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Movie Review: ‘Transformers: The Last Knight’ Is More Carnage, Noise and Junk

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Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review MovieSpoon.com

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he Transformers movies are an endurance test to see how much excess a viewer can handle. How many explosions and CGI robots can be tossed at the screen before they become meaningless visuals? How many one-liners and expositional passages can the characters deliver until they are all seen as mere ciphers for action? How many convoluted arcs about the Transformers’ culture and history can be woven in until the plot means nothing?

And with The Last Knight being the fifth and advertised as the final (lies!) Transformers movie, repeating all the same Michael Bay-isms we’ve come to expect, I’ve become numb to what this director must find so thrilling about this saga.

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review MovieSpoon.com

Here we go again.

The story is nothing new, coming down with a bad case of deja vu from the previous film. Earth’s military has banded together to form the Transformers Reaction Force, bent on hunting down the shape-shifting Transformer robots, be they the supposed heroic Autobots or destructive Decepticons. Certain scenes have the appearance of Earth now being a military state as the task force now utilizes giant walker drones to combat the threat of sentient machinery.

Some Transformers are executed on sight while others are imprisoned. Why imprisonment? So that the Decepticon leader Megatron (Frank Welker) can bargain with the military to release his friends in exchange for helping the humans track down the Autobots. Did the human characters get hit with an amnesia ray since the last movie? They already trusted the enemy once and that didn’t end well. But, much like those hoping for a good movie, maybe this time it will work out okay.

While the Autobots continue to hide from the humans until another war starts, so everyone can temporarily forget about how destructive they are, giant mechanical horns start popping up around the globe. It turns out the planet is a Transformer, known as Unicron, that will bring about the end of humanity. The only hope to save the planet lies in acquiring Merlin’s staff, which wielded not magic, but ancient Transformers powers from the Dark Ages. This is all basic knowledge for a secret society of knights in the UK that has made it their mission to cover up the Transformers for centuries, including their apparent involvement in World War II. Would you believe a transforming watch killed Hitler?

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review MovieSpoon.com

Ooh, look! Another robot!

Meanwhile, Autobot leader Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) has traveled through space to his home world of Cybertron. He discovers it has been ravaged of life with the only mechanical residing being Quintessa, an apparent creator of Transformers that seduces Optimus into doing her bidding. She needs Merlin’s staff to restore Cybertron and convinces Optimus to turn evil for this quest, killing anyone and destroying any planet that might get in his way. This seems to be staged as a shocking betrayal, but it’s not like Optimus was a very tactical or heroic protector of Earth in the past. Why start now?

There are only two types of humans in this world. Either they’re a simpering mess of annoying complaints or a smug jerk that insults everyone with the most vapid and mean-spirited of jabs. The returning Mark Wahlberg is king of the smug with his grating accent, cocky remarks towards even the most caring of human beings and an ability to turn into the most dim American around British people, lobbing nationalist insults that even a grade-schooler could best.

He trades meaningless verbal blows with Laura Haddock, an Oxford English professor that dresses in sexy clothes, per Bay’s babe requirements. They will later kiss, despite having no chemistry. Fear not, feminists; there’s also the little girl Izabella who has become such a loner of a homeless mechanic that she doesn’t need any boyfriend in her action-packed lifestyle. She’s unfortunately only present for the first act and then leaves, fulfilling the base requirements of a child angle and then kicked to the curb, as with all of the movie’s fleeting moments of potential.

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review MovieSpoon.com

Yep, that’s Mark Wahlberg.

Poor Sir Anthony Hopkins, cast as a Transformers expert and scholar, must also play to the smug role of an inconsistent character. When he’s not spouting thrill-free exposition on the history of Transformers, he’s shouting at people, screaming for others to shut up, cackling at overturned cars and getting in a few one-liners of calling people “bitch” and “dude.” One passage best encapsulates the movie’s incoherence in how Hopkins babbles as though he were a stumbling drunkard pretending to be British, rambling to the point where I’m not sure if the character or Hopkins is drunk.

