A movie about giant robots can be fun? Wow. Who knew?

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Transformers: The Last Knight
Opens June 21
3 out of 5

For a billion-dollar earner, the Transformers series sure gets dissed a lot. From director Michael Bay’s frenetic edits to the leering way he shoots his leading ladies or even the unsubtle product placement, the live-action incarnation of these “robots in disguise” is not exactly beloved.

But here’s something you may not have seen coming: Transformers: The Last Knight is actually fun. Written by a collective of comic book specialists and Oscar winner Akiva Goldsman (instead of the consistently terrible Ehren Kruger), the fifth episode busts the mythology wide open and allows fresh ideas to seep in.

Perhaps more importantly, the franchise finally stops taking itself so seriously and goes bananas. Sure, the casual sexism is there (very liberal use of the b-word), but at least there’s a playfulness that wasn’t here before.

With Optimus Prime out of the picture (he’s travelling to his home planet in pursuit of his creator), the remaining Transformers and mankind are embroiled in an all-out conflict with aliens. Doesn’t matter if you are Team Decepticon or Team Autobot, all robots and humans helping them are being pursued (except in Cuba, where they’re friendly with the Castros). And yet, aliens continue landing in the planet and causing mayhem.

A British lord (Anthony Hopkins, more lively here than in anything he has done in the last decade) may hold the key to end the strife: A staff, once property of King Arthur, powerful enough to tilt the fight. A race to find it ensues between Cade Yaeger (Mark Wahlberg) and the remaining Autobots against Megatron and his own band of rogues. Unfortunately for all sides, when Optimus Prime returns to Earth he’s not quite the self-righteous truck we have come to know and I guess tolerate. Also, he brings the apocalypse with him.

Outside the miscast Wahlberg, The Last Knight brings back cast members from all four previous entries (for the better, Stanley Tucci; for worse, John Turturro in short shorts). The McGuffin-centric plot isn’t much different from the other chapters, but Anthony Hopkins classes up the joint considerably. So much so that whenever he leaves the screen, the movie suffers. The introduction of a robot butler, a C-3PO with a bad attitude (voiced by Downton Abbey’s Jim Carter), also helps differentiate the film.

Seemingly not impervious to criticism, this time around Bay allows his takes to go longer than a fraction of a second, and his decision to insert robots in Camelot (better than that godawful Guy Ritchie flick) and in World War II leads to some striking visuals.

His depiction of women remains an issue. At least this time he gives the lead to an actress (Laura Haddock, Guardians of the Galaxy) as opposed to an underwear model. Sure, he puts her in tight outfits with a plunging neckline, but small steps.

Transformers: The Last Knight is a bit much. It is, however, more interested in giving the audience a good time than setting up the franchise’s next chapter (like most Summer movies so far). Ignore the second rate-Tony Robbins aphorisms (“all your decisions in life lead you to a single moment of truth”) and we may have the best Transformers film so far. Who saw that coming? ❧


Meeting Baygatron

Santiago Cabrera sees the method to Michael’s madness

Working on a production of over US$200 million has to be a warped experience. When it’s directed by Michael Bay, the most bombastic of Hollywood filmmakers, that can only add to the strangeness.

But for Chilean actor Santiago Cabrera, making Transformers: The Last Knight was a lot more realistic than expected.

“You can certainly feel the budget in the production level — the three or four helicopters flying over you, the explosions,” he says. “Michael Bay likes to maintain a set as real as possible to counter the fantasy of the robots.”

While Cabrera’s career in television has been noteworthy (starring roles in Heroes, Merlin and The Musketeers), this year he nabbed a pivotal role in the HBO limited series Big Little Lies (as Reese Witherspoon’s love interest), as well as the lead on CBS’ end-of-the-world drama Salvation.

In The Last Knight, Cabrera plays the main human baddie, Santos — a mercenary who believes the only good robots are the dead ones.

“Santos believes in a cause and, since he doesn’t have a personal rapport with the Autobots like Mark Wahlberg or Josh Duhamel, from his perspective they’re all the enemy,” says Cabrera, who trained with actual Navy Seals for the part.

The parallels with current politics are not subtle.

By the time shooting rolled around, Cabrera had heard about Bay’s loud, demanding and even boorish reputation. On set, he was pleasantly surprised.

“I’ve worked with great directors and I happily put Michael on the list,” says Cabrera. “He’s a visual choreographer. He gets in the scene with a portable camera or a Go-Pro to capture the immediacy of the action.”

Unlike many Latin Americans in Hollywood, Cabrera has made an effort to stay away from stereotypes.

“I look for universal themes where your origin doesn’t matter,” he says. “I don’t want to be pigeonholed or become the Latino cliché.”

So far, so good. / Jorge Ignacio Castillo