Stanley Tucci Is Merlin
The Last Knight opens with an extended, Gladiator-esque action sequence featuring burly King Arthur and his Knights of the Roundtable in the midst of battle, slowly losing grip on Britain. The future legend has seemingly put all his hopes in Merlin, who far from the wise mage of age old stories is a posing drunk whose entire magical powers come from the technology of a crashed Transformers ship (like the MCU, the film subscribes to the Arthur C. Clarke ideology that magic is just extremely advanced science). We follow Merlin to the craft where he's finally revealed to be being played by Tucci under heavy makeup.
That Merlin played a key part in the movie's opening sequence was first confirmed with the CinemaCon footage in March, but it noticeably avoided showing the character's face. This was presumed to be to hide the true identity of the actor playing him, which fed the long-standing suspicion he was Anthony Hopkins' obscenely knowledgeable aristocrat. However, Hopkins' Edmund Burton really is just an old English Earl born some time in the 20th Century linked to the magician by the Witwiccan association and little else. Instead it's Tucci, who has excellent fun chewing the scenery as a drunk Brit poser.
In a movie full of weird moments (Mark Wahlberg has a Cybertronian talisman that writhes around his entire body including nether regions that becomes a modern-day Excalibur in the climax), this cameo is one of the most ridiculous for just how understated it is. Tucci's credited in the role but there's no typical focus on the movie star nor any reference made to his previous role.
In fact, what makes his appearance so weird is that the film brings in the idea of modern day descendent of Merlin and totally sidesteps bringing in Joyce. Per the film's mythology, the wizard's staff - a shrunken piece of Cryptonian tech - can only be wielded by Merlin or someone in his bloodline. While this at first feels like a setup for a Tucci double role, it turns out this descendent is Laura Haddock's Viviane Wembly, a British Professor/Doctor/Master who is picked up by Burton and Hot Rod.
How Did This Happen?
So, having laid out the specifics of Tucci's cameo, the question now becomes how did this happen? Why has he come back for a bit-part with nary a mention of his previous involvement? As we're dealing with a big franchise, it's possible that, along with Wahlberg, Tucci signed a multi-film deal and was required to be in The Last Knight, something that was only really considered after the story had come together. This would explain why he was only confirmed in the film last September, long after it had finished shooting.
However, the initial reporting of his casting suggested he would be playing Joyce again. This would instead suggest there was a part for the CEO that, like Gibson, found itself cut. Perhaps it was going to be an addressing of that descendent issue, with Joyce a distant relative of Wembley who served as a red herring Merlin-inheritor before being stricken from contention. That said, it's it's worth noting that the announcement came from Tucci speaking at a French event and had no direct quote, so it's possible that some details were lost in translation and gaps filled with wrongly assumed context.
Whatever the cause, that shouldn't take away from what is a truly strange part for the actor. It's one of the earliest indications that The Last Knight is going to be an over-the-top exercise in randomness that borders on camp, and when you get that from a Michael Bay summer tentpole it's hard to complain.
- Transformers 5/Transformers: The Last Knight (2017) release date: Jun 21, 2017
- Bumblebee (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018