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Monday 3 July 2017

The Last Shite

Oh god, it's Bayformers time again.

If one forgets, I posted a fairly lengthy shredding of Age of Extinction three years ago, way back here. You might wish to glance at for your delectation if you share my opinion that the only good Transformers movie was released in the 80s.

Let's just say that this one doesn't exactly offer any redemption.

There will be spoilers. But that won't make much difference because the story is, frankly, a garbled fucking mess at the best of times and a desecration of cinematic process at the worst. Here is one of the spoilers: Mark Wahlberg's racist hero man is apparently a good guy because he gets given Excalibur.

Oh yeah, here we go.

As before, I will list the things that were actually positive.

  • The score was quite good.
  • There's approximately thirty seconds of bot-on-bot combat that doesn't look like garbage.
  • One scene was actually better and more entertaining than the rest of the movie.

...we good? Okay, we good.

Don't watch this movie.

It reeks. It reeks to high heaven. Almost every aspect of it is a drudgery, a sham of a film, an ill-conceived thousand-monkey thousand-typewriter farce that didn't deserve to break even at the box office.

Where do I even begin to pick it apart? Well - let's begin at the beginning.

We are treated to a laddish sham of an introduction, involving the so-called Knights of the Round Table - yes, King Arthur and all. Puerile comedy, demonstrating Merlin as a charlatan, the Saxons as being mindless savages intent on razing England to the ground, and a three-headed Cybertronian dragon summoned by a staff given to Merlin by Transformers that were totally hear in 400AD, yo.

That's the intro. I hated myself for sitting through it, let alone for the rest of this agonising 149-minute debacle.

The entire Arthurian aspect of the plot is tacky and badly done, as you might expect. Honestly, most of it could be cut out and would leave the film just as coherent and competent as before. It's an excuse to make Mark Wahlberg into something more than what he is - grumpy mechanic. A walking Bud Light product placement. (There's an actually horribly tasteless Bud Light product placement in the movie, too, but eh.)

Speaking of plot aspects. This plot is beyond shaky. It requires multiple maguffins, most of which are delivered from seemingly nowhere via confusing and ill-defined means, in order to facilitate a standard destroy-the-earth-in-ten-minutes storyline. It would probably, realistically speaking, only require an hour-long TV special to actually convey the story were it not for the amount of junk filler that is put in for no apparent reason. That would even be if it made any damn sense. I even invented a term for this film: maguffinception. We need to get the maguffin to get another maguffin!

So Quintessa was some kind of bad woman who was apparently Prime's "creator", and apparently the "creator" of all the Cybertronians. She is all hanging out on the ruin of Cybertron - torn apart in the events of the third shitheap movie - waiting for a staff that was taken from her by a dozen Cybertronians at least sixteen hundred years ago (probably more) to be brought back to her. And how lucky she is that Optimus Prime shows up, here and now!

We have no idea if any of that is true, who she is, what she is, what actually happened to Cybertron, what powers she has shy of doing a number on Optimus Prime's personality (more on that later), or why the Knights of Iacon took her staff in the first place. Short of the fact that she is some kind of betrayer and not to be trusted. All of the action seems to kick off now because - coinciding with Optimus Prime's crash-landing in the ruins of Cybertron - Male Hero is given a mystical maguffin by a crashed ancient knight, presumably having landed not so long ago and been shot down by Earth's Transformer Reaction Force.

The TRF. Let's focus on them for a minute. Yet again there is an elite anti-Transformer military/police/surveillance force kicking about, and this one has literal skulls on its iconography. You aren't the good guys if your symbol is a skull. That's not about defending. That's the film-maker being lazy in trying to advertise these folks as bad guys. In truth, that's not hard to do - they're pretty fucking unbearable.

In fairness. Every character in this movie is fucking unbearable. The two that you hate the least, in the end, are Bumblebee (can't talk) and Barricade (despite problematic imagery, just doing his job). They're all just unpleasant to everyone else, and needlessly so, too. Two thirds of the characters are written as walking punchlines and they just deliver that punchline over and over and over again. It wasn't funny the first time around, let alone the thirty-first. The rest? Just awful in general. Horrible to watch interact with each other. The kind of people that you'd avoid in real life.

