Dads, Daughters and Transformers
Dad: There will be spoilers, of course, because life is filled with spoilers, life and Transformers. Children grow up, they begin their own lives, Optimus Prime becomes Nemesis Prime becomes Optimus Prime. Whatever, the confusion overwhelms you. Knowing what is to come does not deter the bewilderment.
Elizabeth is almost 16 now, and she insists on doing things that suggest she will not live at home with us forever. She drives provisionally, studies subjects and topics beyond my grasp, talks about colleges as if she has some notion of attending one and, also, she knows and follows every YouTube star. That last part sounds unconnected, but it’s all connected. The promise I made to myself as a young father is the same promise every young person I knew made — that we would not fall behind, not lose touch, not become our parents, not grump about the kids with the way they wear their pants and the loud parties and the rock and roll music that all sounds the same.
“Do you like Smashing Pumpkins?” Heather Graham says to Steve Martin in Bowfinger.
“I love doing that!” Martin shouts back.
No, that would not be me. But in the end we all break that promise to some degree or other because keeping up is exhausting, and after a while we find that are no longer invited. Sooner or later — always too soon — our pop culture clock strikes midnight, and we lose touch with what the kids are doing. Spoiler: We always end up the 1950s sitcom Dad shouting, ‘What is a Smosh, anyway?”
A few days ago, I asked Elizabeth if she wanted to go see Transformers: The Last Knight and write a review with me. The inspiration was this wonderful review of the film by Mike Ryan at Uproxx, a review that set forth the proposition that Transformers: The Last Knight is the single most baffling, perplexing, impenetrable and incomprehensible movie ever made. Unfortunately, that review seems to be offline for the time being, but this one at The Village Voice tells the same story .
In the opening scene of Transformers: The Last Knight, we are presented with the spectacle of King Arthur and his knights locked in an existential battle for the survival of human civilization, even though we’re not really told who or what they’re fighting for. No matter, because this after all is a Transformers movie, so soon we’re faced with
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And I thought: What could be better for a father and daughter, hurtling through confusing times of their own, than to go see a movie neither of us will understand in the slightest and write a review together. It helped that neither of us had ever seen a Transformers movie of any kind. I do vaguely remember Transformers toys coming out in the 1980s, though I was too old by then to actually play with them. I think my brother Tony had some.
“Dad,” Elizabeth said in the car as she drove us to the theater. “What are Transformers?”
“I think,” I said sagely, years of experience guiding my words, “they are cars that turn into robots. Or robots that turn into cars. Or something.”
Daughter: Dad and I have never been Transformer fans. We will never be Transformer fans. So why did we spend that much time watching this film? Who knows?
Going into this we had no idea what Transformers even were. We knew less than the average American. We could only say for sure that they might be alien robots. Or robot aliens.
Dad: Transformers: The Last Knight begins when fireballs come flying out of the Paramount sign. That seemed right somehow. Elizabeth and I had wondered before this thing began: How soon after the start would we see the first explosion? We both guessed it would be the first minute. Even in this, we were wrong. Fireballs came flying out of the Paramount sign DURING THE OPENING CREDITS. The attack on all of us had begun.
Daughter: How did people in the Dark Ages get such high-tech flame throwers?
I went in hopeful. Sure, I knew nothing and this movie had confused people who actually knew Transformers, but I would make sense of it. And in the first minute, I was lost. Why was King Arthur here?
Dad: Yes, the second attack, the one that came after the attack on logic, was indeed an attack on King Arthur. The movie began the Dark Ages (we were told this by a screen notification that said “Dark Ages”), and King Arthur’s men were in trouble. The brave knights of round table -- Lancelot and the bunch -- begged their King to retreat, live to fight another day. It seemed sensible enough since they were fighting futuristic Paramount fireballs with what appeared to be three swords and a couple of sticks.
But Arthur, brave King Arthur, would not retreat because he had great faith in the court’s wizard, Merlin — (Daughter: A drunk) — to save the day with his great magic.
It goes without saying that Merlin had no magic. Merlin isn't in the movie title. He was some drunkard, phony who liked talking a lot -- played by Stanley Tucci, no less -- but he apparently had struck a friendship with a grumpy but kindhearted Transformer, who gave him a staff that controlled a dragon, because apparently, Transformers can do that sort of this. Merlin brought forth this mighty dragon to turn the tide of battle and the tide of the movie -- as preposterous as this scene might sound, it was the last thing in the movie I understood.
Anthony Hopkins voice explained that all of magic began long ago in this cave where the Transformer lived.
Daughter: What is is this movie like? It is like you go to the bathroom during the most important part, and then you come back, and nothing makes sense. Except: I didn’t go to the bathroom. No scene ever put it back together for me. There’s a little girl. Why? What is a canopy? Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys? Are their good guys and bad guys? Who is Optimus Prime? Why is he not here? Maybe this is where seeing one of the other movies might have come in handy.
It’s a good thing we started taking notes.
Dad: Yes, we took notes. There was a couple sitting a couple of seats over, and every now and again the woman would love over and see me taking notes -- and she gave the oddest look. It wasn't a, "What are you doing?" look. It was more like, "Oh, I wish I had thought of that."
