Note: This review is light on spoilers for the first half, then dives into series mythology and plot for the latter half. It’s also very much written off-the-cuff in the hours following a Tuesday night advance screening, so if anything’s missed or factually incorrect then I’m sorry. It’s past midnight as I’m finishing this post.
I think there’s a new metric we need to apply to big action movies when it comes to reviews: value. It’s not about how much the plot touches you or how much you feel for the characters, no – these movies are about giving you the most of everything – the biggest body count, the highest scale of destruction, the most battles, the most locations, the most characters, the most effects. Measured on this scale alone, Transformers: The Last Knight represents phenomenal value for money.
The movie itself is an amazing mishmash of ideas, and the pace is all over the place for the first hour. Once the action shifts to England and the exposition behind, things get interesting enough that you completely forget that the franchise’s main draw card is actually notably absent.
Considering that the franchise is built on the idea of warring alien robots and originated as a vehicle for toy sales, there’s an interesting amount of character work going on in the fifth installment. We’ve gotten over the fact that these robots sound like actors we know and (sometimes) love and we just roll with it; we let them have their scene and say their piece and let their character have a wisecrack.
Special mention has to go to Jim Carter, best known to us from Downton Abbey who, as Cogman, clearly has the most voiceover work in the whole film by a clear margin. Cogman is a hyperactive overprotective sociopath and always has to get the last word in. He steals most scenes he’s in bare he’s given the best lines. If you’re drawing a comparison to other franchises then the comedic support calls to mind Guardians of the Galaxy but he’s way more Rocket than Groot.
There’s no big change to the Autobot cast, but a bunch of new Decepticons are brought in. That’s fair enough given try were largely absent from the previous movie. There’s a weird scene that introduces a group of them by giving them quick scenes and quips – complete with a freeze frame and onscreen name overlay – that mainly serve as canon fodder to be dispatched over the course of the film. It feels like Bay thought Suicide Squad wouldn’t be the massive flop that it was, and decided he had to ape that style just for that sequence.
It’s not so bad, though – each of the bots gets a little character moment and gets to elicit a little chuckle from the audience, including one that’s an obvious reference to another film starring Anthony Hopkins.
The humans in the movie are mostly there for the sake of moving the plot forward and intrinsically linking human and Transformer mythology in the “Bayverse” movies once and for all.
Wahlberg as the series’ returning leading man is at the centre of the plot and acquits himself well, but sometimes feels more like he’s playing his character from Ted rather than the Cade Yeager who picked up an alien gun and joined the battle with it in the last movie.
Yeager’s given a more central part of Transformers mythology in this episode and inserts himself into Transformers fights in ways that will make you astonished he hasn’t been squashed, smeared or otherwise torn limb from limb.
There’s a bit of an imbalance in the female lead fishnet as well. Previews and press tours would have us all believe that Moner’s character plays a huge role in the movie yet it’s Haddock’s character that holds more of the focus of the plot. Haddock’s character also sees an amusing callback to a past movie protagonist in a way that got chuckles from the advance screening audience.
Hopkins has publicly said that he didn’t really get much of a sense of the plot of the movie from his scenes, and that might be because his character is actually legitimately barking mad … or “eccentric”, as you might say. His delivery sometimes seems a little lackadaisical, but he’s there to deliver plot points in an amusing way and he gets to deliver some of the film’s more amusing lines.
All three do their jobs just fine. They turn up, say their lines, crack a joke and hold a bit of screen time until the robots come back to fight.
It’s nice to see old characters (Lenox, Simmons, Morshower) return too, though with many of them absent during the events of Age of Extinction they’re returning to a franchise that’s in a very different place plotwise than when they left it.
Humour plays a larger role in the film than you’d expect, especially in the case of one particular character who steals the show but has been lately absent from the publicity materials. There are some reasonable chuckles to be had in the early parts of the film as characters bounce off one another, including an unexpected moment of levity in the middle of a history lesson that, while amusing, is lingered on a tad too long.
The Last Knight features more effects than any other film in the franchise. Daylight battles, undersea adventures, planetary-scale destruction all feature alongside intimate moments and downtime exploits in Yeager’s scrap yard. Industrial Light and Magic has vastly improved its Transformers rendering capacity if you look back to the first movie just 10 years ago.
For all the over the top fight scenes, military porn, Transformers action, weirdo humans and fight choreography though, the movie actually makes a genuine attempt to reach out to old fans who feel disenfranchised by the series and left them know the writers haven’t forgotten the series’ roots. For the first time, some major names from the original “Generation 1” series mythology makes it to the big screen, and the writers aren’t afraid to mine some of the ideas established in Transformers TV series old and new.
I gave up being upset about Transformers movies with Age of Extinction. I’m just along for the ride now.
The movies take established Transformers concepts and tropes and put them on the big screen and offer their own interpretation of them. For a franchise that’s about alien life forms that can alter their appearance at will, there sure is a lot of resistance to change in the fan base.
I can’t say that The Last Knight is a great movie, but the amount of fan service on offer represents an attempt to connect to a wider audience of fans of the franchise instead of fans of the movie series. The writing is a step up from previous efforts and of course, Bay delivers based purely on sheer value (addressed above). On that point it’s perhaps the easiest movie of the franchise to tolerate. If that sounds like damning it with faint praise, that’s not the intention – I definitely enjoyed and had a good time with the movie (and thats the first time I’ve said that about a Bayverse Transformers film).