There's a bit of The Room in this, because whoever wrote this script - like Tommy Wiseau - knows very little about how people actually talk to each other or interact. Mark Wahlberg's character is a hideous parody of your average American. Laura Haddock is treated as you might expect any woman to be treated in a Michael Bay movie: pretty fucking poorly. I feel as much pity for her as I do frustration at the shit script she got handed. She literally gets abducted at one point, for no fucking reason at all.

A significant proportion of the characters are pretty unnecessary, too. John Turturro's neurotic, borderline pedophilic, distinctly deranged conspiracy theorist is a primary example. He is in it to deliver a second maguffin. He could have been replaced by Anthony Hopkins' character merely owning a copy of a book. That could have saved a lot of screen time. It would make sense for him, too - being that he is very wealthy, possesses a significant amount of historical material relating to the Transformers, and is actually part of the Order of Witwicca who dealt with keeping the secret throughout history.

Oh yeah. Here's a new bit of Transformers history. They love fucking with it, and now, we have the apparent involvement of this order having helped conceal and also involve Transformers in the history of the world ever since Arthurian legend. One of the apparent members of the Order of Witwicca is Harriet Tubman. That's right. One of the most racist movie franchises in history decided to co-opt Harriet Tubman.

It's unfortunate that the one, single good scene in this entire film is set in the middle of this big revelation - which is a fifteen-minute exposition exercise, framed on both sides by half an hour of Human Beings Running Away, a staple of Transformers. It is also very controversial.

Turns out that Bumblebee has been on earth for a fair while. He was involved in the Second World War - helped the Allied war effort. He joined in with an attack on one of Hitler's strongholds, and the scene in which it happens is pretty visually stunning. It's like there could have been a World War 2 Transformers movie, and it could have been so much better - but I think the scene was made better because hardly anyone talks, no sympathy is forced upon us, and Bumblebee is just being Bumblebee. Helping out his friends.

It's a shame that in order to shoot that, they had to drape massive Nazi party banners with swastikas all over Winston Churchill's family home. But then, that is one shining glorious moment in this movie where the awful distasteful crassness is kept behind the camera - which I suppose, in a sick way, is praise. Though I fail to see how you could fuck something like that up. I mean did nobody think to check? ...I suppose they probably actually didn't.

I mentioned that Bumblebee was being Bumblebee.

Every single Autobot in this film is just super-aggressive for no apparent reason. Perhaps because they are being cast as the leading support characters in a big macho movie for big macho men, with toxicity running through its veins like blood and steroids. They can't be smart or safe. They have to be reckless and willing to shoot each other and angry and always ALWAYS ready to kill. The Autobots are the good guys, remember. I've commented on this before - even Optimus Prime seems to become a bloodthirsty asshole in the Bayverse. His first instinct the moment he sees his creator is to try and murder her. He charges her with a sword - and she hasn't even done anything yet, outside of confirming her identity. Later, he single-handedly attacks a six-part combiner (who is actually pretty fucking cool and doesn't get anywhere near enough attention) and kills every last one of the consistent 'bots, declaring "Don't you know who I am? I AM OPTIMUS PRIME."

Turning Prime into someone willing to murder innocents in order to get what he wants wasn't that difficult for Quintessa, surely. Bay's Prime seems to become a righteous killer with very little justification or prompting, and takes more and more pride in his ability to maim and mangle his opponents with apparent ease. His opposite number, Megatron, gets even less screen time than the standard Bayformer restriction - anyone that isn't a mascot robot gets minimal. It's not exactly revealed how Megs survived, but he's apparently gone kind of mad, taking to setting light to the floor when angry and becoming a complete coward.

