Movie reviews: Transformers: The Last Knight assaults the senses

Transformers: The Last Knight is a sensory post-everything film, while The Promise fails to bring the horrors of the Armenian genocide in Turkey to life

Laura Haddock plays a genius-level historian in Transformers: The Last Knight.
Laura Haddock plays a genius-level historian in Transformers: The Last Knight.PHOTO: UIP

At movie No. 5, the Transformers series is now confident enough to become what director Michael Bay wanted it to be all along: A piece of abstract art.

Transformers: The Last Knight (PG13, 150 minutes, opens tomorrow, 2/5 stars), more than its predecessors, is post-everything - story, meaning and history, for starters.

On the surface, it resembles one of those science-fiction war movies in which tough guys talk in military speak and play with big hardware, to be read as a metaphor about the male fetish for death-spewing phallic symbols, or something like that. There is a three-cornered war going on - the humans hate all Cybertronians, the Autobots hate the Decepticons and vice versa. When not in android form, the aliens adopt the guises of cars, trucks and fighter jets, despite no longer needing to hide.

The first female bot is introduced, the creator-figure Quintessa (voiced by Gemma Chan). The community's highly skewed sex ratio is never explained - perhaps they and the Smurfs come from the same cartoon universe?

The other main female, Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock), is a genius-level historian who likes to teach classes dressed as Playboy magazine's idea of a "hot librarian".

There is also the new character of Izabella (Isabela Moner), a skilled fighter who, inexplicably, is only mildly sexualised, perhaps because her character is only 14.

 The Last Knight.
Laura Haddock plays a genius-level historian in Transformers: The Last Knight. PHOTO: UIP

Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg, returning as the working-class hero and friend of the Autobots) is the Robert Langdon to Haddock's historian-detective. Both sprint from castle to museum to Stonehenge, finding cryptic clues stuck in old books and statues to thwart Quintessa's evil plans.

But do not let the story's resemblance to The Da Vinci Code (2006) fool you. At its heart, this experimental collage of sights and sounds is meant to be understood as a sensory experience, like a splatter painting, or electro- convulsive therapy.

Christian Bale and Charlotte Le Bon (both above) in The Promise.
Christian Bale and Charlotte Le Bon (both above) in The Promise. PHOTO: SHAW ORGANISATION

The Promise (PG13, 133 minutes, opens tomorrow, 2.5/5 stars) is one of at least two movies showing here marking the century since the Armenian genocide in Turkey, which dated from 1915 to the early 1920s.

This work is the more star-studded of the two. Oscar Isaac plays Mikael, a poor medical student; Christian Bale is Chris Myers, an American reporter based in Istanbul who is, naturally, a hard drinker. Canadian actress Charlotte Le Bon is Ana, a children's governess at the centre of the love triangle.

The Great War breaks out and the Turkish authorities expel the ethnic Armenians, who have lived there for centuries.

Terry George, the writer-director of another genocide movie, Hotel Rwanda (2004), helms this look at what happens to the minority when the majority turns against it.

As with Viceroy's House (still showing in cinemas), which tackles the partition of India and the violence that followed, The Promise finds the horrors it has to deal with so unpalatable that it prefers to keep its focus around the margins of the violence.

A couple of scenes depict the massacre directly, but there is an absence of the kind of detail that brings the scene to horrifying life, such as the shower room scene in Schindler's List (1993); or in Cambodia genocide movie The Killing Fields (1984), the scene in which a young girl, with a flick of a finger, points out the next person to be executed.

Perhaps the next movie about the mass slaughter of Armenians will have that rigour, but let us hope it will not take another century.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2017, with the headline 'An assault on the senses'. Subscribe