Although the Blu-ray delivers great video and audio, TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT is a Decepticon disaster.
NOTE: Our images were captured from the DVD version.
By Matt Cummings
The Transformers movie franchise is one both teetering on the edge of disaster, but one that audience can’t help but watch implode. Panned from the outset by critics for its cheap dialogue and human characters no one cared about, the series about Autobots and humans battling Decepticons to save Earth has raked in over $3b worldwide. It’s truly been impervious to criticism, even though we all know Director Michael Bay’s shtick by now. But something happened on the way to the bank for TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT: it became the lowest-rated (28 on Metacritic) and lowest-ranked film ($130M domestically) in the franchise, and for good reason. And even though it looks and sounds great on Blu-ray, it’s just another disorganized mess that squanders its considerable assets with oddly-placed levity while harboring a fetish for slow-motion moments that minimize any potential story beats.
As humanity digs out from the now-constant arrivals and attacks by the Decepticons, the Autobots become prey themselves, hunted by a worldwide military organization called TRF. Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) hosts the remaining Autobots at his junkyard, struggling to keep the team together, while their leader Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) has headed to deep space to confront his creator Quintessa (Gemma Chan). But unknown to everyone, a reinvigorated Cybertron is headed to Earth, searching for a magic staff that was forged during King Arthur’s reign. The Decepticons hope to secure it to power an ancient weapon, while the Autobots hope to gather a team of protectors to defeat Megatron (Frank Welker) and Quintessa. But the Autobots will humanity’s help as well, including an expert on Transformer history on Earth (Anthony Hopkins) and an English professor (Laura Haddock) who has an ancient connection to the staff. To protect everything humanity has ever known, robots and humans will once again join in battle, with each side learning why Transformers continue to invade the planet.
From the moment this thing begins – including a long-winded and odd opening – THE LAST KNIGHT squanders early any hope in telling a compelling alternate-history tale. Think of the effect which NATIONAL TREASURE, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, or THE DA VINCI CODE had in terms of re-writing our history DNA. Those moments felt believable and therefore survive as very interesting urban legends. Instead, KNIGHT relishes the idea of the reverse, that pithy comebacks and a shoot-first-abandon-a-city-later mentality somehow supersedes intelligence. Writers Akiva Goldsman and Ken Nolan (who will be sticking around to write the Bumblebee offshoot) also seem content to minimize Cullen with horrible dialogue and put Wahlberg and Haddock in the middle of too many cheesy and creepy moments of levity. Luckily, Wahlberg enjoys great chemistry with Isabella Moner, a young girl who fights the Decepticons in revenge for the death of her parents. Her introduction and backstory reveals perhaps the best potential character of the entire franchise, a human who can prove that an obvious price has been paid by the protection of the Earth. It’s a refreshing turn, but one that doesn’t last long, because Moner’s heroics are sadly wasted.
Although heavily featured in the trailers, Moner disappears for what seems like 60 minutes, confined to Autobots B Team while Wahlberg, Hopkins, and Haddock, espouse seemingly endless dialogue about Transformers history. There’s a way to tell these kinds of stories, and long looks at each other isn’t one of them. Cullen and Welker are barely in it, confined to minor characters in action scenes, rather than squaring off to either debate the good of man or just getting into a nice rumble. Hopkins certainly emerges as having the best time on screen, which does translate into some fun dialogue with his psychopathic robotic servant Cogman (Jim Carter). But not even Hopkins can’t help this disaster. KNIGHT is incredibly heavy in terms of storytelling, going on for minutes about something which feels very easy: beat the silly queen, get the silly staff, save the Earth.
THE LAST KNIGHT also shamelessly borrows from more recent films, revealing a surprising decision for Bay. In addition to TREASURE, there’s clear references here to STAR WARS and THE FAST & THE FURIOUS franchises, from the cute robot Wheels, to an obvious copy of Cogman as C3PO, to the action sequences featuring fancy car chases that aren’t so fancy. My friends (particularly TF apologists) encouraged me to treat movies like this as mindless pap, to see beyond its faults because this is the best we can expect from Bay. That is both inappropriate and short-sighted. Bay has demonstrated that he can craft amazing action scenes that look fantastic on IMAX screens, but imagine my surprise when I noticed IMAX film being used in a scene that switched back and forth to standard film. Check out around 1:17:00 for this. In other words, the aspect ratio changed back and forth within the same scene, moving from letterbox back to IMAX and so forth. Regardless of why Bay chose to do that, the effect is just plain sloppy. Even by its own warped standards, THE LAST KNIGHT fails in almost every category.
