In the seemingly never-ending procession of summer blockbusters that are now part of a gigantic, expanded universe that is all the rage right now, it’s the turn of the Robots in Disguise to join the party with the fifth installment in the wildly successful franchise based on the popular cartoon and toys from the 1980’s. It has now been a decade since the first film smashed its way onto the big screen and thus began the countless sequels we have enjoyed/endured in the years since. But like many of those other big series’ that have begun to clog the multiplexes, does the law of diminishing returns mean it’s time for the Transformers to lay dormant for a little while? Yes, it is, but with all that money coming in it’s hard to see it stopping anytime soon.
Part five, dubbed The Last Knight, is the first film to come from the newly formed“writer’s room”, a collection of around twelve writers brought together by Michael Bay and his producing team (including Steven Spielberg) that has been tasked with creating a new “mythology” for the series, which is set to include two more sequels and spin-off films (the first, Bumblebee, is set to shoot soon with Hailee Steinfeld starring). But if the first film out the gate from the new brain-trust is any indication of what is to come, then it’s sadly a case of too many cooks. In fact, The Last Knight was initially two separate ideas that were brought together to make one new whole, but while that may seem inspired it actually works to the detriment of the film and instead follows a similar course of the previous three sequels – lots of action and noise, but with zero intellect and even less story.
You can hardly blame Michael Bay for continuing to work with the franchise, for it allows him to do what he does best and paint of the biggest canvas imaginable (reportedly 98% of the film was shot on IMAX cameras) – indeed, for all of the awful dialogue, the preposterousness of the story and some hammy acting, it’s Bay’s penchant for all things action that gives The Last Knight it’s saving grace. No-one can argue about how the film looks and the Bay-hem unfolds as cameras swoop, spin and twirl in amongst the explosions and fisticuffs electrifying the screen on its enormous playground. But for such visual amazement to be a worthy exercise, you need a bit of substance to back it up and, as ever, it’s where Transformers fails once again.
Of what plot there is here, this one sees the Transformers somehow intrinsically linked to the history of England, namely King Arthur and his Knights (get it?)and, by extension, Merlin (played with gusto by Stanley Tucci, though you wouldn’t know it). Facing defeat, Merlin stumbles across the ancient burial ground of a robot spacecraft that is nestled in the English valleys and makes a deal with the ancient Transformers to help them win the day. Fast forward to present day and Cade Yeager (the returning Mark Wahlberg) has become a fugitive after his allegiance to the Autobots, themselves being slowly wiped out by the military after Optimus Prime left to find his creator’s. And after another run-in with said law enforcers, Yeager is brought to England by famed historian Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins) as he believes he and Professor Vivian Wembley (Laura Haddock) may hold the key to help to save the world, and the Autobots, from impending destruction.
For the billions of dollars worth of fans that have continuously flocked back to the cinemas to see the next big Transformers film, this is everything that hearts will desire and will no doubt see those cash registers filling up quickly as we prepare for parts six and seven and beyond. For everyone else, it’s just another example of franchise fatigue and if the series is to continue, it’s in desperate need of something fresh to keep it from flatlining.