Remember when the first Transformers blew everyone’s mind? No? Guess you are right: it really didn’t set the world on fire, but it was entertaining what with the concept of robots in disguise, hiding in plain sight transforming from cars to badass robots with giant guns that have no qualms vandalizing and demolishing cityscapes.
Now when you have 3 sequels that recycles the same plot beats and its origin story, you know that director Michael Bay, the scriptwriters, and the producers are just on autopilot. So if you think the fifth film is going off tangent and going to surprise you, well, you obviously haven’t seen the Godzilla-sized figures of these film’s overseas box office numbers.
After all, if it isn’t broken, why fix it when it could basically shower Paramount Pictures, Hasbro, and Di Bonaventura Pictures with more money than you could ever need?
The More Things Change…
The story starts off with a new retcon; apparently Transformers “invented” the concept of magic and the tale of King Arthur and Merlin was a result of a Transformer “knight” passing the latter guy a techno-staff that summons a three-headed robot dragon. Fast-forward a few thousand years later, we learn that the last film’s hero Cade Yaegar (Mark “Marky Mark” Wahlberg) is a fugitive living in a junkyard since he colludes with the good Transformers like Bumblebee and the John Goodman robot Hound.
As for the star Transformer Optimus Prime? Well, he literally met his makers in Cybertron and got brainwashed for it. Now that Transformer planet is going to come crashing down to Earth, and it’s up to Michael Bay to fill up close to three hours of screen time with explosions, military army circle-jerking, plot macguffin, and robot action. That macguffin of course is a robot sigil that grants some form of knighthood to robots; apparently it grafts itself onto Cade because I guess he’s the chosen one or something despite the fact he’s flesh and bones.
New to the cast are Sir Anthony Hopkins as an eccentric leader of a secret Transformers-shrouding society who spits out exposition, Jim Carter who voices his sociopathic robot butler Cogman, and Laura Haddock as history teacher Vivian Wembley who is integral to the plot since she’s a descendant of Merlin and Cade’s obligatory love interest.
Oh, and if you keep in touch with the cartoons and comics, you’ll be pleased to know that Hot Rod is a French robot with a time-slowing gun, and that the name “Unicron” pops up mid-film. If for some strange reason you’re a fan of the first three films, John Torturro reprises his role as Agent Simmons who is living carefree in the Transformers-sanctioned island of Cuba. Nope, that isn’t necessary to the plot but it’s good for the audience to know.
…The More They Stay The Same
I’ll give it this though: there’s a lot more robot action going on. The visual and CG work is getting more impressive and it helps that the robots are still colour-coded like in the last film. The film still retains its Bayformer gritty aesthetics, but the camera pans far back enough to show off the bots in their ass-kicking glory. The humans do get in the way, but it’s not as severe a problem compared to the prequels. Better late than never to get the formula and bot/human ratio for a Transformers film right, eh?
Speaking of humans, if you think Sir Anthony Hopkins is going to dignify the film with his acting prowess, then congratulations, you are completely wrong and probably high for thinking that. In a movie renowned for robot genitalia and canon-rebooting, it’s only fitting that the Academy Award-winning actor is going to ham it up with his crazy old British man schtick together with the equally-deranged Cogsman.
To be fair, everyone plays their part okay but only as one-dimensional characters suited to their designated archetypes. Mark Wahlberg channels his “2000 lead role” persona for good or ill, the kid character Izabella enters the film early as the obligatory emotional centre that usually gets shuffled amidst the directorial noise (action film, remember?), and Peter Cullen cashes in his latest paycheck by delivering his patented before-the-big-battle speech and ending monologue. Serviceable, but expected; you can’t fault the series for maintaining this level of consistency.
And that’s the fifth entry in a nutshell: consistently brain-draining, consistently predictable, and consistently delivering its usual action to fill up the rest of the film’s poor attempt at world-building.