Exploiting our Archives: Lukewarm Takes #18 Transformers: The Last Knight
I am a man of obsessions. Some are a little more pronounced than others. I am low-key obsessed with the Transformers movies, for example, in the sense that I have now watched five of them entirely of my own accord.
It fascinates me that the Transformers is such an unstoppable, multi-billion dollar multi-media beast that it doesn’t just have some overcompensated Ivy League graduates paying their great-grandchildren and their great, great grand-children’s college tuitions by slumming for Hasbro by putting words inside the metallic mouths of robot-monsters from outer space.
No, the Transformers cinematic universe (and oh how it pains me to write that without a shred of irony, because that’s exactly what this horse shit is at this point: a far-reaching multi-billion dollar multimedia universe, or universes) had an ongoing goddamned writer’s room devoted exclusively to building the Transformers mythology in sequels and spin-offs and TV adaptations overseen by Academy-Award winning Batman & Robin screenwriter Akiva Goldsman .
True, Goldsman didn’t win the Oscar for Batman & Robin but if you wrote the script for Batman & Robin then your punishment should be having that listed first among your credits for eternity. I know that may not seem ice. It may even seem cold-blooded but it chills me to the bone to think of all the terrible, terrible cold-themed puns that man forced poor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a humble, steroid-abusing immigrant, to say, solely for the sake of fifteen to twenty million dollars. I think we all know who the real super-villain is, and it’s Batman & Robin screenwriter Akiva Goldsman.
As a reward for winning the Academy Award and also, confusingly, punishment for writing Batman & Robin, Goldsman had the exquisite pleasure of running the writer's room for the Transformers motion pictures that he also got to run the writer’s rooms for two other Hasbro properties, G.I Joe and Micronauts.
I wonder if this has created a hierarchy of Akiva Goldsman-run writer’s room, with writers getting in on the ground floor thinking up horse shit for G.I Joe and whatever the fuck Micronauts is, all while dreaming of working their way up the ladder and landing that dream job being the ninth screenwriter to take a pass at the eighth Transformers sequel. Dare to dream, kid. Dare to dream. In the future there will be no original screenplays or original screenwriters, only folks who’ve worked in the coal mines of Alf and Star Trek writer rooms for so long they can’t imagine anything that doesn’t involve aliens who may or may not eat cats or host talk shows.
These aren’t movies. They’re industries and the fact that nobody seems to like them somehow has not kept Transformers from becoming one of the biggest biggest franchises in film history. They just keep coming whether we like it or not. At this point, I keep watching Transformers movies out of habit, and when you’ve devoted ten or twelve or fourteen hours of your life to this nonsense, why not just keep going?
The Transformers movies have always been stupid and ridiculous. They’ve got a reputation for idiocy to uphold so Transformers: The Last Knight opens in the time of King Arthur and Merlin (Stanley Tucci), whose big secret is that he’s down with the Transformers, and that gives him a distinct advantage over wizards without a direct line to superhuman robot monsters from outer space. The twelve medieval space aliens form into a dragon and give Merlin a magical staff of incredible power.
We then jump ahead to the present. Transformers have been outlawed, not unlike mutants have been outlawed in Logan only dumb and terrible instead of melancholy and somber, but a whole bunch of them have taken refuge in the junkyard of inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), who is also the last night of the title. And also, confusingly the Last Jedi and the Last Dragon. Man, if you are a confident white man in our society, there is no limit to how far you can go.
It’s a bit of bleak, dystopian world where the different are held in suspicion and feared. Megatron, the villain of the series, has disappeared but so has Optimus Prime, who has left Earth to look for his maker. I was kind of hoping that this process would involve Optimus Prime also finding himself, you know, riding the rails, hitchhiking, meeting some charismatic drifters, maybe exploring the greatest mystery of all: the mystery of self.
But no, Optimus Prime goes to outer space and meets a manipulative space goddess named Quintessa who brainwashes him into wanting to destroy the earth and betray the jibber-jabbering meat puppets he seems so curiously fond of, even the one who looked and acted exactly like Shia Labeouf. Optimus Prime becomes Nemesis Prime and then disappears for the next hour and a half so that the movie can focus on other superfluous bullshit, some of it involving Anthony Hopkins.
Academy Award-winner Hopkins (who probably ducked into the writer’s room at times to have an Oscar fight with Goldsman) is given the incredible honor of getting to deliver enough exposition for a dozen Transformers movies, each more needlessly convoluted than the last. But he also gets to deliver dialogue like, “Oh my God! Cybertron is coming!”
When you have dialogue like that, you want to give it to someone who’s not just a respected actor and award winner, but to a goddamn legend, the kind of towering genius of the trade who inspires hungry young thespians to want to get into the business because otherwise, let’s face it, those words might seem a little bit silly.
I like to imagine that in order to secure Hopkins’ services for the film, they had a money truck larger than any in human history roll directly up to Hopkins’ mansion and transform into one of those Ex Machina sexy lady robots to give him a hand job in addition to ten million dollars in cash to seal the deal, Michael Bay-style.
Hopkins has made a lucrative second career out of whoring his services out to the highest bidder but he’s really outdone himself here. Whether he’s using slang like “Dude”, “Bitching”, asking of Wahlberg’s character, “No whoopee, Mr. Cade?” or filling the audience in on how great Americans like Harriet Tubman helped protect Autobots through the ages, Hopkins’ role here is less a singularly thankless part than a sustained attack on what’s left of his dignity.
