In My Summer of Summer Movies, I have committed to seeing and reviewing every film that opens in Chicago from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The fact that I take this commitment relatively seriously is the only reason I saw Transformers: The Last Knight, and gave Michael Bay my money for the first time since 1998's Armageddon. (I think I saw 2001's Pearl Harbor—or as much of it as I could stand, anyway—but I definitely didn't pay for it.)
This commitment is also the only reason this post exists, because there is nothing I want to say—nothing I possibly could say—about Transformers: The Last Knight.
This will not be a review: this film cannot be reviewed, for there are no agreed-upon standards that seem to apply to it. And this will not be a summary: this film's stunningly incomprehensible story can't even be followed, let alone summarized. I am not completely sure, to be honest, that Transformers: The Last Knight even qualifies as a "film" at all, at least by any definition of the word that makes sense to me. Perhaps it is some new, bastardized, avant-garde art form that I just don't get, and don't want to get. We may need an entirely different vocabulary, one that I have absolutely no desire to ever learn.
I can't even describe my own personal experience of sitting in the theater for two-and-a-half hours while whatever this thing was happened on a screen in front of me. I simply don't have any basis for comparison. I can think of no prior experience on which I could draw—a bad acid trip? a diarrhetic fever? my father's funeral?—that would not feel like flattering Transformers: The Last Knight with a falsely generous analogy.
My urge, upon leaving the theater, was not to come home and write a review. It was to come home, take a handful of Advil with a large glass of whisky, and write letters of apology to every other filmmaker I have ever demeaned in print or disparaged by word. I owe James Cameron an apology for how much I hated Avatar. I owe Peter Jackson an apology for finding his Tolkien movies overlong and unwatchably dull. I owe George Lucas an apology for how shitty I thought the Star Wars prequels were. I owe Gore Verbinski an apology for ever suggesting that the Pirates of the Caribbean movies were incomprehensible, overstuffed crap.
(Guys, you are artists all: gentlemen and scholars. You have remarkable grasps on the basic principles of narrative. You admirably understand simple causality. You know how to put two shots together in a way that does not brutally sodomize the senses, and even how to put simple words together in an order that occasionally resembles human language. I am sorry, so sorry, if I ever failed to give any of you sufficient accolades for at least understanding that a movie was supposed to be roughly movie-shaped.)
Hell, I owe an apology to this summer's The Mummy, and to anyone who read my review and said, "C'mon, it wasn't that bad." I'm sorry. I didn't fully understand the curve upon which we were grading, but now I get it. You're absolutely right: The Mummy wasn't so bad. The Mummy could have been worse. The Mummy was practically Shakespearean. In retrospect—now that I think about it—I fucking love The Mummy. Everyone, go see The Mummy. It's great. It has a story you can almost follow, and characters who are vaguely recognizable as humans, and everything.
It's my fault. I just didn't understand. I had never seen a Transformers movie before, and so I didn't know how far the bar for a summer blockbuster had been lowered. I assumed, if nothing else, it would have impressive action scenes and stunning special effects. (It doesn't.) I assumed there might be some humor. (There isn't.) I assumed the appeal of these films was big, dumb fun, but Transformers: The Last Knight never feels that big and never provides a single ounce of redeeming fun. (Dumb, it provides.)
I didn't know that fundamental principles of storytelling could be so completely disregarded. I didn't know that basic competency and coherence were now considered elitist. I didn't know that every rule of continuity that film editors have agreed upon, over more than a century of cinematic progress, had been completely jettisoned. I didn't know that disconnected nonsense now passed for plot, or that incomprehensible noise now passed for fun. I didn't know that stunningly racist robots were now considered funny, or that sexually objectifying 14-year-old girls was now considered acceptable. I didn't know that the degradation and denigration of the cinematic art form—and the systematic dumbing-down of the worldwide cinematic audience—had reached such a tipping point that millions of people would voluntarily pay money to sit through Transformers: The Last Knight.
But I get it now. I've re-calibrated my scales accordingly. From here on out, I'll be grading movies on a bell-curve, because I have seen, at last, the clapper.
Only last week, I warned myself against the dangerous temptations of critical hyperbole. And I want you to know that I have not forgotten that. I am bearing those dangers in mind. I have interrogated my own emotional reactions, and challenged my own unreasonable expectations. I came home from the theater, and wrote these words, but I did not publish them. I went to bed, and slept on it, so I could reconsider my verdict in the clear light of day.
And now I am saying—with calm, carefully-reasoned certainty—that Transformers: The Last Knight is probably the single worst thing I have ever seen in a movie theater.
4 thoughts on “TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT”
"This will not be a review: this film cannot be reviewed,"
A quote to be remembered long after the film it's about is forgotten.
"I didn't know that basic competency and coherence were now considered elitist."
That's how we ended up with the current occupant of the White House.
I had not seen any of Michael Bay's films since "Armageddon," either. It was not in a theater. It was at my half-sister's house, and it was one of the things that led to my falling out with her.
I decided to leave politics out of it, but my reaction to TTLK did feel very much like my reaction to Election Night '16 (and '04): "Wait…there are people who really like this shit?"
Honestly, I expected this. And Bay's remarks that we'll still pay to see it, even though the "haters" complain, made me see red. I thought to myself "fuck giving money and validation to that notion." You can only push an audience so far before irreversibly alienating and choking rage in their throats. I know you only paid out of critical capacity so I'm just sorry for your loss of money. And brain cells. I hope you know a good brain surgeon.
Just out of curiosity, what was the theater crowd like? Any general feel you got from the crowd that viewing?
The theater was depressingly full, but I can't say anyone seemed to be particularly enjoying it: very little laughter, no cheering, etc. The only thing I did notice is that the people near me talked through the talky parts of the movie, confirming my suspicion that no one goes to these things for the dialogue or the plot.