, awards-baiting epic romance. This was little more than a well-dressed period chick flick, the allure of which was easily explained by its lovingly photographed exotic vistas and Robert Redford rehearsing a soothing Timotei advert on Meryl Streep’s distressed locks. That it took Best Picture only seemed like confirmation of it as all-surface and no substance. So, on revisiting the film, I was curious to see if my tastes had “matured” or if it deserved that dismissal. 

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

Life is like a box of timelines. You feel me?

Russian Doll Season One
(SPOILERS) It feels like loading the dice to proclaim something necessarily better because it’s female-driven, but that’s the tack The Hollywood Reporter took with its effusive review of Russian Doll, suggesting “although Nadia goes on a similar journey of self-discovery to Bill Murray’s hackneyed reporter in Groundhog Day, the fact that the show was created, written by and stars women means that it offers up a different, less exploitative and far more thoughtful angle” (than the predominately male-centric entries in the sub-genre). Which rather sounds like Rosie Knight changing the facts to fit her argument. And ironic, given star Natasha Lyonne has gone out of her way to stress the show’s inclusive message. Russian Dollis good, but the suggestion that “unlike its predecessors (it) provides a thoughtfulness, authenticity and honesty which makes it inevitable end (sic) all the more powerful” is cobblers.

Mountains are old, but they're still green.

Roma (2018)
(SPOILERS) Roma is a critics' darling and a shoe-in for Best Foreign Film Oscar, with the potential to take the big prize to boot, but it left me profoundly indifferent, its elusive majesty remaining determinedly out of reach. Perhaps that's down to generally spurning autobiographical nostalgia fests – complete with 65mm widescreen black and white, so it's quite clear to viewers that the director’s childhood reverie equates to the classics of old – or maybe the elliptical characterisation just didn't grab me, but Alfonso Cuarón's latest amounts to little more than a sliver of substance beneath all that style.

Even after a stake was driven through its heart, there’s still interest.

Prediction 2019 Oscars
Shockingly, as in I’m usually much further behind, I’ve missed out on only one of this year’s Best Picture nominees– Vice isn’t yet my vice, it seems – in what is being suggested, with some justification, as a difficult year to call. That might make for must-see appeal, if anyone actually cared about the movies jostling for pole position. If it were between Black Panther and Bohemian Rhapsody (if they were even sufficiently up to snuff to deserve a nod in the first place), there might be a strange fascination, but Joe Public don’t care about Roma, underlined by it being on Netflix and stillconspicuously avoided by subscribers (if it were otherwise, they’d be crowing about viewing figures; it’s no Bird Box, that’s for sure).

We’re looking for a bug no one’s seen before. Some kind of smart bug.

Starship Troopers (1997)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi trio of Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers are frequently claimed to be unrivalled in their genre, but it’s really only the first of them that entirely attains that rarefied level. Discussion and praise of Starship Troopers is generally prefaced by noting that great swathes of people – including critics and cast members – were too stupid to realise it was a satire. This is a bit of a Fight Club one, certainly for anyone from the UK (Verhoeven commented “The English got it though. I remember coming out of Heathrow and seeing the posters, which were great. They were just stupid lines about war from the movie. I thought, ‘Finally someone knows how to promote this.’”) who needed no kind of steer to recognise what the director was doing. And what he does, he does splendidly, even if, at times, I’m not sure he entirely sustains a 129-minute movie, since, while both camp and OTT, Starship Troopers is simultaneously required t…

If you could just tell me what those eyes have seen.

Alita: Battle Angel (2019)
(SPOILERS) Robert Rodriguez’ film of James Cameron’s at-one-stage-planned film of Yukito Kishiro’s manga Gunnm on the one hand doesn’t feel overly like a Rodriguez film, in that it’s quite polished, so certainly not of the sort he’s been making of late – definitely a plus – but on the other, it doesn’t feel particularly like a Jimbo flick either. What it does well, it mostly does very well – the action, despite being as thoroughly steeped in CGI as Avatar – but many of its other elements, from plotting to character to romance, are patchy or generic at best. Despite that, there’s something likeable about the whole ludicrously expensive enterprise that is Alita: Battle Angel, a willingness to be its own kind of distinctive misfit misfire.

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.