June has been a rough month. I had to give “The Mummy” an extra long golden shower and kick “Rough Night” out of bed for eating crackers. Knowing the fifth “Transformers” film was on the cinematic horizon made me a little uneasy.
Michael Bay films are traditionally terrible—the kind of awful that produces a palpable dread whenever he infects the pop culture circulatory system with diseased narratives. I’m not sure what mortal sin we committed to be cursed with five terrible Michael Bay “Transformers,” but based on how bad the “The Last Knight” is, it must have been something heinous.
Bay has been making movies for over two decades. Let me correct that statement: Bay has been making the exact same movie for over two decades. I can’t think of a director who has exhibited so little growth in over 20 years of making films. What’s worse: As he has become more successful and ably assert more creative control, the movies have gotten worse. I could make a strong argument that 1997’s “The Rock” was his most coherent and entertaining of flicks, even if the plot was recycled and some plot points were dumber than the collective IQ of Daytona Beach during spring break.
“Transformers: The First Knight” is the kind of movie that is not only bad but baffling. The film opens with a flashback to jolly old England. King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table are getting their asses handed to them. Their only chance of survival rests with Merlin (Stanley Tucci), who goes to a Transformer living on a mountain and asks for his help. He gets a magical staff to control a robot dragon and saves the day. It’s such a strange opening—because it’s the third “Transformer” movie that has explained to audiences the Transformers have been hanging out on or around Earth for awhile now. The second “Transformers” movie had them on Earth 10,000 years ago, trying to drain the sun of all its energy. The third one used the moon landing as a major plot point.
So the Transformers have apparently been on Earth a long-ass time. Yet, we still know so painfully little about them—five damn movies have given us a ridiculous amount of credible information about where the Transformers come from and, more importantly, why they want to get back to Cybertron. It’s a place that looks like a Radio Shack exploded before being wrapped in fiber-optic lighting. Optimus Prime headed back to the planet to confront his maker and get some answers. Meanwhile on Earth, the government continues to hunt down any and every Transformer because of potential threat. Oh, and Marky Mark (Mark Wahlberg) tries to protect his Autobot friends.
The one thing I can say for the “Transformers” movies is they’re remarkably consistent. The plots consist of nonsense, with each subsequent installment contradicting whatever came before it. And they’re 30 to 45 minutes longer than need be. The Transformers are never really treated as characters but as giant junky looking versions of Jar Jar Binks stumbling through the background without much purpose. Their human characters get more screen time but are just as useless as the robots. There’s always a female character who is quickly and unapologetically sexualized, whether it’s appropriate for the characters or not.
There’s also a lot of action in the films. This is the one and only point where anyone could actually spend time debating quality. I used to like Bay’s style of directing action, but it hasn’t grown at all. The blend of computer-generated characters with real-life explosions feels like it’s been done. There’s nothing in “The First Knight” that stands out as a “must see” or anything other than perfunctory.
My review could be reduced down to shrugs and barely audible grunts for the most part. Barely anything in the film warrants the effort to make a sound. Anthony Hopkins appears and manages to walk away cinematically unscathed—hopefully, with a very big check he will donate to a charity that helps kids with ADHD. Lots of people will cite “franchise fatigue” for the failings of “The First Knight,” but the truth is: It’s Michael Bay fatigue. If we can still find joy in the eighth “Fast and Furious,” we can find joy in another “Transformers”—if only they hired a filmmaker who was capable of eliciting joy from an audience.