Several years ago, a company named Thirteenth Floor created haunting images that placed the Empire’s war machines from Star Wars into the hellscape of WWII. It was so successful they branched out, merging a galaxy far, far away with Edo-period Japan. These images were the first thing I thought of when Paramount Pictures released new photos of Transformers: The Last Knight. The images show the Autobots throughout the centuries, aiding mankind in what Sir Anthony Hopkin’s character dubs “The Secret History of Transformers.”
But unlike the composites created by the artists of Thirteenth Floor, The Last Knight is not simply a fun reimagining. The film wants audiences to buy into the idea that giant metal monsters have been shaping major historical events on Earth for the last millennia. The photos released show Transformers engaging in battle on behalf of humanity from the Middle Ages to World War II in the Western world, but the video above also shows they traveled to Japan as well.
On the surface, this is a neat idea. The historian in me loves alternate realities. But until this film, nothing about the Transformers franchise hinted to this ancient connection. Megatron crashed in the Arctic around 1850 in the first film after searching the galaxy for the AllSpark for centuries. His presence was seen as anomaly. Over the course of the franchise, neither the Autobots nor the Decepticons give any hint that Earth is a crucial part of their history. So yeah, the concept feels grafted on as a way to breathe life into the franchise. But I could suspend my disbelief enough to buy the concept that dragons were actually Transformers. Co-opting mythology is an easy win. Monsters breathing fire and leaving no fossil record could be anything, why not robots? Besides, the further back in history you go, the more holes there are and the easier it is to fill them in with whatever alternate reality filmmakers are building.
But once you get into “modern” times, when portrait artists or photographers were about, the whole thing starts to unravel. War involves hundreds, if not thousands, of boots on the ground. Transformers wants audiences to believe that no one remembered the giant, towering robots of death cutting swaths of destruction across the field of battle. Come on. It’d have been better to simply say they vanished before the Renaissance, relegated to mists of time. They could’ve been minotaurs, krakens, griffins. Even gods. But once photographs are involved — and not blurry “Is it or isn’t is a robot?” but high-definition “Definitely a robot” photographs — suspension of disbelief is pushed to the breaking point.