The Transformers are even more lacking in character than they were before as they too become mean and spiteful for no reason. One Autobot is supposed to be a meditative samurai, but will break his concentration to cuss up a storm as he swats at a bug. Another is supposed to be a proper English butler, but is so desperate for a line he’s reduced to quoting Ludacris’ “Move Bitch Get Out The Way.” The only thing more interchangeable than their personalities is their parts.

I’ve probably become a broken record for this criticism, but it bears repetition: these character designs suck. The Transformers have too many parts, indefinable features and might as well be smears of garbage when fighting in combat. Actually, no, there is one Transformer who has a unique design: a small blue bot with big eyes, no voice and tiny limbs who is best friends with Izabella. Every Transformer calls this character ugly, yet he’s the only one with any decipherable emotion in his clearly visible expressions. Emotions must be out of style on Cybertron.

I can only assume most Transformers fans are going to be seeing this picture for the action scenes with Bay’s signature of blowing things up real good. But this action is so noisy, horribly edited and horrendously staged to the point where I doubt even the most devout of fans could decipher what is going on in this picture. In the climax, military soldiers land on Cybertron and quickly take cover from gunfire, but gunfire from whom? What machines are attacking them and where are they located in the smoke and fire?

Transformers: The Last Knight Movie Review MovieSpoon.com

Which one is this?

A spaceship with an Autobot knight from olden times crash lands in Chicago with no reason given as to why he is there. Where did he come from and how did he crash? Nobody seems to ask these questions, as they’re too busy running from explosions, creating explosions or exploding at each other with the most tedious and horrendous of dialogue.

Even more confounding than the visual vomit of these overly assembled shots is trying to figure out who is attacking who and what they want. I never knew if Quintessa and Unicron were working together or if the Autobot knights of Arthur were serving Unicron or protecting Cybertron. Action scenes also seem to happen for no reason. For the life of me, I cannot recall why the hunt for the staff turns into a submarine showdown or why Hopkins shoots bullets out of his cane at Megatron at Stonehenge.

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Review: “Skyscraper” Lumbers With Thrills Pulsating and Passive

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Dwayne Johnson can work wonders on a lackluster script, but there’s only so much he can do in a Die Hard retread. There’s nothing inherently wrong with taking from such an iconic source and weave something thrilling out of that foundation. But when that irresistible Johnson charm can’t break through the towering theatrics, all we’re left with is a spectacle that is more big and loud than bright and exhilarating, never fully embracing the silliness of scaling a ludicrously built tower.

Johnson plays Will Sawyer with a unique backstory but little personality. He was once an FBI agent that lost his leg in a hideous hostage situation. Now he has taken a safer job as a safety inspector for China’s most massive towers due to open upper residential floors, bringing along his family for a working vacation. Johnson’s brighter smile and warm presence don’t come through as well this time, due in part to his character having a darker past and a tougher time getting around with an artificial leg. Fair enough, but when the tower is set aflame by gun-toting terrorists, I really wished that giddier Dwayne could come out and play, past some pleasing pulsations of his muscles jumping great distances and fighting the bad guys.

The setup to the grand showpiece of Dwayne clinging to windows and narrowly escaping explosions is fairly pedestrian, casually concocting all the elements and never harping on them too long, lest we be drowned in cliches. Chin Han plays the wealthy builder of the structure, concealing a secret and a MacGuffin that the villain want so badly they’ll cause a public scene to get it. The lead terrorist is played by Roland Møller with a sinister look and a Scandinavian accent, so blandly conceived it’s no wonder he works for someone higher up. Even more bland is his female cohort (Hannah Quinlivan), kicked to the curb of the tower excitement with her tight black outfit and sexy looking hair dangling off the side of her face. There’s also a cowardly English investor (Noah Taylor) and a long-time pal of Will played by Pablo Schreiber to fill out the twist fodder.

