Does anyone actually like Transformers? The box office says they’re huge hits, especially outside the U.S. But where are the memes? Does anyone dress up as Sam Witwicky for Halloween? Has your child asked for Bumblebee toys?
Storywise, the fifth entry offers much the same. The Autobots are on the run from the U.S. government, yet are the only match against some massive invasion of Deceptions or some-such other malicious race of Transformers. I hope you don’t want more of a plot summary because that’s all I will give you. After the first couple action scenes it all sort of washed over me.
With the exception of the actors. The Transformers franchise, dependent on stubborn momentum and endless (though I must admit, gorgeously shot) car chase action, would seems aggressively anti-actor. Yet director Michael Bay pulls a string of madness throughout his films that ends up as catnip for an impressive list of thespians.
All of these folks would probably like Transformers: The Last Knight to be left off their career highlight reel, but they were highlights of it nonetheless. Forthwith, a curtain call for those who made the film - not bearable, but, you know how you go on a nightmare camping trip and a mountain cat eats all your food, the married couple guiding you through the woods breaks up and one of them takes your canoe, and it rains, but there’s that one dude who’s a friend of your friend and every few minutes you exchange looks like what the fuck is this? Like that:
Spoiler alert: Tucci plays Merlin. That’s correct: the subtitle “The Last Knight” was not an indication that Michael Bay was doing an all-Autobot recreation of the Strokes breakthrough video, with Grimlok as Albert Hammond, Jr. No, the Arthurian legend has been wedged into the new Transformers movie. We find out in the prologue that the wizard Merlin is a drunk charlatan with no magical powers, who instead relies on Transformers hiding in an ancient crashed spacecraft to do robot stuff that looks like magic. At one point he sends a Transformer dragon out to vanquish Britain’s enemies. Tucci riffs and mugs like he’s in a Mel Brooks spoof; incredibly surreal against Bay’s stunning visuals. Since there’s a whole writer’s room coming up with a bunch more Transformers movies, how about one with no Transformers and just Stanley Tucci? He doesn’t even have to be Merlin. He can be the dad from Easy A. “Love, like Starscream, wants to be in charge and is always thinking up ways to overthrow Megatron. Don’t look at me like that, honey. Dads have feelings too. Back me up on this, Ravage.”
Well, okay. Turturro has been here before. This is the fourth time in the series Turturro has played Agent Simmons. (The same number, by the way, of Coen Brothers movies Turturro has been in). He doesn’t do much beyond barking secretive orders into a phone in a phone booth in Cuba and complain he wants to go to the beach. And yet he has a wonderful final moment: He’s having a another secret phone convo, and the guy on the other end says, “Thanks, brother!” and Turturro hangs up. And to himself, he says, “I never had one before.” Agent Simmons went all-in on Transformers stuff because he was looking for somewhere to belong. And here, down in Cuba, with the world ending again because of robots that can become cars, he finds a brother. It’s just a moment, but Turturro gives it the same polish he gave to The Night Of.
There’s a long tradition of great British actors hamming it up in big dumb American movies. Hopkins spends the first half of the movie kind of clearing his throat before going full Cokehead. Or should I say Dickhead, because that's what he calls someone. That's right: Oscar winning actor Anthony Hopkins calls a guy a dickhead in Transformers: The Last Knight.
John, come in. Grab a chair. Listen.You’re great. You’ll be great again. Coulda took you or left you as the voice of Hound. (listens). No thank you. Will you send Tony Hale in on your way out?
Give this man a hotdog, because Carter tears into his robotic butler role with relish. Maybe he was excited for the change of pace from his more traditional butler role of Carson on Downton Abbey. In one of the film’s weird, sloppy writing choices, Cogman starts off as your standard butler, downright Downton-esque, before revealing a streak of violent bipolarity. My dude attacks Mark Wahlberg for merely half-insulting Anthony Hopkins, starts shooting people, drives homicidally. It would be alarming if I hadn't been desperate for some late-film excitement. Is there a season of Downton Abbey where Carson part-times as the Queen’s assassin? Can there be?
He looks the most like Michael Bay of any other cast member in the series. By now Duhamel is grayed at the temples and possesses a quiet gravitas as Captain Lennox. He has never been the star, but he is the weary soul of the series. I salute you, Captain.