On a recent visit to Los Angeles I dropped in on Michael Bay, who proudly showed me round his new house. Props from his blockbuster films were on display, including the model of the asteroid from Armageddon and a big glass case containing one of the CGI bombs from Pearl Harbor. He kindly showed me the first draft of the script of the forthcoming sixth Transformers film, working title The X of Y, which I’m sure he’d be happy for me to share:
Page 1 – sententious narration from Optimus Prime
Page 2-3 – hurried exposition
Page 4-72 – robots punching each other in the chest.
Maybe you’re one of those who forgot to watch the latest instalment at the cinema, being otherwise busy that week. There’s always the option of catching up at home. To make it even more fun why not play a Transformers The Last Knight drinking game? As the film is quite long and we are currently living through a heatwave there is all the more reason to drink lots to get through it!
every time old ground is turned over
The film begins in England in the dark ages. An apocalyptic battle is taking place, knights, squires, horses being annihilated on all sides. ‘Where in hell is your so-called magician?’ a disenchanted soldier asks, to which the reply is ‘He’ll be here…Lancelot.’
Yes, we are smack bang in Arthurian legend.
But wait, is it legend after all? Merlin is a drunkard, not a magician. ‘God, I’m sozzled’ are his first words. A drunken, lecherous charlatan, self-important liar and betrayer of those who trusted in him. We soon learn the source of the magician’s powers, as he persuades a transformer to help them win a battle by sending a robot dragon. You are not just being entertained, you are learning history, so wet your whistle with each scrap of history that comes your way!
every time state institutions prove themselves to be evil or incompetent
A group of kids who were definitely not inspired by the ones in Stranger Things go exploring in a cordoned-off area, looking for Transformers memorabilia. On entering the area they meet robots and then get attacked … by human-made machines. The viewer’s head reels to learn that the Decepticons aren’t the enemy here, it’s the government. The kids are rescued by Cade (Mark Wahlberg), who has been hiding the Autobots in a scrapyard since the last film. Cade is himself in hiding, considered an enemy of the state for his friendship with alien robots. So cruel is the state that Cade has been separated from his daughter, who he can’t even speak to on the phone for fear of the call being traced. He just phones her occasionally to hear her one-sided conversation. ‘You don’t need to save the world’, she tells him in her monologue, reminding us and him what a great guy he is. And the government is after him despite him being a goddam hero. It is an unexpectedly moving scene, where a silent Mark Wahlberg listens to an invisible woman telling him how amazing he is.
Every time Anthony Hopkins says a line through gritted teeth
Remember Anthony Hopkins? He did all those films. You know the ones. Beowulf, where he played a cartoon. The Human Stain, where he was secretly black. Some others. But he hasn’t been one to let all the awards and the acclaim change him. Still very much a down to earth boy from the valleys, he’ll say yes to any role he’s offered. Any at all.
‘Magic does exist,’ he announces in the opening narration, before going on to note that ‘Optimus Prime has left us, to find his makers.’
Hopkins here plays Sir Edmund Burton, a British man living in a castle with a robot butler called Cogman. Patrolling the grounds is a tank which is actually a Transformer – or Trahnsformer as Burton calls him – who fought in the first world war and now suffers from dementia. Yes, the Transformers have been here much longer than we all thought. In case you missed that in Age of Extinction.
Like any good butler Cogman is efficient, and wastes no time in helping the plot along. ‘My lord,’ he says, ‘that weird thing we’ve been waiting 1600 years to happen – I think it’s really happening this time!’ To which Burton replies ‘at last, it begins.’
So committed to the role is Hopkins that he looks constantly pained and disappointed, just as you would imagine of an aristocrat in possession of a mighty secret. He speaks each line with the weariness of one whose life has been a long time leading up to this. Nowhere is this more evident than in one of the most powerful moments in the film:
Burton, in a random field wearing a hat: ‘Oh my God, Cybertron is coming.’
As an actor of advanced years and widespread appreciation Hopkins’ own history seems to inform his role. It is as if the elderly knight’s character is a metaphor for Hopkins’ own career, acting as he does as a protector and giver of advice to the younger characters. When Burton and Cade meet, Burton confides in him. ‘You begin to wonder, has my life been wasted? Do you ever feel like that?’
At which point they both turn to the camera and laugh for 10 seconds.
every time Optimus is on screen
This is bit of a dry patch, as Optimus is horse de combat for much of the film. At the commencement of the storyline in the present day he is absent from Earth, and in his absence more and more Transformers have been arriving on the planet and causing trouble.
All this is far from his mind as he returns to the dying remains of Cybertron. It is here he meets Quintessa, his creator, who it is a surprise to learn is evil. Her magic wand, otherwise known as Merlin’s staff, was stolen from her by the twelve Autobot guardians, and it is this which is to blame for Cybertron’s dire condition. She tasks Optimus with finding the staff and using it to repair Cybertron. There is just one catch. Earth is in reality Unicron, the enemy of Cybertron, and to restore itself the Transformers home planet needs to travel to Earth and steal its energy. Fortunately Quintessa turns Optimus bad to make his task easier.
It is a mark of the confidence of the film that this theological issue of the Autobots all being created by an evil goddess is never once addressed again.
every time control of the script is handed over to a six-year-old
Whether it’s the men in special coats who jump out of tall buildings repeatedly in Dark of the Moon or the ending of Age of Extinction which saw Optimus flying into space with a magic umbrella while muttering about meeting his creator, the Transformers franchise has a proud tradition of handing over artistic control to an exuberant child – and this film is no exception. Hot Rod, for example, a French robot, has a gun which can slow down time. The hiding Autobots have been making mini dinosaurs that can breathe fire. One Autobot is a Buddhist.
