Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Transformers: The Last Knight

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Josh Duhamel, Laura Haddock, and Stanley Tucci

Director: Michael Bay

149 minutes (12) 2017
Widescreen ratio 1.90:1
Paramount 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray
[released 30 October]

Rating: 8/10
Review by Christopher Geary

While superhero epics practice destroying city-scapes, in pursuit of the ultimate disaster, the uncrowned king of devastating mayhem is back in action with the fifth picture in this sci-fi media and toys franchise. It continues the alien robot wars of previous sequels but adds more mythological borrowings, including Arthurian legends, and darkens the earlier pulp shades of space opera with a futuristic catastrophe mode of interplanetary jeopardy best represented by When Worlds Collide (1951).  

Some autobot survivors hideout in hero Cade’s scrap-yard, where aliens blend in with the rusty auto parts and scattered junk. While reactive military forces hunt down the outlaw  robots, Megatron assembles a team of decepticons, with names like Mohawk, Nitro Zeus, and Onslaught, to pursue the heroes while their leader Optimus Prime is off-world, lost in space. The global stage is all set for the familiar shape-shifting of mega-mecha, while the  sparks fly as exchanges of quirkily anarchic sub-cultural dialogue between the thoroughly aggressive machines inevitably leads to frequent explosions in slow-motion.

Failed inventor Cade responds to an attack by fleeing into a ruined city, where he and his Bumblebee car/ sidekick are recruited by a ‘ninja-butler’ robot named Cogman, and flown to England. There, eccentric earl Burton (Anthony Hopkins) welcomes the strange visitors to his history-packed castle, and explains the big plot. A glamorous professor, with daddy issues, British heroine Viviane (Laura Haddock, Da Vinci’s Dreams), becomes a Lara Croft stereotype who’s reportedly descended from Merlin. She inherits the super-weapon of the fabled magician’s staff.

During its quieter moments, this comedy actioner quickly relates the secret history of ETs on Earth which dates back to the Pangaean era, with a turning point for Camelot when an autobot dragon saves the kingdom from Saxon invaders. There is also the vital discovery of a crashed alien mother-ship lurking at the bottom of the sea. A showdown, centred on Stonehenge, begins the grand finale where colourful and routinely violent spectacle soon ranges from the massive to awesome as the Cybertron world brings its fractal hexagonal structures crashing into planet Earth. 

Alongside the Matrix trilogy, the live-action Transformers movies were like genre heralds of today’s DC and Marvel cinema adventures, and launched the on-going development of CGI characters, sometimes with human voices, that gave us Atom (in Real Steel), Ultron, Chappie, and Star Wars droid BB-8, etc. Uniquely, however, these big alien robots’ ability to transform into cars, lorries, planes, and... whatever, makes them so easily marketable all over again, as upgraded versions of the original toys. Obviously, there is truth in some of the cynical complaints that all these Transformers movies are really nothing more than slickly contrived adverts. And yet these big cinematic adverts for cars and toys represent a vast fantastic playground for SF notions of planetary adventure, cosmic scenarios about space invasions, and divergent timelines.

Nowadays, the competition between comics, games, and toys as source material adapted into blockbuster movies exhibits a fierce rivalry of metaphysical scope and transcendental scale, with an increasingly manic intensity for their special effects extravaganzas that are steadily and readily turning from conservative to blatantly cosmic, if not always achieving the truly mythic quality that is often aimed for by adventures such as Power Rangers and TMNT. Although much of this movie is clearly derivative with its assorted allusions to The Abyss, Avatar, and League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen, et al. Bay’s Transformers: The Last Knight is a dazzling quest saga with many quite staggering sequences of action. To belittle the hectic rush of macro-sized imagery as simply ‘maddening’ means overlooking a directorial style that accomplishes the much vaunted ‘sensawunda’ that cool SF aspires to, on the screen, but so rarely achieves outside of every keen sci-fi fan’s dreams.

Make no mistake, all the jokey misdemeanours of previous Transformers movies are here again, as Bay’s approach to irreverent comedy still revels in a politically-incorrect humour of sexism, racism, and scatological gags that many if not most film critics hate. However, Transformers: The Last Knight is a movie packed with wow moments best appreciated as a compilation of magnificent images. It is a stunning production, boasting an imaginative vigour and a daring, sensational thrill ride that rather too few of its genre contemporaries and/ or sci-fi rivals can match.

The 4K UHD edition makes the most of this movie’s dramatic shifts in visual tone, with the HDR presenting its IMAX camera scenes and more life-like colours to great effect.
The Blu-ray extras disc contains over 90 minutes worth of bonus featurettes: 
  • Merging Mythologies - looks behind the scenes of the medieval battle.
  • Creating Destruction: Inside The Packard Plant - a return to the Detroit location that portrays the ruins of Chicago.
  • Climbing The Ranks - is about the military aid for this movie production.
  • Uncovering The Junkyard - explores the hero’s refuge.
  • Royal Treatment: Transformers In The UK - concerns filming in London.
  • Motors & Magic - reveals the new cars and favourite toys that are mainstays of this franchise.  
  • Alien Landscape: Cybertron - creating a world for the living machines to call home.
  • One More Giant ‘Effin’ Movie - the colourful world of Transformers maintains a tongue-in-cheek approach. 

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