Let’s get into spoiler territory then.
If you haven’t seen The Last Knight, you’ll want to scroll on. Mythology and speculation awaits you below.
The literal “big one” is here – Unicron, the chaos bringer whose name is whispered in Transformers fan circles in relation to the Bay movies, is most certainly in the movie and all of Bay’s assertions that he’s not in the film are utter, utter lies. Except they’re not. Unicron is namedropped, referenced in ancient texts, and seen… Well, parts of him are. But he’s dormant, so isn’t REALLY seen.
Unicron is Earth, and there’s six horns across the globe in locations that could have formed his trademark giant gaping maw when our planet was formed and the original Pangea supercontinent landmass was intact. This is similar to the idea established in the Transformers Prime TV series a few years ago, and the six horns threw us off the scent fit a while.. It’s not a bad way to go – it means our heroes can’t just blow up the bad guy, as doing so would destroy our planet.
Cybertron – which seems able to move of its own accord – and Unicron share a history. Cybertron’s advance is the trigger for Unicron’s horns rising from the Earth, and one planet seems destined to suck the life force from the other. With Cybertron seemingly restored by the end of the movie, from a fan perspective, it will be interesting to see where they take this.
While Quintessa is the villain of the piece, her desire to destroy Unicron puts her at odds with fans’ perception of the Cybertron-Unicron-Autobot-Decepticon playing field. There’s an unrevealed motivation here.
Quintessa is something of a mystery. She claims to be the “Prime of Life”, but that might put her at odds with what we know of the Primes as told in Revenge of the Fallen. She was betrayed by the Knights of Cybertron (who call her “the deceiver” and stole her staff and gifted it to Merlin.
The Earth mythology bears some delving into as well. In Prime’s absence, the situation on Earth has devolved into war between the humans and Transformers as well as the ongoing war between the Autobots and the Decepticons. Where humanity started to fight the Transformers, the TRF (whose acronym isn’t actually explained) takes on the role of judge jury and executioner, declaring Transformers illegal and going after them all with extreme prejudice.
As for faction recognition, Posters of Optimus Prime and Bumblebee adorned with “ENEMY” & “ALIEN” captions adorn buildings in the quarantined urban warzone in the first act of the film. We can see that humans definitely know the difference between Autobots and Decepticons as evidenced by Lennox and Morshower plotting in secret to aid the Autobots and Yeager, but many in the TRF don’t seem to care.
They might care even less after Cybertron’s dredged compete cities off the face of the planet andv seems happily parked in our orbit by the end of the film.
It’s not exactly evident on first watch just what leads them to ally themselves with Megatron, in fact, and the use of Onslaught’s name as a character in the film didn’t herald the big screen arrival of the Combaticons.
It’s great to hear Welker finally given a lot to do as the rightful voice of Megatron on the big screen. His Megatron gets to deliver some classic lines (“Decepticons, retreat!”) and gets to metaphorically stab Prime in the back at a critical juncture. What more could you want from the classic robovillain?
New characters, then?
Hot Rod has the coolest weapon yet seen in the franchise, but is saddled with a French accent for no good reason. That’s forgiven instantly when it’s explained that he likes it. He’s not given a lot to do in the resulting melee, but he’s there in the thick of it and there’s a Hot Rod / Bumblebee Nazi Germany tale to be told in some kind of future spinoff / throwback. It might be fun, maybe it’ll figure into 2018’s Bumblebee movie.
Cogman is probably the most fun character the franchise has introduced in years. While he’s first introduced as a stoic butler-like character we soon discover he can drop much larger bots then himself and is in fact a Headmaster, although the concept is never actually explored in the movie. He’s a bundle of energy during the London scenes and, with Hopkins, provides a lot of comic relief and yet proves himself to be a dedicated fighter at sea. He’s retired to his dedicated and proper butler status as we say farewell to Hopkins at Stonehenge.
We all know Sqweeks’ role. He’s the cute character that is meant to appeal to the kids in the R2D2 sense. He’s likely to sell lots of figures and merchandise, and can only say “chihuahua” for some reason … until it’s important, when he manages to drop an f-bomb. The character is largely inconsequential though.
The Last Knight, by accident, is Cade himself. The movie manages to explain the Cybertronian technology seen under his sleeve on the poster without making the character a stealth Cybertronian, which should please many. It’s the arrival of the actual last knight on Earth that kicks off the movie’s plot.
Unexpectedly, we even got a namedrop for Nemesis Prime in the movie. Optimus’ evil, possessed outing at Quintessa’s hands really only lasts a single scene despite being foreshadowed for much of the first half of the movie.
It’s Bumblebee, whose real voice is heard for the first time (& then devolves back into his typical pop culture remix) that brings Optimus back from the dark side, leaving you wondering what the point of Nemesis Prime was at all.
This definitely isn’t the end for the mainline Transformers franchise. We’re in for two years of Transformers, but the presence of Quintessa on Earth at the end of the film continuing to move against Unicron (who may be continuing to manifest since Cybertron is still in Earth’s orbit) promises there’s more to come. She’s still going to have to show us how to defeat him, too…