This is a film that really does require your brain to be shut off given how much lost potential and generic action-movie-isms crowd the screen. The first act is the biggest slog, holding the hand of the audience for everything that will follow. Will stresses to his wife that the easiest way to fix a smartphone is to turn it off and on again. I fully expected this to play a role in the climax but hoped Neve Campbell wouldn’t literally say those words. Chris Han shows off his holographic room that is little more than a hall of mirrors; seems like a good place for a disorienting shootout. As Hannah Quinlivan watches a hired hacker sabotage the tower’s fire suppression systems, the hacker states boastfully that only he can shut it down from that point forward. Take a wild guess what Quinlivan will do next when she hears this information.

Okay, but that’s all the plotty stuff and, let’s be honest, nobody is watching this picture for a stirring thriller about criminal bank accounts and tracking software. They want to Dwayne do stunts, and he delivers plenty, from jumping off a crane to swinging like Tarzan to escape a blaze. That’s all well and good, but we know Johnson is capable of these impressive theatrics, including some brutal fights that lead to much smashing. We also know he can be charming and has a great personality. So why is he strangely silent during these sequences? He seems to only talk when he has some forgettable one-liner to sling, making commentary on fixability with duct tape and telling himself he’s crazy for crawling along windows. This role feels as though it would be better suited for a beefy actor with more muscle than speech; not someone who can exude enthusiasm with more than enough wit to match his strength.

Neve Campbell surprisingly gets to do quite a bit more than cowering in corners with the kids. She takes charge in scenes where’s she’ll stab terrorists, smack them with car doors, and get in some good kicks and punches. While it’s fun watching Campbell take charge, I questioned where she learned all these stellar fighting skills for having previously been a surgeon. Perhaps Johnson inducted her in his action hero training program, coming standard with their marriage.

Skyscraper is sufficient as mindless summer entertainment but it does little more than that when I know it could do more. Johnson has the smarts to be a more charming hero than a mindless brute that can hoist himself across a building or literally hold up a crumbling bridge with little more than his buff arms. A massive tower with thousands of technological features could lead to an array of astonishing action sequences, but the most we see is a gripping dash through a burning wildlife enclosure. If there only a few more fun bits of dialogue, more outlandish stunts, and a braver embrace of the dumb, this big blockbuster could have been more audacious than obligatory.


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Incredibles 2 Blast Box Office Records of Animated Film

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It may have been 14 years since the first Incredibles movie, but its impression has remained. The appeal was strong enough to make its sequel not only the #1 movie of the weekend but one of the most profitable animated film on its debut. For its premiere weekend, Incredibles 2 ranked in an astounding $180 million. This makes it one of Pixar’s best openings, easily dwarfing the previous film’s opening take of $70 million. With a considerable lack of family films in the next few weeks, expect Incredibles 2 to linger for quite some time for boasting such a powerful opening.

The rest of the debut films were left in the dust. Tag, an ensemble comedy based on a never-ending game of tag, only made $14 million, coming in at #3. The modern remake of blaxploitation classic Superfly premiered to a low $6 million debut. And falling outside the top 10 at #12 is Gotti, the based on true events drama starring John Travolta that made headlines for ridiculously low critic scores.

The drops for the weekend were somewhat predictable, with the superhero epic Avengers: Infinity War descending the least with a 26% drop. It’s also sitting at a total domestic gross of $664 million, edging closer to toppling Black Panther’s immense numbers of $699 million. It’s going to come down to the last few days in theaters to see if Black Panther will finally reach $700 million, considering its home video release and quickly-descending theater count. And, unfortunately, Hotel Artemis is pretty much a dud, descending 70% to place it well out of the top 10.

View the full top 10 below:

Incredibles 2 ($180,000,000)
Ocean’s 8 ($19,555,000)
Tag ($14,600,000)
Solo: A Star Wars Story ($9,081,000)
Deadpool 2 ($8,800,000)
Hereditary ($7,026,000)
Superfly ($6,300,000)
Avengers: Infinity War ($5,296,000)
Adrift ($2,100,000)
Book Club ($1,850,000)

Next weekend will find superheroes battling dinosaurs as Incredibles 2 weathers the storm of the upcoming summer blockbuster, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. The sequel to Jurassic World, starring Chris Pratt and Jeff Goldblum, will be premiering in the same amount of theaters as Incredibles 2. And considering how insanely profitable Jurassic World ended up being, it’ll be interesting to see who takes the weekend and by how much.


