Michael Bay, perhaps more so than any other filmmaker, constantly pushes the limits of technology. He’ll be the only director with a film shot entirely in native 3D this summer. But to hear him talk about wanting to “save 3D”, as he does before the exclusive footage for Transformers: The Last Knight kicks off at a private screening, makes you wonder if humanity’s second dabble with this cinematic technology isn’t about to come to an end. That would be ironic at a time when such a great addition has just opened, Ghost in the Shell being one of the most proficient entries in that field. But, as the IMAX representative confirms, as he talks of how the Transformers franchise helped build that chain of cinemas, if anyone can do it, Bay can.
Shame, then, that the clips we’re treated to once Bay has said his onscreen piece are 2D. As he rightly notes, they’re “just a tease” – and he couldn’t be more right! Shifting from Game of Thrones-style Arthurian battles to a modern-day update of Stranger Things’ geek posse (IMDB currently lists a couple of them as “Heavy Kid” and “Quiet Kid”), before getting Wahlberg-heavy with the action and comedy, if this is supposed to rescue a format, start carving the gravestone now.
At least he has the good sense to pack what looks to be another slight addition to the franchise with great actors. Anthony Hopkins actually manages to inject a little much-needed gravitas as he asks the co-owner of Wahlburgers if he wants to know why these robots keep coming to Earth. Unfortunately, the first properly ‘British’ Transformers movie can’t escape America’s twee vision of its sceptred isle. Hopkins is immediately introduced as a sort of bumbling Boris Johnson figure, while we’re pretty sure the man voicing his robot ninja butler’s biggest claim to fame is getting the words “bouillon spoon” to trend on Twitter.
Cogman’s Downton Abbey shtick aside, there are a couple of moments that have us hoping this can be better than we expect. One piece of footage spoofed the kind of “epic” movie music Bay is known for and a little more of that self-awareness couldn’t hurt. The action we witnessed was also pretty pedestrian so far – including a particularly uninspired chase by Tie Fighter-style drones – suggesting there are some major dustups even those of us lucky to snag this peek haven’t been privy to yet. In particular, the briefest snippet of Autobots in Nazi territory, suggesting they helped win the war (an old transforming WWI tank backs this up), could be interesting.
Based on what we’ve seen so far, Transformers: The Last Knight will need something to make it stand out – this film is also known by the title Transformers 5, after all. If you think Bay stepping back from the franchise might be the change it needs for the future, his first piece to camera confirms that’s the case: “This is my last one and I’m going out with a bang.” Odd then that in the very next piece he offers one more morsel about that possible robo-retirement: “I always say this is my last one…”