Ah yes, we meet again, Michael Bay, my old nemesis. My Nemesis Prime, you might say. That's what hero truck-bot Optimus Prime changes his name to when he turns evil in Bay's latest bit of deviltry, The Last Knight. ...
Okay look, y'all. I gotta be honest. My heart's not really in this. I know, I love writing a good Michael Bay takedown as much as you like reading them — probably more, if I'm being honest. I've been doing them for years. Back in the day, Chris Herrington, the Flyer's former film editor, would assign me to do the Michael Bay movies, because he knew I hated them. I've had a Michael Bay-sized chip on my shoulder since 1998's Armageddon. How do you mess up a movie about heroic astronauts trying to save the earth from an asteroid? There were so many ways. Then there was Pearl Harbor. How do you mess that up? This is the film where Ben Affleck gets on a train to go from New York to London, neither of which is anywhere NEAR Pearl Harbor.
I include that tidbit in every Michael Bay review, because I still haven't gotten over it.
And now, another Transformers movie. The fifth one. Giant Robots Go to England. At least they don't take a train.
I don't think Michael Bay's heart is in it any more, either. Back when he had Will Smith and Martin Lawrence demolishing Haitian neighborhoods in Bad Boys 2, at least he seemed like he was having fun with it. In the nonsensical opening scene — in which it is revealed that the secret to King Arthur's success turns out to be, you guessed it, Transformers — Merlin (Stanley Tucci) takes a big swig of whiskey before staggering into a crashed alien spaceship to forge an alliance with a giant robot. It has the feeling of a confessional moment for Bay: Oh boy. Here we go again. ...
- Heavy metal — as in considerably cumbersome CGI depictions of giant robots turning into other things.
Bay's been watching Game of Thrones and obviously missing the point. You like flawed characters caught in impossible situations making hard choices? How about a bored looking Markey Mark just kind of floating through the frame while animated piles of scrap metal scrape together in the background? To say Mark Wahlberg is phoning it in overstates his engagement. Wahlberg is leaving a voicemail for the audience. He was hoping you wouldn't pick up.
As a longtime Bay watcher, he's always been indifferent to the audience's suffering, but in last year's 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, I detected something new: a seething resentment of the audience. The Transformers Reaction Force, a special forces group led by Santos (Santiago Cabrera), who can't seem to decide what side he's on, seems imported from that movie. It's like Bay's sneering misogyny, evident in his treatment of Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock), the Oxford English Lit professor who can't seem to speak in complete sentences, has been extended to the entire world. Our alleged hero Cade speaks in Trumpian word salad, insulting any and everyone he comes into contact with. For Bay, there's only one use for words: busting chops. Expressing dominance.
There's a general shoddiness to the whole endeavor. A Goonies-like group of kids is introduced early, only to just wander off without explanation. Bay has always had a knack for explaining things that didn't need explaining and not explaining big things like, "Where did those five kids go? Did they die in the robot apocalypse along with the tens of millions others alluded to but never seen?" The same stock footage of fighter planes peeling off to attack is used over and over again in the final battle, which itself is inexplicably ripped off from last year's epic flop Independence Day: Resurgence.
"It's just big, dumb fun!" might be a valid defense against my half-hearted critical barbs, except for one thing: No one is having any fun, least of all Michael Bay. It's not even fun to hate-watch Transformers: The Last Knight. At this point, even writing this review feels like enabling bad behavior. As a three-headed robot dragon swoops in, breathing fire, King Arthur screams, "This is what the end looks like!" And I can only say I hope so.