Every film about heroes needs an enemy of equal stature. But who could be that villain? Megatron, of course, the child demanded. Megatron has to come back and shoot at Optimus and roar angrily and everything. Script editors explained gently that he died in at least two of the previous films. But ‘Megatron is the baddie,’ the little tyke said firmly, and that was that.
The returned, alive and entirely unscathed Megatron persuades the army – who for simplicity’s sake have taken over all functions of government – to hand over several Decepticons being held prisoner (including one called Nitro Zeus). This unconventional request fulfilled the army then goes after the Autobots, a call-back to the third film, where exactly the same thing happened.
The Decepticons want the special important talisman from Cade. The army, still helping the bad guys, send drones which look a bit like TIE fighters after Cade and friends, in the perfectly normal abandoned village they are hiding in. After a prolonged fight scene Cade escapes to a nearby skyscraper just as you would expect him to, where he bumps into the robot butler who invites him over to England.
every time someone comes out with a funny line
While Cade is fighting off the government/Decepticons we are transported back to England to meet the heroine, Vivian. She is first seen playing polo, is a historian at Oxford University and – if you are attuned to subtext – is a little bit posh. Veteran Transformer fans will spot the allusion to the love interest in Dark of the Moon, whose name and personality escape me.
When not fondling ponies or buying tweed Vivian has to spend time with her mum and her mum’s friends, who, to her annoyance, spend their days matchmaking and talking of marriage. Her dislike of the discussion is called into question, however, when Cade arrives and the pair search her father’s office for clues to the location of Merlin’s staff. ‘I’m going to give it to you now,’ Cade says, handing her a Marks and Spencer salad. ‘I’m going to give it to you now across this table.’
‘That’s a good idea – stick the big thing in the hole,’ Vivian says, as Cade hastily stops an air bed from deflating.
Listening at the door, Vivian’s mum and her friends are led to think something else is going on!
It is a moment which vies for funniest scene with the bit where Bumblebee, so long used to speaking through voices on the radio, is given a new voice box, and guess what – it’s camp!
every time it gets portentous
Early in the film an elderly robot dies, giving Cade The Talisman, a big metal coin. Cade is just a simple, practical guy of course, and can’t be expected to know what this means. He forgets about it and just gets on with stuff.
Burton explains to the unlikely couple – seriously, you would never imagine two such different people getting on! – that he is the last surviving member of a secret society, the Keepers of the Secret History of Transformers on Earth, which has existed for centuries. Their chief task in this time has been hiding the whereabouts of Merlin’s staff, and their membership has included Churchill, Elizabeth I, Newton, Shakespeare and Stephen Hawking (and there could be no more fitting tribute to the recently departed scientist than his inclusion here). Burton tells them the secret history from Arthur onwards, of a Round Table augmented by 12 robot knights and the continued involvement of Autobots in human history since. There’s also something about World War 2, if I remember rightly.
‘Arthur predicted there would be a Last Knight,’ he tells Cade, while raising his eyebrows and pointing at Cade’s face repeatedly. Oh, and he mentions that Vivian has an important role to play, being Merlin’s last surviving descendant.
Yes, a bit like in the Da Vinci Code.
Burton tells Cade that everything in his life has been leading up to this moment. Elsewhere Cogman quotes his master as saying that all important decisions in life come down to just one moment – the one important moment in Hopkins’ being when he, possibly while merry on wine, chose to say yes to this role.
every time Britain’s infrastructure is imaginatively improved
‘England, UK’, the captions explain. Yes, that one. Once Burton has managed to explain the situation the evil Transformers Reaction Force turn up at the castle in search of blameless robots to punish. The Autobots drive the humans to safety, past the Houses of Parliament and then to Oxford, taking a scenic route past bridges and bicycles. Having presumably caught England on a good day they manage to move back and forward between the two locations several times in just minutes. This is good practice for when the horns of Unicron, located at various points around the earth, are shown to describe a circle at whose centre is Stonehenge. It is of course just a brisk walk from Westminster to Wiltshire, but it helps to have a fast alien car.
While the robots are doing their stuff, Burton wanders breezily up to the door of 10 Downing Street and asks the police to let him in, only to be met by sarcasm. ‘Thanks, dickhead!’ he says cheerily, and then goes the back way via a secret passage in an abandoned tube station to have a chat with David Cameron. Unless I imagined that bit.
every time someone escapes London in a submarine, opens a portal or stops an alien planet destroying the Earth
Cade, Vivian and Cogman stroll casually from Oxford to the Royal Navy Museum, where they steal a submarine, which is followed by the US navy casually entering British waters. Somewhere under the Thames Vivian utters the line ‘Oh God, look at that – it’s a big alien ship.’ It is indeed, and on entering the ship they discover Merlin’s grave and its attendant staff. Taking this staff awakens the guardians, who see the humans and Bumblebee as a threat. At this point Optimus arrives back on Earth, and neutralises the guardians. However, Optimus is evil now, and he fights Bumblebee for a short while, before becoming good again only when he hears Bumblebee’s real voice.
‘Earth,’ says Optimus, regretting his errors, ‘the only place whose people let me call it … home.’
While Optimus is getting all sentimental Megatron steals the staff and takes it to Stonehenge to open a portal (an act so much more dignified than merely opening a door). As the parasitic Cybertron comes ever closer to Earth Optimus boasts in advance that ‘this was our finest hour.’
The heroes get into a plane and crash land on Cybertron, or whatever it is that’s going on. Bumblebee kills Quintessa, and Optimus observes that ‘we can be heroes in our own lives, every one of us, if we only have the courage to try.’
The film ends with Quintessa in human form, trying to persuade scientists to kill Unicron. See – the old franchise has got life in it yet!
So the message we can all take from this film is this: have the courage to try, to be a hero in your own life. Tomorrow, anyway – by this time you’re probably a bit sleepy.