Warning: This article contains SPOILERS for Transformers: The Last Knight
The fans thought it was a day they would never see, but in Transformers: The Last Knight the team's fearless leader, Optimus Prime... turns evil. It's the kind of twist that Transformers fans were primed to dismiss as Hollywood running out of ideas, but just as was the case with Dom Toretto in The Fate of the Furious, the actual story of how a hero like Optimus Prime becomes a villain is always more interesting than you might expect. In Transformers 5, the corruption of our hero and his mission to restore Cybertron gives birth to a new enemy... Nemesis Prime. This version of our hero serves at the pleasure of Quintessa, a member of the race that created the Transformers, who brainwashes Optimus into doing her bidding.
To get into the details of Optimus's transformation, fans will probably need a bit of a reminder of where his story last led him. That's the point where The Last Knight begins, dropping the hero - and the audience - smack into the depths of Transformers mythology. It's that sudden step into the fiction of the original Transformers series that holds the most promise for just how Transformers 5 is launching new movies, but to newcomers or those left overloaded with lore from the movie itself, we're here to help break it all down.
Needless to say, those averse to SPOILERS will want to read no further as we answer the burning question of Transformers 5: Why Does Optimus Prime Turn Evil?
Where We Last Saw Optimus Prime
As a quick refresher, Optimus Prime was left with plenty of questions about Earth's history with Cybertron's own Creators, after learning that they had carpet-bombed the planet to harvest living metal - bringing about the extinction of the dinosaurs as a result. It was the very first look offered at the Creators of the Transformers (one of their hands, at least) piloting advanced aircraft tens of millions of years in Earth's ancient history. As mentioned, they arrived on Earth not to observe, but to litter the planet's surface with 'Seeds' - small explosives that, when detonated, converted all organic matter within its blast radius into metal to be harvest. This metal was dubbed Transformium by humans and twisted into cutting-edge technology... but that all took a backseat to the contract placed on Optimus Prime's head.
The revelations of the Creators' meddling with Earth and its inhabitants, as well as the price on his head all raised flags for the Autobots' leader. That was the main mystery of Transformers: Age of Extinction, and when the villains - both space bounty hunters and villain knockoffs created accidentally by humans - were dealt with, Optimus didn't wait around to get to the bottom of it. Bidding farewell to his Earthbound allies, he rocketed immediately into the sky, blasting off into space.
As he left our planet behind, his narration promised his Creators that he was "coming for them." And when Optimus Prime says he's going to meet his maker... well, what did fans expect?
Optimus Prime Meets His Maker
As his friends struggle to remains hidden from a military wing created strictly to track their every move, regardless of Autobot/Decepticon affiliation, Optimus's journey back to his home of Cybertron hits some speedbumps. The good news is that he crashes back into it. The bad news is that when he does, he's brought face to face with a Creator calling herself Quintessa - and the chains holding him in place are the first warning that this meeting is not going to go as he had planned.
The connections to the source material are worth pointing out, as we've previously explored the origin story of the Transformers at length. To keep that story short, the original Transformer origin sees them created by a race known as Quintessons (of the homeworld Quintessa). Brilliant and wildly advanced, it was these aliens who first mastered the living metal, creating the Transformers to serve them. But when these beings gained sentience, things spun out of control as they always do in fictional uprisings. The Transformers drove the Creators off of the planet long before it was destroyed in their war... and it looks like Quintessa has returned with a solution to make all of Optimus's dreams come true.
It's impossible to say if Quintessa's race is a match for the Creators shown previously, and her devious nature makes it hard to take her at her word. We would like to think that Optimus would have come to the same conclusions, had Quintessa not acted so quickly to silence him - creating a dark reflection of the Autobot leader in the process.
Nemesis Prime is Born To Save Cybertron
The turn from hero to villain was teased in Transformers 5's marketing, as Optimus's eyes turned from his usual blue to a deep purple - a subtle cue to make fans rethink the Autobots as heroes. The simplest characterization would be to say that Quintessa simply "brainwashes" or "hypnotizes" Optimus to her cause, and wouldn't be inaccurate. If fans want to be charitable, the desperation that Optimus most likely feels after years spent trying to bring new life to Cybertron make him an easy mark. Quintessa merely states that if Earth dies, Cybertron lives again, and the mentally manipulated Autobot falls in line. Thankfully for his friends, the heart of the true Optimus still beats in the core of Nemesis Prime.
For those who think it's a bit of a 'wave of the hand' on the filmmakers' part to have Optimus 'turned bad'... well, they have a point. But the actual metaphysical/mental/spiritual/physiological details of the Transformers have never been explicitly or consistently outlined. In the films alone, a single Transformer apparently owes its creation to being formed out of Transformium by the Creators, then given life by the AllSpark - and that's not even including the "Matrix of Leadership" gifted to the Autobot leader by Primus, their Creator God as a means of reaching the Transformer afterlife.
It's a mythological mess, so to say that Quintessa (if she is a Creator) would be able to somehow wield power or control over Optimus Prime is actually fairly believable. But Optimus's desire to revive his home only takes him so far. When his friend Bumblebee finally speaks to him, it's enough to snap Optimus out of Quintessa's control - returning the hero we all know and love, just in time to save the day (and Earth).
Countless clones of the hero have worn the moniker of 'Nemesis Prime,' but it can finally be applied to Optimus himself. At the same time, the Transformers 5 post-credits scene suggests Quintessa's torment of Earth and her creations is only getting started. Whether she's truly to thank for Cybertron and its living metal inhabitants, and what she's planning for the Unicron Transformer around which Earth is built... those are all questions for the sequel.
- Transformers 5/Transformers: The Last Knight (2017) release date: Jun 21, 2017