Transformers: The Last Knight

Transformers: The Last Knight ★★★½

when i turned my car on to leave the screening, "fortunate son" was on the radio. that seems like it should mean something.

but what is meaning anymore? in the transformers movies, dinosaurs were put on earth by aliens and were actually robots, which seems like some psycho fundamentalist anti-evolution bullshit, but transforming is evolution. there is some religious imagery in this installment, and some vaguely intriguing stuff about the way faith and science work together to save the earth. but god is an evil alien robot tentacle lady, which seems pretty blasphemous? some of the robots are stupid racist caricatures, but this movie has many small supporting roles for non-white people...one of the heroes is a 14yr old latina, a native american guy calls mark wahlberg racist, and optimus prime is an immigrant trying to save the only place he has been welcomed to call home? one of the evil robots is a cop car with "to punish and enslave" written on the side, and the bad guys are the military & their spying drones and homeland security ED 209-style bots...but then the military disobeys orders and the heroic misfits team up with them? it makes no fucking sense. overall this is unsurprisingly another love letter to the military, and bay still can't seem to reconcile his love for them with his hatred of big government...he seems to think that wars are inevitable, that we are powerless to stop the rich suits controlling things from situation rooms, so as long as there is going to be war it's best if you stay on the badass soldier side. which is...ok, i guess, but bay is also completely oblivious to the fact that the people who go to his movies to cheer on america are often the same people who vote those rich suits into office. to be truly on the side of the troops you'd need to be against war, and he isn't ready to give up that childhood fantasy of heroism and bravery. the snake eats it's tail, etc. he believes that being a soldier is wonderful as long as you're on the side of good, but doesn't seem interested in asking who gets to decide what good is, and why. so how does he deal with it? he makes the good guys robots, and the bad guys different robots. duh. as usual, he flirts with introspection and turns away at the last second.

to try and describe the plot is a fool's errand. there are knights in dingy armor and baby robot dinosaurs and spaceships under the sea, and a lot of guns. there's a moment where anthony hopkins names a bunch of historical icons and says that they were all part of a secret society to hide the existence of the transformers. stanley tucci plays merlin, who's an alcoholic. why the hell not? at this point, it doesn't even seem that bizarre to me...it is a child playing with toys. it is 8 different lego sets thrown in a box and shaken up, with the same focused seriousness and wide-eyed joy that accompanies those games. the craziest thing about this is that i'm not sure who it's for, as bay seems really torn between giving the kids what they want and making his own military movie. a lot of the thrill and action from the previous movie is gone. it isn't quite as funny, the few jokes feel like an afterthought, forced. there's a lot more ~cool army stuff~ than i remember from the other installments, and those scenes have a distinctly adult feeling, gazed upon with solemn respect rather than wonder. cut out those scenes of soldiers planning and pouring over computer diagrams and they would fit in any tom clancy adaptation. it's also 150 minutes long, and maybe 75% of that is taken up with near-incomprehensible expository dialogue that would bore any grade-schooler to tears. the hero is not a nerdy child who is chosen for a Very Important Quest, but a broken middle-aged man. is this how michael bay feels? is he broken inside, is this some kind of desperate grab for lost innocence, to replay those silly games of youth? what does he even think about cinema itself, the function of film? how does he exist in the middle of this bizarre venn diagram of money-grabbing commercialism and genuine, tender artistry? i don't think there is an answer, because i don't think he himself knows. also, it's a stupid movie about robots. i keep coming back to that, to pull meaning - anything at all - from this mass of twisted metal and rosy sunsets, and it's like trying to chase a bubble, to catch it before it pops. speaking of bubbles, this features probably the most bay creation ever - a big gun that makes a forcefield where everything inside moves in slow motion. a gun that, instead of killing, stops time for just a moment so that we may admire the beauty of movement, the fragility of time.

