Warning: SPOILERS ahead for Transformers: The Last Knight
The Transformers movies have, from the beginning, been preoccupied with "secret history" subplots of the type popularized by the last decade or so of The History Channel - i.e. elaborate conspiracy theories wherein seemingly disparate events of the past are revealed to be part of an even more elaborate long-term calamity that has (without fail) been "covered up for centuries!" but also ever on the cusp of "blowing wide open!" with earthshaking implications for all of humanity.
This particular strain of pseudo-history in the franchise mythos (an angle that is largely unique to the Michael Bay-directed films and does not figure nearly as prominently in most of the pre-film Transformers animated or comic adaptations) first rears its head in the original film, with the reveal of a great deal of modern technology having been reverse-engineered from research conducted on the frozen body of Megatron. Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen raises the bar by having The Fallen turn out to be the inspiration for Ancient Egypt's gods and the construction of the pyramids, and future sequels would work Cybertronian visitors into everything from the Moon Landing to the extinction of the dinosaurs.
But now, Transformers: The Last Knight steps up to reveal (or, rather, invent and retroactively insert into the mythos for effect, but why quibble the semantics in a five-movie series about robots disguised as various cars?) that the true history of Transformers on Earth goes deeper and spreads broader than we ever previously imagined - not simply filling in some key gaps in Autobot and Decepticon history but upending the entire setup of the franchise with new reimagined origins for both Cybertron... and Earth itself.
WHAT WE ALREADY KNEW
To be fair, that the Transformers have been a regular presence on Earth for at least as long as modern man has (probably much longer) isn't exactly news. Almost every film after the first has gone back to the "actually, there were Transformers during [Insert-Historical-Event-Here]!" well as part of its plot. In the original, Decepticon leader Megatron crashes on Earth in antiquity while searching for The Allspark and winds up frozen in the Arctic for thousands of years, only to be reawakened in modernity when the great-great grandson of the human explorer who discovered his frozen body in 1897 inadvertently alerts both the Autobots and Decepticons to his presence on Earth.
But in Revenge of The Fallen, it turns out that the ancient ancestors of the Autobots and Decepticons ("The Fallen" and "The Primes") also warred on Earth over The Matrix of Leadership long before Megatron (attempted) to show up. In that same film, we also learn that at least some Transformers are suspected to have been on Earth for many centuries prior disguised as archaic machinery - though how long they'd been there to begin with, how many there were, and what the "Robots in Disguise" disguised themselves as prior to the Industrial Revolution was left unexplained. (Oh, and The Fallen were actually the "ancient aliens" who inspired the gods of Egypt and The Great Pyramid was actually a giant sun-draining doomsday weapon. That seems like something that would be of long-term importance, but it actually never comes up again.)
Dark of The Moon, the second sequel, is all about cover-ups within the Transformer community itself. We learn that the Apollo Moon Mission was actually dispatched to explore an Autobot ship discovered crashed on the Moon, and when the present-day Autobots find out they excavate it and find that it was the ship of their original leader "Sentinel Prime." Bad news: It turns out that the reason both Sentinel Prime and Megatron had crashed on or near Earth is that they were planning to meet there and strike a "peace deal" that would have seen Earth destroyed in order to recreate war-ravaged Cybertron - the Transformer homeworld that had been ripped apart by the eons-old Autobot/Decepticon civil war.
To save the Earth, Optimus Prime both kills Sentinel Prime and stops the process of transporting Cybertron into near-Earth orbit, leaving the planet in an even more devastated state than it already was and seemingly leaving Earth as the remaining Transformers new home. That turns out to be more bad news, as sequel #3 "Age of Extinction" picks up in the near-future with humanity having declared war on Transformers of all alignment - in part because of a deal struck between an evil tech corporation looking to produce "bootleg" Transformers of their own, the American CIA and a group of Transformer-hunting robot aliens who claim to be working at the behest of the Cybertronians' unnamed original Creators.
In the process of sorting this out, we learn that "The Creators" are not exactly benevolent gods: The special material ("Transformium") that they used to create the Cybertronian races is produced on a planetary scale using terraforming "bombs" that kill and convert all plant and animal life into said Transformium - and it was this process that caused the mass-extinction of the dinosaurs on Earth. It's implied that this process was resisted (or, at least, observed with disapproval) by some Transformers already on or near Earth at the time, as Optimus Prime discovers and frees a group of ancient Autobot Knights whose alt-modes are modeled on Earth dinosaurs from the collector's slave-ship. Imbued with renewed sense that he's not getting the whole story about his own origins, Prime blasts off for deep space to find and confront the Creators face-to-face. Which just about brings us up to The Last Knight.
- Transformers 5/Transformers: The Last Knight (2017) release date: Jun 21, 2017
- Bumblebee (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018