The Transformers: The Last Knight reviews are typically bad, but are they missing something? Of course, nobody was really surprised when the fifth entry in Michael Bay's explosive military fetishism masquerading as a toy movie ended up being savaged by critics - it currently sits on 15% on Rotten Tomatoes, a new low.
Indeed, if anything the vitriol was more intense this time around. This is the fifth movie and third Bay's claimed to be is his last, so the critical body seemed keen to finally decree enough was enough. The Last Knight was the final nail in an expensive coffin he's been building for the past ten years, exemplified by the hyperbolic reactions. The peak of this was Red Letter Media, who humorously ran a string of episodes in its various review series that saw them repeatedly fail to muster the interest to even view the film, and everyone else who did wasn't shy about them being right to not waste their time. And what else do you expect when this is more of the very poor same?
Except that isn't what The Last Knight is. OK, so the director's trademark Bayhem remains and thus the film is lumbered with all the same fundamental issues (for more on this, check out Lindsay Ellis' excellent unfolding series exploring Film Theory through the series) but this wasn't just Bay playing in his sandbox alone.
The Last Knight is the first movie to come out since Paramount decided to turn the robots in disguise into a shared universe and assembled an impressive writer's room to do so. The real results of this will be felt when Bumblebee arrives next year, but the film currently in theaters bears all the hallmarks of a shift. It has a general drive towards the future (there's the franchise's first post-credits scene) and boasts an attempt to expand the mythos by connecting the disparate threads from the previous entries into a coherent continuity. There is also a marked genre shift, with the frat boy comedy of the Shia LaBeouf era fully ditched for something more out-and-out sci-fi. That this has been done alone is worthy of comment, but beyond that it leads to something very curious.
Transformers: The Last Knight Is A Future Camp Classic
This franchise shift while remaining in the same broad style leads to two things. The first is the story is completely and utterly bonkers. Every movie in the series has been pretty ridiculous, sure, but the embracing of the out-there sci-fi elements leads to something much more extreme. In the film we learn Merlin (Stanley Tucci) go his magic from Transformers; everyone from Shakespeare to Shia LaBeouf has been part of secret organization The Order of the Witwiccans; a psycho watch killed Hitler; Earth is Unicron; and Mark Wahlberg is the Last Knight, pulling out Excalibur against Optimus Prime. And on that point, Prime's turn back from being randomly evil comes from the totally unprecedented use of Bumblebee's laughable voice, a friend-fight resolution that makes Batman v Superman's Martha look nuanced. There's also some heightened reality moments, like Megatron's goons being introduced with bizarre Suicide Squad-esque intros and Anthony Hopkins screaming at anybody he can. Bonkers really is the word.
The other thing is that all of this is delivered with an immense self-seriousness. The comedy elements that make Bay typically so repulsive are there to occasionally undercut it but overall the story group has clearly respected the decades of Transformers mythology in a manner similar to most non-movie material from the franchise.
Each of those two aspects alone would no doubt be grating, but together it creates an unexpected melding of tones that turns Transformers from gung-ho bro action into accidental camp; the film is simultaneously so silly and so proper it becomes perversely enjoyable. Now there's a big debate to what degree this is intentional - are we laughing at or with Bay - but there's enough tongue-in-cheek irreverence inherent to the director's style to suggest we're not just dealing with The Room of blockbusters. And even if it is, this quality all-but ensures in years to come the film becomes a cult classic. Just give it ten years.
Regardless of if you appreciate the schlock, there's no avoiding that the impact of the new writer's room and the silliness it begets is at the core of the movie, and yet is a major thing overlooked in all those aforementioned reviews. Why?