Movies: "Transformers: The Last Knight" Non-Spoiler Movie Review
"Transformers: The Last Knight" Non-Spoiler Movie Review
Release Date: June 21, 2017 (US)
Run time: 2h 29min
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci, Isabela Moner, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Ken Watanabe, Laura Haddock, Anthony Hopkins
In 2015, it was announced that Akiva Goldsman had been commissioned to head a writer's room whose goal it was to "incubate" ideas for future Transformers films. At the time, "Age of Extinction" was touted as a semi-soft reboot of the franchise, establishing breadcrumbs for future installments in the series. With the release of "The Last Knight", those breadcrumbs have been replaced with full on tentpoles in the ground marking the way for the future.
This review is my non-spoiler review, which I am posting first so fans can read my initial thoughts without worry of huge spoilers from the film. I will however refer to elements that have been revealed in many trailers released over the few months. Check out the international trailer below if you have not seen any yet. It contains some minor spoilers, but nothing Earth shattering.
The Transformers series of films have had a decade now of releases. Many fans still agree the first film is the best of the series, a sentiment I agree with. The first film was perhaps the one that captured the magic of Transformers the best. However, as the series has progressed, the results have been mixed. Over the years, fans have pointed out many issues with the live action films. Some are unfair, but others are on point. For a time it felt like these issues looked like they would largely be ignored. However, now with the vision of another potential decade worth of Transformers films on the horizon, "The Last Knight" appears to address some of those concerns while forging a path forward for the future.
"The Last Knight" marketing campaign has been heavily selling the idea that in the live action universe, the Transformers race has been a part of human history going back to the distant past. "Revenge of the Fallen" and "Age of Extinction" both used this idea as part of their narrative, but this movie shows a deeper level of involvement between Transformers and humans in the past. This idea has been seen in Transformers fiction before from the G1 episode "A Decepticon Raider in King Arthur's Court" to the "Hearts of Steel" IDW Publishing comic book mini-series. Transformers also played a crucial part in human history in the "Beast Wars Transformers" television show. There is an interesting effect of involving Transformers in human history. Throughout the film, the Transformers presence is very heavy, even in scenes that are largely focused on humans. This presence can take the form of a Transformer being in the scene (even if in the background) or being the topic of conversation. Up until now in the film series, Transformers have largely been "the other" or an invading force whose actions largely seem to happen outside of the goings on of the every day human world. In this movie what they do is very much part of every day human society now. Transformers are not hidden now, they are alive and active on Earth, opening up story possibilities.
While Michael Bay has no trouble attracting talent into his films such as Sir Anthony Hopkins, the selling point are giant transforming robots, a point which some fans have felt was largely ignored in past movies. The robots were often treated more as props that talk than actual characters (with some exceptions). This time out, the Transformers are all very much characters. Almost every robot gets a moment in the spotlight in a very similar fashion to past animated series. Some will spout fun dialogue, others will do something memorable on screen but there is an effort made to help the audience distinguish one character from another. The two factions of Transformers make for interesting contrast this time around. The Autobots are a rainbow of colors from Bumblebee's bright yellow to Drift's deep red to Hound's military green. Meanwhile, the Decepticons are largely silver, black and grey. Yet thanks to their varied robot forms, vehicle modes and personalities you can actually tell them apart from each other this time around. This sounds perfunctory, but it is something that has been ignored in past movies, much to the chagrin of fans. Not only is it good to know which character is which, but it also enriches the world of the films as a whole.
As you would expect, the action in the film is spectacular. From giant set pieces to smaller one on one battles, the film has a frenetic energy that pulls you into the moment. I noticed a significant reduction in the amount of "shaking camera" scenes. It also appears a choice was made this time to pull the camera out a lot and let the audience see the robots fighting rather than a quick flash of an elbow and some silver thing that could be a leg going by the screen. Shakey cam is not gone altogether mind you, but it is in more of the places you would expect such as characters running from point A to B in a scene. Fans will also rejoice when they notice the "Tetris transformations" of the Vehicons from "Age of Extinction" are nowhere to be seen in this film. All the transformations are good old "lots of parts and panels shifting" transforms!
The cast of "The Last Knight" mixes up veterans of the franchise with newcomers. Seeing Josh Duhamel as Lennox and Glenn Morshower as General Morshower are almost comforting to see on screen. Their presence helps to ground this film a bit, linking it strongly with the first three films. Mark Wahlberg's Cade Yeager helps to bridge the first three films with this one and he gets to play "overprotective dad" less this time around and be more of the classic action hero.
Newcomers Laura Haddock, Isabela Moner and Jerrod Carmichael (playing Vivian Wembley, Izabella and Jimmy respectively) help bring a breath of fresh air into the franchise, each in their own way. Haddock manages to ground some silly scenes and has good (read: not amazing) chemistry with Wahlberg. Moner does an amazing job in showing both strength, vulnerability and bravery. Her presence also helps bring a much needed kid appeal to the series that it has lacked in the last couple of entries. Carmichael goes from befuddled to brave and some of his running commentary got laughs from my audience. Sir Anthony Hopkins serves as the glue which holds a lot of the narrative together and he does so brilliantly. I would of course be remiss if I did not mention the voice cast. Hearing Peter Cullen and Frank Welker as Optimus Prime and Megatron respectively makes the 80's kid in me grin ear to ear. John Goodman delivers some fun zingers as Hound and the voice cast of the Decepticons really sound like they're having fun with their roles. Gemma Chan is wonderfully creepy as Quintessa. There are some other fun surprise roles in the film that I will cover in my upcoming spoiler review.
One of the criticisms of past films has been some of the risque and inappropriate humor. I was pleasantly surprised to find that such humor was mostly absent in this movie. There is one scene that played out similar to a skit from the "Three's Company" comedy show but for the most part the humor in the film largley revolves around physical comedy and one line zingers.
"The Last Knight" is not perfect however (really, no film is). Because the new narrative involves Transformers being heavily involved in human history, there is a lot of exposition to get through in the movie. There is a large chunk in the middle of the movie where from a narrative standpoint the characters have to tell the audience a lot of information and it is a lot to process. I could see this confusing some audiences. There are key plot points that are repeated throughout the movie and all the information is there, but it is presented in such a quickfire fashion that I almost missed some points had I not been paying rapt attention.
"The Last Knight" is a very entertaining film that draws in some fascinating aspects of Transformers lore into the narrative. The tone is also more family friendly than some elements of past films and the Transformers feel like the stars of their own movie again (by live action movie standards anyhow). The first movie remains my favorite in the series, but this comes in at second place for sure. In a couple days I will post my spoiler review of the film which will go into detail on many aspects of the film's story. "The Last Knight" officially opens on June 21, 2017 with some special screenings opening on June 20th.