Just admit that Michael Bay knows what he’s doing
By now you have read any numbers of reviews for any of Michael Bay’s Transformers series that substitutes good writing for bad car metaphors. And all of these reviews will unanimously say the star of the Transformers movies is the spectacle and not the characters. And the same is being said for Michael Bay’s latest Transformers film, The Last Knight. This right here is the single biggest problem the Transformers series has. And it’s far worse than anything Michael Bay could ever do to the franchise he built. Nobody is looking under the hood.
It’s not the fact that these critics are giving what’s actually an epic movie a bad review, you’re welcome to your own opinion. It’s that they’re not even remotely bothering to look past the CGI, chrome, and explosions to see what makes the pistons move. And I have to give Bay a lot of credit for what he did in because the story The Last Knight is just as prevalent as the story of a kid who bought his first car in 2007’s Transformers. Despite the fact that these are films about giant shape changing, sentient, artificial alien beings waging their war on the planet there is a very real and relatable human story at the story at the heart of these battles. And with The Last Knight Michael Bay hits the stride he started with Mark Wahlberg in Age of Extinction.
Wahlberg returns to the Transformers universe as dorky inventor Cade Yager and continues playing the pseudo-action hero-type that Shia LaBeouf attempted in the original Transformers trilogy, but actually succeeds at it. And Bay immediately shows us where Cade is in his life when he calls his daughter but he can’t talk to her. Because his voice will be used to triangulate where he is. The world has become a different place, Transformers are completely illegal and Cade is hold up in a junkyard with the rest of the Autobots after Optimus Prime left earth in the end of Age of Extinction. And you watch the earning in his eyes to be with his daughter as she pleads with her dad that he doesn’t need a hero that you truly get where he is in life. Cade doesn’t know who he is. And he finds it in his faith in Optimus Prime as Prime has his faith truly tested. This time around, Michael Bay sets aside his explosions, mostly, and allows you to truly connect with these characters through most of the first act.
Bay’s eye for character truly shines as he brings this core group of characters together with Anthony Hopkin’s character Sir Edmund Burton. If Cale is trying to figure out who he is, Burton had the chance to become who he knows he is. Michael Bay allows a lot of the comedy in this film to come out through Hopkins. And Hopkins embraces the comedy and truly surprised me with the fact that Anthony Hopkins, one of the greatest actors in history, is legitimately funny. Burton, as a lot of people just assumed he was going to be, is not a throw away character just there to spew the exposition Cade needs. He’s a character you want to see on the screen, especially against Wahlberg. Burton uses his deeply entertaining Transformer manservant, Cogsworth, to bring Cade to England to join Laura Haddock’s Vivan Wembley and point them on the course they need to because Burton knows what’s coming for earth and decides that he’s not going to sit back anymore. Haddock brings to the role of the tremendously gifted Vivan Wembley is a sense of honesty that was refreshing to see in a movie where 70% of the cast wasn’t actually there. And you see this honesty come into play through her chemistry with Cade as he brings out the history she has with her father.
Getting to know these three characters before Michael Bay throws literally everything at you helps The Last Knight in several ways, the most being you finally feel that this is the war that it actually is. Michael Bay pushes this and the conflict to an almost insane amount in the back of half of this film as he pushes his core characters to meeting up with the returning Josh Duhamel’s Colonel Lennox and Megatron’s army. I half to give credit to Michael Bay for making the third act an all out war where the stakes were clear and always at the forefront when any threat that Megatron was is completely gone. Megatron has gone from ripping the first Autobot he fought in 2007 in half to someone who hides in underground tunnels and has an unarmed Lennox stand his ground against him. And Gemma Chan’s Quintessa, the creator of the Autobots and Decepticons never has the opportunity to be any kind of threat when doesn’t move from her location on Cybertron and controls the beams of pretty beams of light meant to destroy the earth. Have you seen Suicide Squad? Remember how Enchantress just stood there 95% of the movie? It’s the same thing. But when you strip away the massive Deception cookie cutter army what you have is CGI characters in the Autobots that are every bit as actors as the human cast.
Legendary voice actor, Peter Cullen, returns to his most beloved character, Optimus Prime. The reason why Cullen has been playing this role since the 80’s is because he gives a heavy thoughtfulness to Optimus. And Bay gives him his moments so when Optimus talks, his words carry the weight that you need to believe him. What Michael Bay does with Optimus sets the town for how he treats the rest of the Transformers. Each Transformer in this film has a personality that is as distinct as any human and are genuinely entertaining to watch.
Listen, I get it. Pretty, pretty lights. There’s nothing really to see here. But here’s the thing, whether you want to admit it or not, Michael Bay will go down in history as one of the premier action directors of our time. And his masterful sense of tempo and near psychotic attention to detail has created an enormously entertaining film in The Last Knight. I promise you, if you go into this movie, expecting a Transformers movie, you will enjoy yourself. Because that’s exactly what this film is. For the first time in the franchise, Michael Bay has finally gotten the feel of the world I grew up with on Saturday mornings. The Transformers are part of this world, the action feels similar, and the ending feels like its straight of the cartoon.
Don’t go into these films with a closed and ignorant mind because this film is well worth 4.5 stars out of 5. I promise you that underneath the flashy chrome, cars, and explosions is a story about identity that is every bit as down to earth as the kid who bought his first car back in 2007.