When a new threat capable of destroying the entire planet emerges, Optimus Prime and the Autobots must team up with a powerful faction known as the Maximals. With the fate of humanity hanging in the balance, humans Noah and Elena will do whatever it takes to help the Transformers as they engage in the ultimate battle to save Earth.
Along for the ride are two Homo sapiens from Brooklyn: Dominique Fishback as Elena, a museum intern, and Anthony Ramos as Noah, an electronics whiz. The charismatic actors struggle, through no fault of their own, to share scenes with sentient fenders. It doesn’t help that neither character’s behavior quite passes the Turing test.
O.J. Simpson and a killer classic hip-hop soundtrack — Optimuses Prime and Primal (voiced by Peter Cullen and Ron Perlman) team up to combat a planet-gobbler (Colman Domingo) and his minion, Scourge (Peter Dinklage), whose thorax throbs angrily like someone installed a cigarette lighter on his lungs.
Elena’s job duties range from authenticating rare da Vincis to having her boss’s clothes pressed; Noah burns scrambled eggs while soldering a cable box. Of the dozen-plus additional creatures crammed onscreen, the only others who register are a motor-mouthed Porsche named Mirage (Pete Davidson), an armored falcon (Michelle Yeoh), and an eroticized motorcycle (Liza Koshy) introduced rump-first in a nod to the director of the first five films, Michael Bay, who sure loved to linger on a lady’s chassis.
The plot is a bust. Five credited screenwriters and not one compelling stake. How pointless is it to threaten main characters — let alone Earth — in a prequel? Worse, at the climax, gray machines slug it out on gray terrain under a gray sky. It’s as visually pulse-pounding as thumbtacks on a driveway, and an invitation to close one’s eyes and concentrate on the A.S.M.R. pleasure of shuddering steel. When that gets old, at least there’s solace in the premise, however slapdash its execution. The very existence of a technorganic ape is evidence that computer-generated blockbusters know they still need a beating heart.
Things start out fun, with some clever inversions. Noah steals Mirage and is horrified to realize that the car has, in turn, stolen him. The humans do a little shape-shifting themselves, through costumes and stolen IDs. And Noah is comically pained each time he has to explain that he’s working with alien automobiles to prevent Armageddon. Then the frantic go-here, get-the-gizmo story mechanics steer our interest into a ditch.