So the notes:
"At last it begins."
"Don't eat car."
Leprechaun in elevator.
Yes, it's coming back to me now. Seems like there we were in some post-apocalyptic world, and some kids walked into a destroyed stadium for some reason, and then a girl with a little robot did something, and then a Transformer died, I think, and then Mark Wahlberg showed up with other Transformers, and then a Transformer gave Mark Wahlberg some round rock of some kind, and and then we were in England, UK — it was the UK, part that clarified things — and somehow it wasn't post-apocalyptic there at all (it actually seemed quite nice), and a woman played polo, and Wahlberg told one of the Transformers not to eat a car, and the woman I think was single, and then we were in West Africa, and then some other character got shot with a beanbag, and then a C-3PO ripoff Transformer showed up, and someone actually called him a C-3PO ripoff, and then they were on a propeller plane, and then we were in Cuba, and Anthony Hopkins bit someone’s face, and then a French car kidnapped the woman playing polo …
Daughter: It was like walking into a really weird dream, the kind that makes no sense, and you feel dumb just explaining it.
“Yeah and some French car kidnaps the descendants of Merlin! Yeah, and you were there too, Mark. What was your role? I have no idea.”
Dad: Oh, yes, I forgot to mention that the woman playing polo was a descendant of Merlin (see how it ties neatly together?) and Mark Wahlberg was apparently the last knight, though it never really explained why or how or what or when or how ... and John Turturro showed up because I guess he’s in all of these movies, and lets see here, oh yeah, the girl said, "I'm coming with you," only she didn't come with them I don't think, and Optimus Prime became Nemesis Prime because he did, and the polo woman told the Wahlberg, ‘You, American man, shut it,” and later Wahlberg told the polo woman, “You, English Lady, shut it,” and characters kept appearing and disappearing for no reason, no apparently purpose, and Nemesis Prime became Optimus Prime again, and the explosions kept going off, and nobody of consequence kept dying, and good guys went bad, bad guys went good, Transformers fought in World War II, and an overly dramatic scientist who compared the world to a microwave and the people to popcorn, and it all somehow led to, where else, Stonehenge.
Daughter: The worst scenes were the fighting scenes. They were just a bunch of explosions, and the whole thing made my head hurt.
There were lines that made the whole thing worth it, though. I really liked when that one aggressive Transformer (Nemesis/Optimus Prime) shouted out, “Did you forget who I am?” Yes. Well, you weren’t in the movie for like an hour.
Actually, I couldn’t forget because I never knew.
But the most iconic part was with Kade (Mark Wahlberg) — I had to search his name because I instantly forgot it — when the British lady compliments him. She immediately expects a compliment in return, but doesn’t get one.
“That,” Kade says, “has gotta happen organically.”
Dad: My favorite line came from the polo woman who upon being asked to do the 29th illogical thing in a row shouted out, “Seven hours ago, I was a professor!”
It felt like seven hours … or seventy hours … or seventy days … time no longer applied in the theater. Late in the movie, there was some reference to the end of the world being "T-minus-55," and I thought, "Oh no, this thing has another 55 minutes in it? I can't make it. I won't make it."
Every now and again, after some explosion or implausible plot turn, Elizabeth would tap me on the shoulder and whisper, “Why are we watching this?” But she didn’t also want to leave. And, strangely, I felt the same way.
When I had mentioned the idea to Elizabeth, for us to go see Transformers: The Last Knight and write a review together, she surprised me by deciding it was the single greatest idea ever. She was really excited. She couldn't stop talking about it. When the movie ended, she immediately went to her computer to write her part of this review. It was fascinating. Elizabeth does not especially like to write -- or at least to write anything that she will let me read.
I’ve thought about it, and the best I can come up with is that we both understand in our own ways that time grows short. It isn’t just that she will be going off to the college soon. It is that she is already in high school, and the number of things we can do together shrinks all the time. I can’t help her with her homework any more. She would rather go to the movies or to hang out with her friends, as it should be. She wants to grow up even more than I want her to stay a kid forever.
But, every now and again, maybe we look for excuses to go back in time. Doing stuff together, father and daughter, just like old times, well, that has to happen organically.
Daughter: The best part? When the transformers, umm, transformed? I mean it did look pretty cool, and it was the only part of the whole film where I actually knew what was going on.
In summary, I would highly recommend this film. It has everything you could possibly want. Romance. Historically inaccurate battles. Aggressive robots. And, it has a plot line you can’t even begin to understand.
Dad: We laughed all the way home from our viewing of Transformers: The Last Knight. We laughed as we tried to reconstruct the plot and came up woefully short. We laughed as we looked over our notes — to me the most telling note came from the credits where it was said that the movie was “Based on Hasbro Transformer Action Figures."
We laughed as we thought about the massive destruction caused by robots that can turn into cars.
“At the heart of every legend,” Anthony Hopkins told us before he died, “is truth.” I suppose I shouldn’t have told you that Anthony Hopkins dies, but like I said at the top, life is filled with spoilers.
“Dad,” Elizabeth said to me as we got close to home, “let’s watch the other Transformer movies.”