By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
* Spoiler Alert
Only morbid curiousity motivates me to continue watching the live-action version of Transformers. The fifth film, subtitled The Last Knight, offers opportunities to explore the world in new ways. To watch vehicles morph into bipedal form gets the kid in me giddy in delight. But as anyone who love the original animated material and toy lines will tell you, they will not be seeing this film because it’s not their Transformers anymore. I know folks vehement in their disdain of this cinematic (i.e. Michael Bay) treatment. Despite my longing to simply loathe it because of the people involved or how terrible the ideas get executed, I have to observe how far gone this universe is.
At the same time, as an enthusiast of King Arthur‘s literary and historical legacy, I wanted to see if this film has any redeeming factors. Pairing the Transformers with this legend has been done before (“A Decepticon in King Arthur’s Court”), and I hoped part of this movie will see this warrior’s messianic return to save the day. Instead of mighty robots, a human (or ancestor of) can certainly turn the tide.
Honestly, if Bay was not this film’s show runner and involved in making part of the executive decisions, perhaps fans and critics would not be panning this movie as much. In the trailers linking historical moments to the tale, I had hopes the movie will look at what defines a knight of the round table. Arthur Pendragon is the perfect character to light the darkest hour. Additionally, writers Akiva Goldsman, Art Marcum, Matt Holloway and Ken Nolan could have explored what defines chivalry within Cybertronian culture in their screenplay. To make parallels and create a plot to show Optimus coming back to the light could have made for a deeper, more thoughtful, film. In the trailers, he’s seen consumed by a purple light (Dark Energon, perhaps?). He’s clearly not himself anymore.
But when considering Goldsman’s work on King Arthur: Legend of the Sword — where it emphasized blockbuster movie style moments over anything thoughtful — any thoughts of taking ideas from past animated products (the Dark Energon storyline in the Prime series) has no chance in happening. When Bay is involved, he will be emphasizing wow factor over thoughtful design. At least he made Bumblebee’s momentary dismemberment and reassembly look cool with an impressive slow-motion hang-time sequence. Beyond that, this film is a train wreck of ideas. Under this filmmaker’s control, all the elements he presents are consistently loud. He stuffs the screen with too much material to take in. The goofiness in how the characters interact and the bits of story (when it matters) is handled like a flash in the pan.
The reveal about the secret Order of Witwiccans is an acceptable piece of new canon. Everyone at the screening I went to groaned at the reveal of the group’s name turning into a family name, and as for whether Sam is a member or not, I’m sure he’s recognized as an adjunct member. This organization existed since the days of King Arthur, and to see how the Cybertronians figures into medieval lore is not terrible. They did not interfere into human matters unless requested. This bit of story is decent, as it gives this universe an ancient alien type of flair. This interlude is packed with lots of ramifications.
The modern setting, in contrast, is just terrible. Everyone is running around like chickens with their heads cut off. With no clear chain of command, everyone has their own agenda and teaming Cade with Viviane (Laura Haddock) offers viewers a plot. They have to work together if this movie is to come to an end. For the Transformers, the Autobots must cooperate with one another and the US Government if they are to stop a greater threat. At the same time, I was noticing how very alike this movie is with the animated series Robots in Disguise. With the team in both universes seen hiding in a junkyard, I was amused at the parallels. Both series have Grimlock making a mess of things, Drift exists in both universes (though is different in personality) and Sqweeks is similar in design (not personality) to Fixit.
More movies are in store and with Bay no longer in the directorial chair, hopefully the movie franchise can be fixed. If the studios are listening, I suggest you hire Alex Irvine to lead the writing team. I enjoyed reading Transformers: Exodus and Exile. I’m sure he can make the next chapter in the live-action universe uniquely exciting.
2 Autobots out of 5