The Decepticons aren't immune to the bullshit spraypaint, it bears mention. Megatron negotiates with "the humans" - yes, the almighty maniacal Megatron, negotiating for the location of Mark Wahlberg Hero Man - to have several of his people released to get the maguffin back from aforementioned Hero Man. Each of these ridiculously named and zero-developed Decepticons is given a little intro splash ripped straight out of Suicide Squad, and just like Suicide Squad, every last one of them are terrible. Onslaught, Mohawk, Dreadbot and Nitro Zeus - and the Berzerker but apparently he isn't fit for release - all get this little splash, and every last one of them was locked up despite both the TRF and Cemetery Wind in the last film being kill-everything task forces rather than take-prisoners task forces.

We can't care about any of these people. We're prodded and forced to have a degree of empathy for characters that the film itself can't make us give a shit about, because they're inherently unlikable. As I said before - Barricade and Bumblebee are the only two that don't suck.

Also present is the standard casual racism you'd expect from Michael Bay films - people of colour chronically under-represented and given pretty shitty roles. Hero Man's assistant at his junkyard is black, and has a constant refrain of "I can't go to jail", cracks about not paying taxes, and is literally described by Mark Wahlberg as "My Little Crimey". Yes, really. Wahlberg also constantly calls the local law enforcement Chief, because guess what - he's Native American. This guy actually calls Wahlberg out on it, too. Too late though. We're meant to like him, so it's okay.

In fact we are forced to recognise him as being the protagonist because the movie literally straps Excalibur to him and makes him the Last Knight of the Round Table. We're told this is because he displays knightly qualities, which must apparently happen off-screen, and we're also told that the scriptwriters don't understand what chaste means. I've seen Wahlberg actually act in movies, he's pretty good, so I can only assume that Cade Yeager (THAT'S HIS NAME OH FUCK) is actually written to be this dumpster fire of a person. In the end, he helps save the day in zero-gravity by grabbing British-lady's hand and LITERALLY shooting a gun at nothing at all. Propelling them across the space in between. Cade Yeager, drinks bud light, threatens to punch kids in the head (he does that), doesn't understand sarcasm, saves the world via celebratory gunfire.

I will repeat for emphasis, before I continue with random bullshit:

Mark Wahlberg's character is given Excalibur, and is made the Last Knight of the Round Table.

There's the puzzle that is Hot Rod. Hot Rod, who has a ridiculous French accent, and apparently hates it, despite Anthony Hopkins insisting that he likes it and puts it on. This is a cause for chortling and tee-heeing. Silly robot with an accent. Fucking come on, really? Earlier in the film, another Autobot mocks Drift for having a Japanese accent. I know I have rallied pretty hard against Drift being turned from potentially interesting concept character into a lol-samurai Japanese caricature, but come on, really? Picking on accents? I guess it's just in line with the expectations of a series of movies wherein cheap laughs are gained from a giant combiner having big swinging metal testicles. The effects are expensive, but the comedy is cheap. Desperately cheap.

Whoever planned this has total disdain for geography, claiming that the Horns of Unicron - yes, apparently Earth is Unicron, that storyline is stolen from the vastly superior Transformers Prime animated series - were once a perfect circle, back when Pangaea was a thing. And in the middle of this circle was apparently Stonehenge. This has to be basic ignorance, just hoping that nobody will look it up, or realise that the centre of Pangaea actually formed the African continent. Which it did. Meaning Stonehenge should be somewhere in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Once every twenty minutes I found myself asking, where the fuck are they now? There's a chase through London which is embarrassingly inconsistent as to where in London it is actually taking place. Following this chase the characters take a submarine down the Thames, but don't actually come out of the Thames Estuary - we're not actually fucking sure where that submarine was coming out of, but it's about as close to the Thames Valley as it is to Addis Ababa.