Bay has stated that THE LAST KNIGHT is his final Transformers movie. I can only hope so, because it’s clear that he cares less about actually making them good as getting credit for making them in the first place. Sure he has a talent for staging a scene, but his fetish for epic ‘moments’ or showing off his female’s T&A, or his decision to leave uncomfortable moments of silence after a joke that doesn’t hit has gone beyond grating. Bay is a director who’s in it for himself, to bring attention to his game rather than telling a compelling story of humans and their apparently long history with the Autobots. It’s high time someone else tells these stories, because THE LAST KNIGHT is the final humiliation.
Paramount’s TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT may be one of the worst mainstream films of 2017, but its technical specs are impressive to say the least. Starting with the MPEG-4 AVC transfer, the digitally-shot film is impressive in many parts, showing off depth throughout, including buildings and landscapes. There’s several instances where one can see specific building or car parts flying in the air and then crashing into the ground causing waves of concrete to pop out of the ground. The Transformers themselves look fantastic, but sometimes they get caught in the crossfire of a battle scene and it becomes hard to figure out who’s who. Human features tend to look over-processed, but other elements like pores, sweat, and hair are nature and life-like. Director bay loves his oversaturation, so be prepared to see some bleed out if your system is already set up with warm settings. Black levels are also great, moving from shadows to night without getting swallowed up too early. And then there’s that annoying aspect ratio switching I mentioned above; that will mess with you. Otherwise, I spotted no aliasing or banding whatsoever. It’s a great submission, and one that should play well on most setups. p>
Paramount also delivers a raucous experience for TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT in terms of its Dolby TrueHD 7.1 track. To say it stands atop most Blu-ray releases is to understate the obvious. There’s more going on here that just a wall of sound, but thumping, pulsing, layered experience that will impress anyone with a decent audio kit. Dialogue is housed in the center speaker, with everything else dialed down to the point that you can barely hear it. Left and right channels effortlessly transfers gun fire, charging robots, and smashed vehicles. The LFE is always thumping and pounding, seemingly never letting off the gas, while music rings through my 5.1 adjusted set up with melodious harmonies. Battles are as intense as you remember them from previous discs, delivering a constant barrage of warfare with incredible results. The rears also do their job as well, revealing wind, minor background elements, and various noises like crowds and cars. I wish this (and really any movie in this series) was good enough to watch throughout, but it’s impossible to sit through the thing to enjoy everything Bay and Paramount bring.
THE LAST KNIGHT contains all of its supplements on a second disc. Too bad that none of it contains a director’s commentary track, while the supplements themselves don’t do anything to make us like the film any more. At least all it is presented in HD:
- Merging Mythologies (19:53): This featurette breaks down how the film takes its cues from the Arthurian Legend and World War II. May aspects of the film are discussed here from building sets, assembling the cast, and imagining the Transformers of the ancient past.
- Climbing the Ranks (8:48): This takes a look at the various military characters who appear in the film. We learn how they trained alongside real SEAL units, as well as various other facts.
- The Royal Treatment: Transformers in the UK (27:04): A fairly well-done featurette about shooting scenes in England. It’s perhaps the best of the lot, as it reminds us that most of the locations are ancient and required great care on the part of the actors not to damage anything.
- Motors and Magic (14:47): A fairly standard piece, this one focuses on several of the Transformers themselves, including the new crew.
- Alien Landscape: Cybertron (7:15): Another generic look, this time focusing on Quintessa and the home world of Cyrbertron.
- One More Giant Effin’ Movie (6:45): This one focuses on Bay. I think we would all agree that the title has multiple meanings, depending on who’s in the room.
Our evaluation copy arrived as a steelbook Blu-ray/DVD Combo with a UV/iTunes digital copy code inside. The inside are is very nice, and the case itself is decent, as there’s no humans to be found. Good idea. At the time of this posting, there were several versions available, including a 3-dsic set from Best Buy and Target, various 4K versions, and 2 gift sets from Walmart.
THE BOTTOM LINE
TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT is yet another overstuffed, incomprehensible mess from a franchise that knows failure all too well. Like its brethren, it feasts on visual moments rather than telling a compelling or even a cohesive story, which might not even be there in first place. It dashes any hope for glory with weird moments of levity, way too much slow-motion, and villains whose arcs are totally minimized. Technical specs are impressive, but the supplements are not. I’m not sure owning this one “because I own the rest” is a good enough excuse. If you wish to foolishly throw down hard-earned cash, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT is rated PG-13 for violence and intense sequences of sci-fi action, language, and some innuendo and has a runtime of 149 minutes.