Who are the people who see Transformers movies?

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Optimus Prime and Bumblebee in Transformers: The Last Knight.

1-star

I find it hard to believe that anyone cares.

When I was around 13 (peak age for any massive blockbuster), I don’t think it really occurred to me that the movies that were made to appeal to me were the product of several hundred grown-ups. I mean, intuitively, I knew, but I didn’t sit there and watch Men in Black or Spawn or the first Mummy movie with Brendan Fraser and think “hundreds of tax-paying, mortgage-having, acid-reflux-fighting adults had to get together and make this in a way that would appeal to me.” Now that I’m older, paying taxes and burping as adults are wont to do, I’m faced with this idea.

I find it hard to believe that anyone cares.

Transformers: The Last Knight is undeniably an achievement in the same way that a new condo tower is an achievement: it’s impressive that there was nothing once and now there’s something, but I can’t wrap my head around the fact that grown-ups — folks just like you and I, but presumably richer — had to devote a year of their life to this. Transformers is a franchise based on toys presumably designed to sell more toys, so it’s not actually any great surprise that the film’s narrative is a chaotic, overstuffed and overstimulated mess, and yet it remains surprising exactly how completely overcaffeinated it all is.

I find it hard to believe that anyone cares.

In a way, though, it seems obvious that Michael Bay doesn’t really care. He certainly doesn’t care about the Transformers themselves — they often take a back seat to the action here, to the point where I had to remind myself a few times that the Transformers could actually transform into shit even though they’re ostensibly ancient mech-alien beings. Bay loves action and carnage and war and destruction and explosions (everything explodes in this movie; every single cast member does at least one backflip away from an explosion) but he seems deeply uninterested in these dumb-shit robots and their arcane shenanigans.

There’s kind of a lot to parse here, so let’s see how well I can explain this. The film opens with a prologue that explains that the Transformers have been around since 484 AD, when they crash-landed into Merry Olde England and gave Merlin a powerful stick or wand or whatever the hell that, as all good MacGuffins, will come in handy later. Flash-forward some 1600 years and disgraced inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) is living in a junkyard in the middle of nowhere with his assistant Jimmy (Jerrod Carmichael) and a whole heaping ton of the nice Transformers. The bad Transformers are still out there, as are the government (led by anti-Transformer op with a heart of gold Josh Duhamel), who are attempting to control the Transformer population that keeps falling from the sky.

Yeager befriends a young orphan (Isabela Moner) who has escaped from a contained Transformer zone with her half-broken Vespa Transformer pal; meanwhile, some old British fogey (Anthony Hopkins) who wears too many scarves and potters around with a psychotic robotic butler holds some deep-seated secrets about Transformers and ropes in a sexy archeologist (Laura Haddock) while pink-shorted John Turturro yells at him over the phone. Eventually this whole merry bunch is gathered together, Optimus Prime falls out of the heavens and everything explodes constantly for another solid hour as they float above and around Stonehenge. (Nazis are also, somehow, involved.)

I’ll be honest here: I’ve never been so sure that I have no idea what I’m talking about. There are so many characters and plot strands here that it soon becomes completely unmanageable; though it’s not really that hard to follow since motivations are pretty clear (it’s almost always about finding and/or grabbing something and bringing it somewhere else) take a step back and you’ll see only carnage and chaos and forever-swirling allegiances and motivations. Characters travel across the world in the space of a cut; some Transformers transform into whatever they want, some can rebuild and others bleed green toxic waste out of their mouths.

There’s lots of panicked explaining of things that is often drowned out by the sound of explosions, and Optimus Prime keeps saying that his name is Optimus Prime in a tone I’ve only heard on public-TV ads for non-profits.  I have to admit there’s something admirable about how relentless an assault Transformers: The Last Knight proves to be. It doesn’t let up for a second, cobbled together with nausea-inducing editing (I spent the majority of the prologue, which features Stanley Tucci as Merlin, thinking there were somehow two Merlins), who-gives-a-fuck patching-together of plot holes and a sort of blatant disregard for anything resembling the conventions of linear storytelling.

I find it hard to believe that anyone cares.

You know that feeling you have right before you’re about to throw up? That lurching feeling where you know what’s coming and you know that you’ll immediately feel better once you do, and yet your instinct remains to resist? That’s the wavelength that the majority of Transformers: The Last Knight operates on, a wobbly-yet-unstoppable propelling force filled with outside stimuli, indifferent performances and so much shiny, chromed-up CGI it verges on the abstract.

The special effects are simultaneously great and completely alienating; I’ve never been more aware of the seams showing in a big computerized extravaganza than I have here. Even the jokes seem to have been patched in at a later date, witless one-liners delivered at full volume by off-screen characters. If you peel away all the layers of post-production, you can only imagine that the core of many of these scenes are just Mark Wahlberg staring blankly at tennis balls in front of a green screen.

I find it hard to believe that anyone (especially Mark Wahlberg) cares.

Some of the action scenes in Transformers: The Last Knight verge on the meditative; they’re so completely incomprehensible that they function almost as white noise. I found myself completely checked out of the film at least half-a-dozen times and yet, somehow, the film has a perverse hold on you. I laughed a lot at this movie; a few times at jokes that the film intended to be funny, but more often than not at its panicked need to throw convention into the swirling mess it has created. (As Wahlberg is about to jet off into space to fight the alien robot overlords, he borrows a soldier’s cellphone to send a cryptic emoji-laden text to his estranged daughter, who has not appeared in the film at all; the movie that played in my mind of his daughter getting this nonsense text from an unknown number is my favourite comedy of the year.)

I don’t know who Transformers is for; it’s colourful and loud in a way that’ll appeal to children, but the story is way too complicated for kids and the tone teeters constantly. It’s a movie made for no one, about nothing, that packs every inch of its frame with colors and sounds and screeching. It will make so much money.

I find it hard to believe that anyone cares. ■

Transformers: The Last Knight opens in theatres on Wednesday, June 21. Watch the trailer here:

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