Transformers: The Last Knight & Farewell to Bayhem

Mesmerizing. Like staring directly into a void and seeing a mad scientist use art as a weapon of mass destruction just because they could. An affront to nature. An affront to mankind. An affront to God herself. 

There is a God in this universe. Her name is Quintessa(?). I don’t know if she exists in prior Transformers lore but her name reminds me of Tesla. But where in reality a manic pixie dream capitalist brainwashed people into believing he was one of the good guys, Quintessa just brainwashes Optimus Prime into Nemesis Prime, something he even refers to himself as in the movie. Because why not? Subtlety was never why we come to the Transformers. Optimus Prime was already a psychopath in this series and I’m glad they finally committed to this. It all culminates in the biggest film Bay has ever made. When you’re directing a series of movies that have already laid waste to several of the world’s most populated regions, what else is there to do? All that’s left is to make the planet itself a living weapon.

Secret transformers history, humans and transformers keeping more secrets together, yada yada yada. You don’t care. They don’t care. Nobody cares. We watch these monstrosities because we know what we’re going to get and how we’re going to get it. Every time. Sometimes it’s too incomprehensible and lifeless, like in the irreparably damaged Revenge of the Fallen that is too haphazard, even for me. I’ll never forget my surprise when the first film hits a sort of sweet spot of Spielbergian sentimentality. Genuine care went into that film’s creation. Well, care through the lens of Bayhem. We’ll never capture that in this version of the franchise again, so what can we do? We sit back and watch  as Michael Bay has effectively constructed blockbusters as big budget testing grounds for his new film-making equipment. New Red Cameras used to shoot Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 and Alien: Covenant? Hell yeah. John Wick cinematographer Jonathan Sela is available? Let’s shoot the shit out of this monstrosity. Crisp and rich colors make for one of the best looking blockbusters, maybe ever? But it’s so busy visually, so aggressively constructed, it results in a hyper-sensory overload. The human mind and eyes are only capable of processing so much at any given time.

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It’s too bad about the characters and the minimal plot strung together to get us from scene to scene. And what is there is problematic at best. The way Bay shoots women is insulting. The ra-ra jingoistic tendencies in relation to politicians and the U.S. miltary is unsettling. Mark Wahlberg tries to convince us he’s a humble inventor from Texas with a Boston accent. Horrifying stuff.

Just… just give us the money shots, Bay. That’s what we’re here for. That’s why you keep making these. And lord almighty, this is maybe one of the most stunning blockbusters ever? The CG is seamless, the practical effects/stunt work are jaw-dropping. Jonathan Sela’s cinematography is rich with texture and color, the perpetual grit and grime Bay lathers his cast with is shot like a shampoo commercial. The ever-lasting magic hour has never looked more breathtaking with set pieces that are literally out of this world. The finale set piece of a planet realigning itself on Earth’s surface, rising out of the depths of the ocean, could only be achieved by a literal madman. Crashing waves against alien steel and that damn magic hour glistening on the Transformers and their human allies… it really is something else.

That’s why it’s such a shame in there being no rhythm to the way scenes play out. Sequences are cut and stitched together to merely propel us through action, but we don’t even understand what sort of vehicle is supposed to be pushing us forward. Here, it still is incomprehensible with basically no shot continuity, each one just framed for MAXIMUM IMPACT as to come across as cool as humanly possible. But it’s also hysterical just how much they get away with in these. It’s quite possible that these movies never learned about eye-lines. I’m honestly in awe. In IMAX this would have been incomprehensible.

So now let’s talk about the shifting aspect ratios. Why? What good could this do? They shift between scenes like Bay was indecisive and just figured it would all flow better in the edit. But it doesn’t. It’s bananas. Stanley Tucci shows up again in this as a drunken Merlin who commands a robot dragon, and I could honestly roll with that. The technical construction is what remains baffling. Here are the different aspect ratios used throughout the film:

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  1. There’s nothing wrong with utilizing different aspect ratios if you’re trying to convey scale, movement, emotion, etc.
  2. There is no reason to change different aspect ratios for a single shot. Literally just one shot.

Something that commonly utilized shifting aspect ratios to great effect was the animated series, Samurai Jack. The series notable shifts aspect ratios every episode. The original series picture format was 4:3 for SDTV, though it would change formats to anamorphic widescreen to replicate 2.35:1 during action scenes or dramatic establishing shots. Watch this fight sequence and notice how the format shifts accentuate movement and color. Starting off in 4:3, Mad Jack sets up the confrontation with dialogue motivation, intensifying the conversation as it shifts to anamorphic as the action kicks in and gives it a forward momentum. Jack and Mad Jack unleash fury on one another, so both overtake the entire 4:3 frame with 45 degree angled sword slashes. It’s nothing game-changing. Only an artist, Genndy Tartakovsky, using every tool at their disposal to tell their story.

Michael Bay is an artist. He uses his entire tool-belt to make the biggest, most propulsive movies the world has ever seen. There isn’t a rhyme or reason to how he decides which tools to use. He just wants to use them all. And why shouldn’t he? His Transformers movies are the furthest thing away from what could be defined as “good” movies, but they all actively feel huge. In a cinematic landscape that struggles to convey blockbusters with scale on a regular basis, Bay will never let us down on that front.

Part of me think it’s too bad that the next Transformers sequel (excluding Bumblebee) was taken off the Paramount slate. While diminishing returns finally hit this franchise hard with The Last Knight, we may have possibly taken this series for granted. Nonsensical constructing of anything resembling what any sane human would consider a “story” doesn’t stop these movies from being full on experiences (for better and/or worse). Steve Jablonsky’s score remains one of our great modern leitmotifs, instantly recognizable and powerful even when images fail it. The effects have never been more polished. The series has never felt bigger, even if there’s nothing more to meet the eye.

You’re probably wondering if I think The Last Knight is a good movie. Good? Ha. “Good” is an irrelevant term. It’s just Bayhem, baby. A world of endless Bayhem. For the last decade, we were all just living in it.

Published by diegocrespoblog

Freelance writer with never as much free time as I'd like. It all works out.

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