Transformers: The Last Knight is a Tale Told by an Idiot, Full of Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

Transformers: The Last Knight is the worst film I have seen all year. After King Arthur: Legend of the Sword and The Mummy, I didn’t think I would be seeing a film that sucked more than either of those two, but Michael Bay’s latest Transformers atrocity is worse than King Arthur and The Mummy combined. I usually try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but this movie was so full of dumb crap that I have to talk about it, so be aware that there will be spoilers ahead.

I generally don’t think that the Transformers movies are as bad as they are made out to be. I genuinely like the first one, and despite the many problems the sequels have, they’re still good for some mindless fun (aside from the second one, that is. Revenge of the Fallen is even worse than The Last Knight). But there is almost nothing good about The Last Knight, which is the fifth movie in the franchise. I would give this movie a grade of D-, and the only thing preventing it from getting an F is that the special effects are good, and there is a three-headed robot dragon. But everything else sucks.

Where to even begin? Let’s start with the story. But wait, there isn’t one. This is a two-and-a-half-hour movie with a plot thinner than a daytime soap opera. It took well over an hour into the movie before anything remotely resembling a plot began to come together. Nothing that happens in this movie has any emotional impact or any reason for happening at all.

Image: Paramount

And here is where we get in to the spoilers. The trailers for the movie made it look like Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots, aka the good robots, was the film’s villain.

This is a lie.

Optimus is barely in the movie. He has a couple scenes near the beginning, and then there’s maybe an hour and a half with no Optimus whatsoever. He then shows up, fights one of the other good robots, sees the error of his ways, and becomes good Optimus again. Optimus has maybe fifteen minutes of screen time, which is a generous estimate. The trailers made it look like this big emotional thing, with Optimus turning on his former allies, but this turns out to be a huge bait-and-switch. A trailer for a movie hasn’t lied this blatantly since the trailers for Suicide Squad made it look like the Joker was actually an important part of the movie. Hell, Optimus has barely more screen time than the Joker did in that movie.

And for a movie about robots fighting, there is remarkably little robot-on-robot action. Not only is Optimus barely in the movie, other robots are barely in the movie either. Remember the samurai robot and the T-rex robot from the fourth movie? They don’t get to do anything here, except provide a few moments of comic relief. The Transformers feel like an afterthought, like after five movies even Michael Bay doesn’t give a shit about them anymore.

Instead, we get meaningless scene after meaningless scene, and none of it means anything. It’s all fluff. It’s soulless. The lights are on, but no one’s home. We get a crap-ton of ridiculous backstory and mythology about how the robots have been a part of human history for thousands of years, and how they hung out with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, and fought Nazis, and Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci and tons of other historical figures were pals with the robots, and all of this is told to us by Anthony Hopkins, and the girl in the movie is the last descendant of Merlin and only she can wield the power of Merlin’s staff and oh my God they’re not even trying anymore.

Image: Paramount

The dialogue is atrocious too. Sample line: “Oh my God, look at that. It’s a big alien ship.” Seriously? This train wreck cost 260 million dollars to make, and that garbage is the best you can come up with? Or how about this one: “Sir, you know that strange thing we’ve been waiting 1600 years for? I think it’s finally happening!” I hate this movie.

There is nothing to hold on to with this movie. Trying to write about it is like trying to catch smoke with your hands. You can see that it’s there, but you can’t grasp it. Remember Bilbo’s line in Lord of the Rings where he tells Gandalf that he feels thin, like butter scraped over too much bread? That’s what Transformers: The Last Knight is. Someone had a germ of a good idea (“Let’s make Optimus the bad guy”) but had no idea how to build the rest of the plot around that, so what we’re left with is a movie that is 95% filler. We get scene after scene of the filmmakers trying to convince us that the movie is about something, but it isn’t. There’s nothing there.

It’s not even so-bad-it’s-good. It’s just bad, period. I’m not a Michael Bay hater. He may be a scumbag, but he’s made some fun movies (not that that’s an excuse for being a scumbag). I like the first Transformers movie. I like The Rock, The Island, 13 Hours, and the second half of Transformers: Dark of the Moon (the third movie). But with The Last Knight it seems like he doesn’t care anymore. It’s made with all the care for characterization and story coherence that an overcaffeinated 12-year-old might display. It’s just awful. I don’t usually bash movies like this when I write about them, generally I think people are way too hard on movies. But in this case, I agree with the haters. This movie is terrible, and it makes me sad. Moviegoers deserve better. Heck, Michael Bay can do better. He’s said that this is his last Transformers movie (although he’s said that before), so maybe his next movie will have more spark to it than this rote nonsense.

My next post will be about Edgar Wright’s new film Baby Driver, which, if the reviews are to be believed, should be more than good enough to wash away the bad taste left by the latest Transformers atrocity, so look for that soon.

