Humans are at war with the Transformers, and Optimus Prime is gone. The key to saving the future lies buried in the secrets of the past and the hidden history of Transformers on Earth. Now, it’s up to the unlikely alliance of inventor Cade Yeager, Bumblebee, an English lord and an Oxford professor to save the world.
This feels like one of those reviews which I should preface by saying I’ve watched every film in this franchise. I’ve enjoyed many of them for the films they are. Loud, brash and utterly thoughtless a Transformers film is pure escapist fun.
Transformers: The Last Knight however loud and brash that it might be is sadly nowhere near the fun ride of its predecessors. One could argue that now I’ve reached my 30s perhaps I’ve grown out of what makes this franchise fun. I would argue that this pushes those things to such extremes that it forgets the baser elements which make it watchable.
This film seemingly boasts the most lead roles of any in the franchise history and it shows. There are just too many people to keep track of. Much of the films first act feels like a series of disjointed scenes which could each of been their own film. From the kids in Chicago, to Cade Yeager, to meeting new characters played by Sir Anthony Hopkins and Laura Haddock it’s all too much. Of course there is also the reintroduction of Lennox (Josh Duhamel) who returns for his first film since Dark of the Moon.
There are also 35 to 40 Transformers between the Autobots, Decepticons, Dinobots, Knights of Iacon and others. That’s a lot of characters for one film to handle in a fairly standard runtime.
It’s no surprise that Transformers: The Last Knight runs to over two-and-a-half hours. It is worth noting its shorter than the previous film but feels so much longer. Whilst action sequences remain huge in scope and filled with explosions there is a lot more talking to do here.
Sir Anthony Hopkins is thankfully given the lions share of the monologuing. Nonsensical as it is he does at least bring some form of narrative to the chaotic proceedings. There’s a loose storyline around a spear infused with energy from Cybertron which was given to Merlin during the time of King Arthur. Transformer demi-goddess Quintessa needs the spear to bring Cybertron back from ruins.
It’s a strange mishmash of previous storylines. Another artefact which becomes the reason the Autobots arrived on Earth. Another mission to bring Cybertron back from ruins which sends it on a collision course with Earth. Nothing feels fresh here. The only new aspects are the window dressing which try to mask the musty smell of movies past.
Additional elements such as flashbacks to King Arthur and World War 2 try to contextualise the story and flesh out the universe. Sadly they fall flat because there’s very little depth to these moments. They’re really just throwaway moments which only complicate the story more.
Overall the story could easily have been condensed down in to a 90 minute film had all the fat been trimmed. What is glaringly obvious whilst watching this film is a tug-of-war behind the scenes between refocussing the franchise on character over bigger and more explosions.
Perhaps the most annoying aspect of Transformers: The Last Knight is its aspect ratio. In an age of more accessible IMAX technology movie goers are getting used to shifting aspect ratios. But most films don’t have the fast paced cutting of a Transformers film. The King Arthur sequence alone shifts aspect ratio between each and every shot. Jumping from IMAX to letterboxed and back at the drop of a hat. A character looks to camera in IMAX, turns over their shoulder and they’re letterboxed before jumping in to an IMAX closeup. It’s nauseating.
Many fans have complained on social media about how jarring the jumps are and it’s no over exaggeration. It’s near constant throughout the film. I commend the production team for shooting so much on IMAX format but with so much non-IMAX footage it makes the editing choices much more obvious.
As expected the CGI is impeccable… for much of the film. Say what you will about Transformers but the franchise really pushes the boundaries in what can be done with computer imagery. This film is no different aside from one difference. The character of Cogsworth appears to be animated differently to all the other Transformers. There are moments where he integrates well with the environment but many of his scenes he feels more like something from a computer game. He often stands out as looking the most fake of all the CGI characters.
Steve Jablonsky once again returns to provide the score. It’s typically epic but in keeping with the rest of the film franchise fatigue has set in. There are moments in the score of the last two films which really lifted it from the doldrums. Here Jablonsky’s trademark string arrangements fall somewhat flat though never to the point of distraction.
Transformers: The Last Knight is sadly a huge miss for the franchise. Less watchable and more convoluted than any previous entry it gets bogged down in a muddled plot and at times sub-par CGI. It’s never quite an outright disaster though this is the first time in the history of the franchise I’ve seen moviegoers walk out of the cinema throughout a film.