You read that right: Harriet Tubman was down with the Transformers. I’m not sure whether she hid Autobots as well as runaway slaves. Hopefully Harriet Tubman will get her own Transformers spin-off, in which we learn that she could also turn into a horse-drawn carriage due to some Transformers DNA in her blood. After all, if we’re going to get that silly, why not go all the way? I'd like also like to think that Harriet Tubman would have been a Belieber, though this is never discussed in Transformers: The Last Knight.
Early in the film, the government makes a Faustian bargain with Decepticon leader Megatron because when has an agreement with a group of evil aliens from outer space ever gone awry? As part of the agreement, Megatron is allowed to pick out a squad to assist him, and the movie makes a great show of introducing badass Decepticons like Mohawk and Berserker, then does absolutely nothing with them.
The accents and dialects of Transformers are exaggerated and cartoonish enough to consistently feel kinda racist but not not enough to be distinguishable. Transformers: The Last Night teases the awesomeness of characters like Decepticon Neon Zeus. The film is all, “Oh my fucking God, you are not going to believe how fucking badass this Neon Zeus guy is. He is a beast! A total badass. And while he’s not gonna do too much here, there may be a spin-off novel that’ll establish him as a Boba Fett-level cult icon. Or you may never see him again. The writer’s room is split, 50/50 on what direction we should take him, with the Yalies wanting to use him extensively in the future, and the Harvard Lampoon people wanting to leave him out of subsequent sequels.”
How you gonna have John Dimaggio, Bender himself, voice a badass Decepticon named Zeus Nitro and then give him nothing to do? Then again, after a certain point, it’s damn near impossible to tell the movie’s 43,000 Transformers apart. The movie devolves, in its third act, into an interchangeable blur of metal on metal as these giant beasts attack each other in seemingly identical clashes.
Yet the movie expects us to care about at least some of these giant robot car monsters from outer space. Early in the film, a scrappy 14-year-old orphan named Izabella loses her pal Canopy the friendly Transformer and we’re apparently expected to weep for his death the way people cried upon the death of Ol' Yeller in the film of the same name.
No! Not Canopy! Anybody but Canopy! Not poor, sweet, tender, life-loving Canopy! He represented the best of us, human or Transformer. No, wait, which one was Canopy, again? The robot dude who disguised himself as rubble and then was more or less instantly killed? Christ, Suicide Squad gave us more reason to care about Slipknot, the man who can climb anything, during his 79 second appearance than Last Knight does to be invested in the fucking life of Canopy, who as a fucking robot I’m pretty sure is already kind of dead.
Then again, Last Knight also doesn’t have much for Izabella to do either, other than pal around with Sqweeks, a gratingly adorable child-like would be fan favorite whose character design implicitly asks, “How closely can you rip off Wall-E from the film of the same name before lawyers and lawsuits enter the picture?”
I’m glad Izabella didn't prove to be a breakout characters. It’s creepy when Tween-age girl characters in film capture the questionable imaginations of much older men. If you can judge a movie by its creepiest fanbase, then The Professional, for example, has one that would probably benefit from a life-changing visit from Chris Hansen and his camera crew.
I was tempted to watch Transformers: The Last Knight out of a deeply masochistic strain of Michael Bay completism, but also because I recently listened to We Hate Movies’ hilarious stroll through the endless universe of hot garbage that constitutes the Transformers franchise. Michael Bay’s pea-brainchild is perfect for smart-ass bad movie podcasts like We Hate Movies, or The Flop House, because they’re so overloaded with crap that begs to be mocked. It's not a movie with a beginning, middle and end so much as it's a movie where a bunch of big, loud, stupid crap happens, and then some more loud crap happens, and more loud crap happens and two and a half later the movie just kind of collapses in a heap under the weight of its own elephantine pointlessness.
When you make a movie where Anthony Hopkins somberly recounts how people like Harriet Tubman have featured prominently in the history and mythology of the fucking Transformers you’re begging to be mocked. You’re sticking a giant “Kick Me” sign on your back so massive it can be seen from outer space.
Transformers: The Last Knight ends with Coach Optimus Prime admonishing the audience to collectively take a knee while he shares the moral of the movie, which, honestly, wouldn’t look at all out of place on a Successories’ poster: “At the heart of every legend, there is truth. A few brave souls unite to save their worlds. We can be heroes in our own lives, every one of us, if we have the courage to try.”
I don’t want to hate on Optimus Prime, but he lost a little bit of unimpeachable moral authority in the film’s first act, when he flew back to Cybertron and the evil Goddess-type entity Quintessa was all, “You hate Earth now, and you’re a bad guy named Nemesis Prime” his response was basically, “Alright, I guess I’m a villain now! Thanks for the head’s up and funky new direction!”
You can’t make your most heroic character a bad guy arbitrarily, forget about him for an hour and a half, have him almost immediately come to his senses and regain his moral compass when Bumblebee speaks to him in his own voice, and then once again expect audiences to not only still care about him, but to revere him, to quake in awe at this metallic exemplar of all that is good in this world and also Cybertron.
In conclusion, fuck you Optimus Prime, you over-rated football coach of a robot-car monster from outer space. You’re nothing compared to Canopy. That robot-thing from outer space was a goddamn saint! I’m weeping just thinking about him!
I only hope that one of the Transformers projects in development is a prequel recounting Canopy’s early days as whatever the fuck he was. I’m willing to accept an enormous amount of money to join the legendary Transformers writer’s room to help make this happen. Let’s do it, Michael Bay-by! That Bumblebee solo nonsense can wait. We owe Canopy that much.
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