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The Mummy 2017: An Egyptian Zombie in London

Like many people, I have a great deal of affection for the 1999 film The Mummy and its 2001 sequel, The Mummy Returns. I rewatched both of them recently and aside from a few instances of bad early-2000’s CGI (looking at you, Scorpion King) they hold up well and are just as much fun to watch now as they were when they were first released. I was excited at the prospect of a new Mummy movie, since I have so much fondness for those first two movies.

But like many people I was disappointed. The new Tom Cruise-starring Mummy film takes itself far too seriously and fails to capture the old-school adventure-serial vibe that made the first two so enjoyable. The new movie starts out well enough, but after the first 20 minutes or so it stops feeling like a Mummy movie. It shifts most of the action from the desert to London, and the urban setting doesn’t suit the material nearly as well as the filmmakers clearly think it does.

Image: Universal

Tom Cruise plays Nick Morton, a rather douchey treasure hunter with an irritating sidekick. As soon as the sidekick opened his mouth, I wanted him to die. Nick says they’re “liberators” of antiquities, but their form of “liberating” seems to involve a lot of machine guns and hand grenades, not to mention the occasional airstrike. And people thought Indiana Jones and Lara Croft were destructive. Nick and the irritating sidekick whose name I forget manage to drop a bomb which reveals a hidden tomb, which contains…THE MUMMY. And then they bring it to London, which is an objectively terrible idea.

Sigh. It’s just bad decision after bad decision here. This movie had a whole team of screenwriters and this nonsense was the best they could come up with. The characters are unlikable and their actions are selfish and stupid. The plot also feels rushed. In the 1999 movie, it takes about an hour into the two-hour movie for the mummy to be resurrected, so there’s a lot of buildup and tension, and you get to know and like the protagonists. The new movie is mostly tension-free and the protagonists are jerks.

Another thing that made the 1999 movie so good was that it wasn’t trying to do too much. As far as I know, when it was released there were no immediate plans for a sequel, and it wasn’t until the movie came out and became a huge hit that the sequel was announced. But these days, we are living in the age of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (abbreviated as MCU), the massive success of which has led other studios to try their hand at creating shared movie universes, with decidedly mixed results.

Image: Universal

The newest version of The Mummy is Universal Studios’ latest attempt to create a shared monster-movie universe, their so-called “Dark Universe”, which is a pretty stupid name. But it sounds like they’re not planning it out very well. The next movie in the “Dark Universe” is Bride of Frankenstein, which is set to be released in…2019. Really, Universal? You’re hyping up your whole shared universe thing when the next movie won’t be out for two more years? That seems awfully optimistic.

One of the things that has made the MCU so successful is how well Marvel planned everything out. When the first Iron Man movie came out all the way back in 2008 Marvel already had more movies planned out for years (and they still do). Iron Man was released in May of 2008, and the next MCU movie, The Incredible Hulk, came out a month later. Marvel was on top of it right from the start. Universal’s attitude seems to be, “Meh. Let’s just release this movie, say it’s part of a shared universe, and we’ll make the next one when we get to it.” That’s doesn’t sound like a recipe for success.

The result of all this sequel-mongering is that the new film has no idea what kind of story it wants to tell. At first it seems to be telling a straightforward adventure story, which is perfectly fine, but once the action moves from the desert to London the story goes off the rails. It’s too concerned with setting up future movies and not concerned enough with telling a contained story. Russell Crowe is in the movie, playing (mild spoiler alert) Dr. Henry Jekyll, who takes injections to suppress his Hyde personality. This is fine, but it feels shoehorned into a movie that’s supposed to be about the mummy.

Speaking of which, the mummy itself is one of the movie’s few bright spots. This movie has a female mummy, played by Sofia Boutella, who was great in Star Trek Beyond last year. She plays Ahmanet, a cursed Egyptian princess, and is probably the best thing about the movie. Since Cruise’s character is the person who unleashed her, she kind of imprints on him and makes him the target of her nefarious purposes. She also smacks him around a lot, and it is admittedly fun to watch Cruise’s douchey character get his ass kicked.

Image: Universal

There are some fun sequences in this movie. I liked the plane crash sequence, and there’s a fun chase scene through the woods in England. The movie as a whole looks good, and there are good zombie effects. (A mummy is an Egyptian zombie, after all. It was dead, then it came back to life. That makes it a zombie.) But a couple of fun scenes do not add up to a good movie overall, and the ending in particular is just terrible, the kind of thing where the only appropriate reaction is “Wait, what?”
This movie was a big disappointment. I love movies that are full of monsters and creatures, and while the 2017 Mummy does have good creature designs, the movie itself doesn’t add up to much, and it’s hard to see the whole “Dark Universe” thing getting very far. Skip this movie and go rewatch the Brendan Fraser ones, they’re a hell of a lot more fun.