The film makers also show as much respect for physics as one of the members of the White House staff show to a physicist in the movie, too. We have a large mass, very large, the ruin of Cybertron, approaching Earth at 10% of lightspeed. It was guided, by Quintessa, somehow - and when it shows up, it's impact time. It collides with part of the moon, destroying one of our lunar landers and the ship that Sentinel Prime arrived on the moon in. Apparently the moon's surface is okay, despite the obviously huge amount of force enacted on it in direct impact. Then, Cybertron just...fucking...squats over Stonehenge. Yes, something with about the third of the mass of a metal planet parks directly over Somerset.

I don't need to tell you just how badly fucked we would be if that happened. If the moon was fifty miles closer, we'd be pretty boned. Cybertron? Dragging fucking dredges of itself across the surface of the planet, presumably killing tens of millions? Tidal waves the likes of which you can't imagine. Our magnetosphere fucked to death, long before the evil plan can be carried out. Continents disrupted. Land masses shifted. The devastation would be incredible, not to mention the subsequent nuclear winter - Krakatoa erupted in 1883 and caused record snowfalls for four years, how much shit would be kicked into the atmosphere if a planet just rocked up into our own?

I have no idea what the folks who made this were really thinking as they went about their business. Like it is clear to me that at least one of them watched The Abyss sometime during production, as there's an extended and unnecessary undersea scene. There's three baby Dinobots, and nobody can explain how they happened, unless Slag and Grimlock are a mating pair. There's Izabella, whose random teenage rebelliousness is required in a Bay movie - and there's her love for these baby Dinobots, and her own little pet robot, Squeaks. Squeaks is essentially just a shit BB-8. These things are all taken straight from the Lucas school of CGI Gopher. There's your standard "omg the military is so hawt" selection of shots, which in most things I find interesting, but in this seems crowbarred in to put a couple minutes between shots of the main characters being awful to each other. Every Transformers movie features a huge amount of military porn, if only because I know every movie features at least one military vehicle, and probably the creators of such wouldn't allow this unless they were shown in a good light. The cinematography was at times embarrassingly basic, with shaky-cam shots thrown in because rendering things accurately is apparently bad times, and getting a good clean look at anyone but the Mascotbots is asking for trouble.

I can't cover absolutely everything wrong with this tripe. So what follows is a series of notes I jotted down as I watched it, which you may find fun without any context.

- Mark Wahlberg Is Terrible
- Every Transformer Is Terrible
- More Racism
- Everyone Is Terrible
- Wahldaughter's primary concern is her dad's lovelife
- Megatron???
- What Even Is Physics
- "Over The Pond Right Now"
- Every Plot Element Delivered Via WhoKnows
- English Ladies Aren't Like That
- Cool Reformat Cut Out Because Probably Too Cool
- Everyone Is Fucking Terrible
- They Are Made To Hate Each Other Obviously
- "That's the watch that killed Hitler, don't screw with it."
- Of course the sarcy English professor is Merlin's descendant.
- More Humans Running
- Oooh Yay A Sex Joke
- We Couldn't Wiki Pangaea
- "Move Bitch Get Out Of My Way"
- HMS Alliance Is A Transformer?????
- I Hate Myself
- ISS just goes away just like that
- Yep, they're all unbearable again
- Oh God No Why Fucking No UGH
- Casual Slaughter Of Millions
- No, Soldiers Aren't Arthurian Knights
- Xenophobia Is Only Cool If They're Not Optimus Prime
- "Are we the bad guys!?"
- Now We Must Believe In Myth
- "DID YOU FORGET WHO I AM" - apparently you did
- "I AM OPTIMUS PRIME" we know you say it every movie
- Planetary Mass Crash Landing Is Fine Apparently

It is setting up for a sequel. I don't know what they want out of it. I don't care. All I know is that the sooner Bay gets his hands off this, the sooner they get some better scriptwriters in, the sooner they start making this about the bots rather than Hero Man and Lol-People, the sooner we'll get the Transformers movie that we really want.

Even if, just maybe, humanity is such a junkyard that this is the Transformers we deserve.

Don't watch this. If you do watch this, please, please feel better. Talk to someone. Don't suffer in silence.

And for fuck's sake, people. Stop doing this to the franchise I love.

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