'Transformers: The Last Knight' Review: The Glass Ceiling of Robot Alien Movies
By John Boone
Here are two things I overheard upon arriving to see a screening of Transformers: The Last Knight. It was 7:35pm and the 5:00pm screening was just getting out. "It's about two hours and 20 minutes," someone reported to someone else waiting in line. "But it feels like eight."
Shortly after that, seated in the theater, a kid next me attempted to recap recent events in the franchise -- Mark Wahlberg is the star now and plays a farmer who is also an inventor, Megatron is back from the dead again -- before determining that, "Not knowing the plot is actually less confusing." But if you missed 2014's Age of Extinction (the first Shia LaBeouf-less Transformers movie), rest assured that the plot is fully explained via voiceover during this one.
I mention the latter because there are a lot of moving parts in The Last Knight: Wahlberg's Cade Yeager, the most movie name ever, living as an outlaw and raising baby Transformer dinosaurs. The return of Colonel Lennox (Josh Duhamel, back again after Dark of the Moon). Optimus Prime, naturally. Flashbacks to Nazi Germany. Samurai Transformers. A gun that stops time. Bud Light product placement. A mythological talisman. A three-headed dragon Transformer. The Knights of the Round Table. Merlin the magician played by Stanley Tucci and a prosthetic nose. Know what else there is? One single scene in which women speak to each other.
There is a thing in film analysis called The Bechdel Test, where three factors are required to pass: 1. The movie has to have at least two women in it. The Last Knight does: Izabella (Isabela Moner) or "Little J.Lo," as Cade Yeager refers to her at one point, a 14-year-old orphan who lives amongst the Transformers, and Vivian Wembley (Guardians of the Galaxy's Laura Haddock), a sort of sexy teacher type who intimidates the boys in polo and is told that's why she's single. (Additionally, one of the film's villains, a tentacled planet named Quintessa, is voiced by Gemma Chan.)
The remaining two Bechdel test points are that 2. The women must talk to each other, and 3. About something other than a man. The only scene in The Last Knight where women talk to each other is Vivian talking with her mother and aunts and begins with them asking her, "Have you found a man yet?"
Vivian: "You could ask me about my work." Aunt (her name might be Marie?):"Now, why would we do that?"
Vivian is, we're told, a doctor, professor and philosopher. In the sole scene where she talks with another woman, it is about her finding a boyfriend, then implying that she might be a lesbian because she doesn't have one, then discussing her (dead) daddy issues, all in about the span of 90 seconds. Good luck in that Bumblebee spinoff, Hailee Steinfeld.
Am I really expecting a Transformers movie to be some sort of feminist manifesto? No, but it is unacceptable that in 150 minutes of screen time, the only time women are allowed to speak to each other is about Mark Wahlberg. We're living in a post-Wonder Woman world, people, and to not call this out is backtracking. (In fairness, The Last Knight was made pre-Wonder Woman.) (But also, Izabella and Vivian are in scenes together and still never utter one line to each other! They only silently embrace!) Although this was reportedly his final time director a Transformers film, Michael Bay should be held to a higher standard on this, and then the movie can be smashing cars and robots sword fighting. (Alternatively: at the very least, can the fictional White House government not be composed exclusively of old, white dudes? Aren't these movies supposed to be escapism?)