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Tuesday, June 27, 2017

TRANSFORMERS THE LAST KNIGHT When SEQUELITIS Hits and BAYSPLOSIONS Become PASSE


The ‘Transformers’ toy-line was one of Hasbro’s most iconic products for the male child demographic. It was no surprise then that it was adapted as an animated series in the 1980s, even getting a theatrically released animated film in 1986. But only dedicated Transformers aficionados would likely know about this, as more recent fans would instead be aware of the 2007 live-action and CGI blockbuster directed by Michael Bay, a highly respected yet polarizing figure in Hollywood on his best days. His first “Transformers” film is often touted as the best Bay-directed film ever. And then it got sequels. Now the film franchise is on its fifth installment and, well, there are still tons of action and Bay explosions. But that’s all there is.
Really, if the original film was the only one ever, the story could be considered satisfyingly complete. In fact the first three movies make for a serviceable-enough trilogy. But being a film based on a toy franchise means sequels will always be on the table. However by the time the fourth film “Age of Extinction” rolled into theaters back in 2014 the prospect of a live-action “Transformers” movie directed by Michael Bay has lost significant appeal for me. And after coming away from “The Last Knight”, the fifth installment reinforced in me that I can make no further serious investment in this series.
“Transformers: The Last Knight” carries on as its protagonist Cade Yeager from the fourth film. Before I would have made a distinction between a “human” and “Transformer” protagonist, but this time the burden is all on Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), a struggling single parent and inventor. He now operates a junkyard in South Dakota to hide his alien robot companions from the increasingly militant human governments that have it in for all Transformers regardless of alignment.
Thing is, Yeager’s an adult, and the past films were somewhat exciting from having a youngish person be the primary viewpoint human. They tried to pull this off with a newcomer in Isabella (Isabela Moner), an orphaned urchin who survived the Battle of Chicago from the third film and has been living in its ruins with outlawed Transformers for company. She falls in with Yeager after he rescues her from government robot-hunters and moves into his junkyard, but that’s her prominent contribution. Yeager meanwhile finds himself aping the situation of his protagonist predecessor Sam/Shia LaBeouf, stumbling across a sentient alien artifact shaped like a medieval medallion.
And here we stumble into the cesspit of retroactive canon that is the back-story of the “Transformers” film series. The first movie would have it that the first human-Transformer contact was a couple centuries ago. Then the sequel would have it that the first humans to see them were prehistoric. And then the third film claims that the Apollo 11 lunar mission was to have the astronauts explore the crashed Transformer ship on the moon. There were no back-stories of this sort in the fourth, but “The Last Knight” would have it that olden-time Transformers were allied with King Arthur (Liam Garrigan) and his wizard Merlin (Stanley Tucci).
That’s not the half of it. The status of the doomed Transformer home-world of Cybertron has been altered yet again. The first film had the energy source that created Cybertron and its inhabitants destroyed. The third saw Cybertron nearly warped next to Earth. At the end of the fourth, the Autobot leader Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) left Earth to return there, and when he does in this film he gets accosted by another Prime. By now even franchise newbies would be lost.
Anyway, Cade’s alien medallion leads him to England where he meets a British Lord (Anthony Hopkins) who is the last of a secret order that has recorded the secret activities of Transformers throughout history. Apparently the Witwicky Family from the early trilogy is distantly related to an order member. So is another new companion in beleaguered Oxford professor Viviane Wembley (Laura Haddock), who has some plenty powerful genetics in-story here. And that’s really all the human characters of note because aside from Optimus, Bumblebee and the evil Decepticon leader Megatron (Frank Welker), all other Transformers are window dressing at best, combat fodder at worst.

Seriously, despite the plot on-goings, everything in “Transformers: The Last Knight” has been seen and done in the four films preceding it.  Nothing is surprising anymore. A trope name for such a phenomenon of blandness is “sequelitis” and that is a bad thing for movies. Not even Michael Bay’s “patented” directing style and trademark “Bay-splosions” will suffice to cover up the fact that this movie is a rehash of what’s come before. And despite the subtitle, this won’t be the last Bay “Transformers” film. A spin-off with Bumblebee is set for next year, with “Transformers 6” up for 2019. I might watch just to do a review, but my enthusiasm is gone. Time to let Optimus rest.
Photo courtesy of thesource.com

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