so maybe not vulgar auteurism, then, but vulgar truth - the utter mess of humanity and our attempt to wrestle it to the ground, to make it into a straight line, to find answers out of nonsense. to gaze upon transformers 1-5 is to gaze upon the heart of america - it isn't a mistake that optimus prime turns into an eighteen wheeler, the weirdly romantic image of the roaring working class. i don't think anybody is in the mood to bow down to the american flag at the moment, and certainly not for a cute rom-com team-up between us and our imperialist frenemies the uk. but i have to admit there is something...nice about this. it isn't anywhere within a hundred miles of respectable, but it is bay's least despicable, and goddamnit...i want to believe this country isn't garbage. i want to believe that even the bud light-swilling hicks of texas are capable of fighting for the greater good. i want to believe that bay is beginning to realize that his sexy woman characters can also be cool and smart, that it means something when he spends as much time drawing the audience's eye to her breasts as he does to wahlberg's muscles. i hate that looking at the american flag now makes me sick, and i hate the urge to give in and say everything sucks and it's always sucked and it's always going to suck. i wouldn't dare call this movie inspiring or claim it made me feel anything other than idiotic happiness at seeing things blow up, i don't know if i'd even say this is more than a multi-million dollar waste of time, but please...just let me live...just give me the freedom of time to waste...

i don't think anyone on earth has made me question my own heart, my own moral compass as deeply as michael bay...why do i do this to myself? why do i refuse to support the racism, misogyny, jingoism of other movies but find myself willing to shove aside everything i believe in for two hours for a movie about robot toys? why does it disgust me sometimes and not others? am i so desensitized, after years of fascination with genre movies that flat-out hate anyone who isn't white and hetero and male, that i can simply tolerate it? i had a discussion on twitter when trans4mers was released, and i remember it because i felt so humiliated, unable to get my points across...i was yet again dragged for praising bay, and somehow a comparison to jurassic world came up (side note: speaking of JW, in this movie the hot heroine changes to boots before going on her adventure - eat that, trevorrow!), and i was trying to explain how that movie's morals were more offensive than trans4mers, how much i hated the half-assed attempt to "mean something"...but...why? i still don't know. something about jurassic world sickened me, the product placement and the glorification of the military and the senseless violence...all things that are true of michael bay's movies. what i tried and failed to get across was that there was a falseness to jurassic world, that it claimed to actually have morals and care for it's characters and have a strong woman character and some vague pretense of principles. bay has never tried or claimed to be anything other than what he is - an asshole. there is a truth in that, something that to me is almost admirable...he sells out but his vision remains true to what he loves, the 5th toy commercial movie still unmistakably his own. but which is worse? is a proud hateful person more or less reprehensible than a fake liberal one? are they the same? i don't know. i can't answer these questions, as many hours as i've spent attempting to, and with each new michael bay release i find myself getting further away from that answer, and from myself...am i such a sucker for beauty that i will give away everything i believe in, what sick, poisoned piece of myself finds it beautiful in the first place? but boy oh boy, is this ever beautiful...as usual it taps into some deep primal sensory needs, and i'm realizing now that part of what makes bay different is how sensual his movies are, how every shot has this weird subliminal message of sexuality. he's horny for everything - for guns and fire and flags and sunsets and strength. he's been called painterly before, and it's true. he makes light not just shine on people, but caress them, the colors softly touched across faces, natural light and a fake digital rainbow melting together into...well. art. for all bay's posturing and macho dudes and sexy ladies and artillery fetishizing, his camera seems to give away a sensitive soul, moved to tears by the vast power of nature and man's ability to, against all odds, become decent people. it's this abstract sexuality combined with bloodlust that makes his movies so compelling, and so even when you're looking at a giant fucking robot with nice human lips it's impossible not to notice the exquisite detail of his weirdass spaceship. it's irresistable, the drums and gunfire and smashing robots vibrating together like a heartbeat.

why am i so soft-hearted that i can sob over a dead baby bird but excuse these trash movies? most likely i'm looking for meaning where there is none...the world is chaos, to ascribe meaning would be futile, what is art...is garbage art...is bad art art...if trash is art than what does that make good art...if this is a perfectly crafted piece of flaming garbage, how does that compare to a perfectly crafted piece of non-garbage...what can we take from it...does the fact that this movie made me ask these questions make it worth something...do i only like action movies because they're packed with cute hunks...what's the point...what difference does it make...when does part 6 come out...

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