Wonderful Wonder Woman

After the twin disappointments of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad last year, DC badly needed a genuine hit. Sure, both those films made plenty of money, but received awful reviews which hurt their long-term prospects, and led to a sharp drop-off at the box office between their first and second weekends. Fortunately, Wonder Woman is here to save the day, and her first-ever solo movie is one of the best-reviewed films of the year, and should have more staying power than her predecessors.
Wonder Woman first appeared in 1941, so it’s a little ridiculous that it took 76 years for her to finally get a movie of her own. It wasn’t until Batman V Superman last year that she even made her big-screen debut. When Israeli actress Gal Gadot was announced to play the character, fan reaction was mixed to say the least, but Gadot has proved the naysayers wrong by delivering a powerful performance, equal-parts badass warrior and believer in the inherent good of mankind, which is an attitude the world could always use more of these days. She’s just awesome.

Image: Warner Bros.

One of the advantages of not having had a solo film before is that a Wonder Woman origin story feels fresh. How many times have we seen origin stories for Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man? How many times have we seen Bruce Wayne’s parents die? So…many…times. The origin of Wonder Woman is a story that has not been told onscreen before, and even though it follows some familiar beats, it still feels lively, original, and heartfelt.
Wonder Woman’s real name is Diana, and she was born and raised on the hidden island of Themyscira, which was created by Zeus to protect mankind from Ares, the god of war. Diana is the daughter of Hippolyta, who is the Queen of the Amazons, and was raised as a warrior, initially against her mother’s wishes. Her life is turned upside-down when a plane crashes in the water off the coast of Themyscira. She saves the plane’s occupant, who just so happens to be the first man she’s ever seen in her life. The man’s name is Steve Trevor, and he brings the Amazons grave news from the outside world. He tells them of a massive war, of millions dead, and of weapons capable of killing millions more men, women, and children. Again going against her mother’s wishes, she resolves to help Steve and goes with him to London. The year is 1918, and the war is World War I.

Image: Warner Bros.

Steve is played by Chris Pine, who has to be one of the most likable actors in Hollywood today, and the chemistry of Pine and Gadot is one of the movie’s great pleasures. Diana is a fish out of water in the modern world (modern by 1918 standards anyway) and there are very funny scenes of her attempting to understand this strange new world she finds herself in. Soon after she meets Steve, she asks him, “Are you considered an average example of your sex?” to which he replies, “I’m…above average.”
The movie was directed by Patty Jenkins, whose 2003 film Monster earned Charlize Theron an Academy Award for Best Actress. This is Jenkins’ first directorial feature since then, and she nails it. A character like Wonder Woman (although she’s never actually called that in the movie) can be difficult tonally, meaning that it can be hard to balance the more serious aspects of her character with some of the goofier ones, like the Lasso of Truth, which is kind of silly. But Jenkins makes it easy to care about Diana and Steve and the larger conflict unfolding, while also adding the right amount of humor. One of the biggest complaints people had with the previous DC movies was that they were too dark and joyless, but Jenkins’ film tells a serious and coherent story that is also a hell of a lot more fun than its predecessors.
It also nails the action sequences, providing thrilling action set pieces that are every bit as good as the Zack Snyder-directed action scenes from earlier films (say what you will about Zack Snyder, the dude knows how to film a fight scene) and are significantly better than the choppily-edited action scenes from David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. Seeing Diana in action is an absolute blast, she kicks all kinds of ass. The movie takes the potentially-absurd sight of a beautiful woman in a brightly-colored bustier striding into the no man’s land between trenches and turns it into something stirring and powerful. And give a lot of credit to Gadot for all the fight training she did, she makes Wonder Woman a butt-kicking force of nature.

Image: Warner Bros.

This is Gadot’s first real starring role, after supporting roles in Batman V Superman and the Fast and Furious series, among others. She gives Diana an almost-childlike sense of wonder at the world, and an eternal optimism that cannot be dampened. She’s naïve at first, but her character matures organically as the film progresses, and she comes to realize, with Steve’s help, that things aren’t as black-and-white as she thought they were. There’s also a great moment early on where Diana starts to realize just how powerful she is, and her little gasp of joy is perfect. Not since Sam Raimi’s original Spider-Man has a superhero film captured that sheer sense of joy that comes with discovering you’re more powerful than you thought you could be.
One weak point is the film’s villains. The performances by Danny Huston and Elena Anaya as the Evil German General and Evil German Scientist are fine but the characters are generic and don’t do much other than glower and cackle. There’s also a third, hidden villain, but I won’t say more about this character in the interest of avoiding spoilers. I will say that this character’s appearance makes the climax of the film a bit silly, but it’s a minor complaint. The lackluster villains aren’t a huge problem, since the film overall is very good, but it’s a bit disappointing that the bad guys are so bland.

Image: Warner Bros.

But it’s hard to complain when the rest of the movie is so good. It’s got great action and special effects, it’s more fun and less dark than other DC movies, and it has two terrific lead performances. We’ll be seeing Diana again later this year in Justice League, which hopefully will take more of its leads from this film than Batman V Superman or Suicide Squad. We’ll have to wait and see, but in the meantime we can all be happy that Wonder Woman is here to stay.