It was an unconventional premiere held in an unconventional venue - Chicago's Civic Opera House fitted with a massive IMAX screen and wired to present the film in IMAX 3D - a fitting debut for a film heavily marketed for being "shot on IMAX 3D cameras." Having attended several Hollywood premieres in the past, but only one here at home (Project Greenlight's Stolen Summer way back in 2002), it was interesting to see how differently Chicago handled a red carpet this time around - the carpet placed not in front of the venue, but on a barge floating in the Chicago River behind it. While the carpet was live-streamed for those both in the theater and at home, much of the vibrant electricity of a big premiere was lost by cutting off access from fans (save for a select few), right down to the city placing blacked-out chain link fence on the neighboring bridge to block the view from passing motorists.
Inside, Bay took center stage alongside members of his cast and crew, presenting a few quick anecdotes before the film got underway - the highlight of which was no doubt the live display of voice talents by Frank Welker (Megatron) and Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime).
From left to right: Mark Wahlberg, Michael Bay, Laura Haddock, Josh Duhamel, Isabela Moner, Jerrod Carmichael, Santiago Cabrera, Juliocesar Chavez, Remi Adeleke Frank Welker, Peter Cullen (Photo by Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images for Paramount Pictures)
The film itself is a spectacle - a full-on visual assault that is both beautiful and exhilarating, yet gritty and exhausting. When the first film was released, I remember being blown-away by the visuals which made the metallic, yet organic heroes and villains seem remarkably complex. As the series and technology have evolved, THE LAST KNIGHT makes the first film seem quaint and simplistic in comparison.
By doing a little revisionist history (something I once employed while developing my own Death Walks the Streets series), THE LAST KNIGHT reworks TRANSFORMERS lore to give purpose to the fact that the Autobots and Decepticons are always coming to Earth. As established in the last film, AGE OF EXTINCTION, they've been here for thousands of years (hence the Dinobots), and we soon find that the "magic" or myths and legends was, in fact, the work of TRANSFORMERS, with Merlin commanding a mighty dragon "Combiner" that was the alternate form of the Knights of Cybertron. Dropped right into a battle with The Knights of the Roundtable, it's impressive.
In present-day, the world continues to live in distrust of our metallic friends, with a new human faction called the "TRF" - not "The Rock Father," but "Transformers Reaction Force" - policing their activity. Familiar characters from past installments appear, and new ones like young heroine Izabela (Isabela Moner) and her Autobot sidekick Sqweeks, and the man who ties it all together, Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) along with his assistant Cogman (a "Headmaster," which isn't explained in the movie) to explain the true history of TRANSFORMERS and their exploits over the past 1,000 years.
As Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) continues to assist the Autobots, he finds himself taking Izzy under his wing, just as he's being thrust into a larger global and interplanetary issue when it is revealed that Optimus Prime has been turned evil by a force known as Quintessa on his home planet of Cybertron, setting off a new battle that actually unites humans with Decepticons when it is realized that in order for Cybertron to be rebuilt, Earth must perish. But that's not all that's going on here, and there's a lot to absorb.
Where my criticism comes in is that the story goes off in too many directions, my wife even stating: "there's three screenplays worth of material in here, and I wish they would've just stuck to one of them." There are times when we move away from characters for what feels like too long - the narrative jumping continents just as it jumps plot threads. This contributes to my number one point of contention with the entire TRANSFORMERS series, despite the fact that I've enjoyed every film overall... the running time is just too long. Two and a half hours a piece is pretty long-in-the-tooth for these. Entertaining, but too long.
With seven credited writers and six credited editors, I can't help but wonder if THE LAST KNIGHT would've benefited from a tighter vision on those ends with less cooks in the kitchen? Bay has a distinct directorial style that moviegoers tend to either like or not (I count myself among his fans), and the sweeping visuals that audiences have come to expect are all here. Everything is BIG, from the glorious landscapes to the tight action shots, always maintaining the feeling that this world is a massive canvas on which to spin an equally massive story. The vibe is maintained, but then there's a few things that don't quite mesh, like a very SUICIDE SQUAD-esque roll-call introduction for a handful of Decepticons mid-film. It looks really cool, but it's just not the same. If you're gonna go cartoony, then go that way - but it has to be consistent. On another editing note, many will be happy to know that there is no breaking of the fourth wall as we saw in early commercials featuring Izzy directly addressing the camera - that was purely marketing.
In the end, TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT is a movie that delivers some great moments and is ultimately quite entertaining for fans of the series or those who dig a hefty dose of big action. There's a toy box sensibility at play here that helps cover the wrinkles for a movie that is firmly aimed straight at fans to the point that its very existence could potentially be held as a slight toward series detractors - something I think Bay himself seems to like.
While both Michael Bay and Mark Wahlberg have publicly stated that they're walking away from the TRANSFORMERS universe following THE LAST KNIGHT, only time will tell if that remains true. Bay has been pulled back into it in the past, and while Wahlberg's character arc has come to a heroic conclusion, a return to Cybertronian warfare wouldn't be surprising. Despite being "the final chapter," there's a door that remains wide open to continue some story elements laid in THE LAST KNIGHT, and it's no secret that there's a writer's room that has already mapped-out future movies.
What's certain is that the next big-screen TRANSFORMERS adventure is going back in time - a stand-alone BUMBLEBEE film ready to roll, intriguingly set in the 1980s and potentially giving old-school fans like myself the period film we've been waiting for - a tale that will move the franchise forward by returning to its G1 roots.
TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT is rated PG-13 and is now-playing in theaters everywhere. Get tickets via my affiliate, Fandango.