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Review: “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” is Lost in its World

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The tagline for Fallen Kingdom revises the previous film’s tagline of “the park is open” to “the park is gone.” Okay, now what? With the global public now fearful of dinosaurs after the massacre at the park, it’s a whole new world of possibilities. Some activists want to preserve dino life, tycoons who want to buy them for military purposes, and governments that shrug in confusion at what to do next. All these aspects give the movie plenty to do with its prehistoric showcase; so much that it forgets to put a little heart and brain in with its dinosaur romp.

There’s an even greater distance from the human characters this time, lost in their doubling plot arcs and love of dinosaurs. Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) return from the last film but are now on a break in their relationship. Why they split up is briefly addressed, and their inevitable rekindling is even more rushed as they race towards the action. Clearly, Owen’s more defined relationship is with the raptor Blue, this time given even more background and tenderness. There’s rarely a moment of romantic tension between Pratt and Howard but place Pratt next to a wounded raptor, and you have some emotion fit for a blockbuster too tedious for tears.

In the battle between good dino doctors versus bad dino doctors, and eventually good dinos versus bad dinos, there are supporting characters that provide little support past quips and kills. There’s an intern duo of the meek screamer Franklin (Justice Smith) and the wise and snarky Doctor Zia (Daniella Pineda). They’re not quite young enough to fill that Amblin brand requirement, so there’s an English orphan of an aged, sage, and wealthy businessman (James Cromwell). There’s the cold Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) that is trying to build an empire off dinosaurs. You can probably guess his fate. And you certainly don’t need a crystal ball to see things are not going to work out for the violent poacher (Ted Levine) who can’t resist pulling the teeth out of captured dinosaurs.

If that seems like too many humans in a film about dinosaur action, worry not. Director J. A. Bayona crowds the screen with many species romping, stomping and chomping about. Too many that there’s a scene of prehistoric creatures crammed into a tight space, fighting for screen time. When they’re not caught in stampedes, there are a few impressive moments of adventure and terror. Easily my favorite sequence features the human heroes fleeing from a hungry dinosaur that corners them in a room flooding with lava, a shimmering wall of red and orange separating the two species. Another stellar shot is one where a newly bred hybrid dino slowly extends its claws to a girl cowering in her bed, horror movie style.

Part of what made the first Jurassic World so engaging was the simplicity of its adventure. A park full of dinosaurs goes awry, and there’s a mad dash for the exits, with some military involvement and cloning controversy peppered into the run. Fallen Kingdom has far too much going on that none it resonates enough to make Pratt’s tender touch during raptor surgery stick. There’s commentary on everything from government silence to environmentalism to war-hungry investors to cloning gone too far. But it’s all so rushed that several of these twists come crashing in at the last minute and struggle to strike with shock and excitement. The movie doesn’t have time to slow down for everything, leaving the secret villain of Doctor Wu (B.D. Wong) and the experienced Doctor Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) in the dust.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom has its moments of thrills that resonate enough to be pleasing popcorn entertainment, as with Chris Pratt narrowly avoiding a volcanic flood and a rich snob that gets a deserving munch by two dinosaurs. Sadly, it’s all so muddled and forced into theatrics that even Pratt’s reliable charm can barely make a dent in a script too dense with set pieces and cliches. I remember I enjoyed Jurassic World for being a pleasing throwback to Jurassic Park, returning that same wonder I had as a child. Fallen Kingdom replicates the familiar disappointing sensation of Park’s sequel The Lost World. It’s a mistake that I’m sure Doctor Malcolm would criticize for the producers who were so preoccupied with making a blockbuster sequel to the profitable Jurassic World, asking if they could rather than if they should.


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