Defending Michael Bay, more or less

By Liam Lacey

Director Michael Bay's new movie, Transformers: The Last Knight, about saving the planet from angry robots, is getting the usual battery from reviewers - who seem to imply, that if this is what human race produces, perhaps we’re not even worth saving.

 Bot and paid for. Chef Bay serves big portions

Bot and paid for. Chef Bay serves big portions

In Bay’s defense, it’s a summer movie, and it’s not as though he serves you measly portions of what he dishes out. You get a lot of bang for your buck up there on the screen. And along with the bang, a lot of motion. The camera wheels about, giant things loom, the background spins. Military cameras with cross-hairs and green markings zoom in, shrapnel and fireballs streak across the screen. In the lower part of the screen, little humans run, shoot ineffective assault rifles at the giants and get tossed through the air.

Also, there's lots and lots of plot, including a Dan Brown/Steven Spielberg-style historical conspiracy story. (Did you even cross your mind that that alien robots might have killed Hitler?) In the present-day human drama, focusing on Texas inventor, Cade (played by Mark Wahlberg, with the reassuring nonchalance of a guy listening to the ballgame in the mall parking lot while his wife gets a mani-pedi). Cade is so chill he's only mildly surprised to discover that he is the "Last Knight", heir to the legacy of King Arthur and the Round Table.

 And critics keep bringing out the knives

And critics keep bringing out the knives

In The Last Knight's first third, he's saddled with a feisty 14-year-old Hispanic orphan (Isabela Moner) until he finds an age-appropriate partner in an Oxford professor and haughty hottie named Vivian (Laura Haddock), who happens to be the last living relative of Merlin the Magician.  They're both kidnapped and brought together by a dotty earl (Anthony Hopkins, shameless, but amusing). The earl puts them in a Second World War submarine and sends them off to recover Merlin's staff before it is found by the formerly good, but now evil, Autobot leader, Optimus Prime.

Locations? You got ‘em: Chicago, South Dakota, Cuba, London, Hong Kong, Namibia, Stonehenge, under the ocean, in a city, in a desert and on other planets.

There is also dialogue, all kinds of dialogue, as long as you aren't looking for the kind that sparkles.  There are growling declarations of villainous intent ("For my world to live, yours must die"), and great oatmealy lumps of exposition ("For a thousand years, we've kept it hidden, to protect Earth from what is expected to arrive...").

There’s also a steady flow of quips from funny actors (Stanley Tucci, John Turturro, Tony Hale and John Goodman) though "quips” isn’t quite the right word. More often, the lines are more like filler-with-attitude, as in the line delivered by comedian Jerrod Carmichael, who plays Cade's cowardly assistant: "You hired me from a newspaper ad. You think I come with a super-power?"

Finally, Michael Bay is not, as The Daily Beast wrote last year, the "Donald Trump of cinema”, even if they're both size-obsessed misogynists. In fact, now that Bay has finished with the Transformers franchise, he is working on a dystopian drama featuring an incompetent Trump-like president. Any fair-minded viewer can see The Transformers movies are avidly pro-immigration, at least for alien robots. And, mild spoiler alert, Optimus Prime's paranoid episode of "Autobots First” is brief, before he reaffirms our interdependency. Transformers: The Last Knight is not a good movie but it’s not that bad.

Transformers. Directed by Michael Bay, written by Art Marcum, Matt Holloway and Ken Nolan. Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Anthony Hopkins, Laura Haddock and Isabel Moner. At the Cineplex Varsity, Cineplex Yonge-Eglinton, Cineplex Yonge-Dundas, Scotiabank Theatre and Silvercity Yorkdale.


Liam Lacey

Liam Lacey is a former film critic for The Globe and Mail, as well as contributor to various other media outlets over the past 37 years.. He recently returned to Canada from Spain because he forgot about the weather