Scary looking flying dragon-like creature with open mouth and fangs

So, fair disclosure: Transformers is my primary fandom, and it has been since before Michael Bay got involved. That means I have Opinions. Yes, capital-O ones.

Two years ago, I wrote that the fourth movie in the series, Age of Extinction, was as soulless as its (literally soulless) villain Galvatron. It had all the flaws of the movies before it – a meandering, nonsensical plot, female characters who served as little more than eye candy and plot devices, and action setpieces that drew on to the point of making bombastic battles between factions of giant alien robots genuinely boring – then added on some heavy-handed pandering to the growing Chinese box office up to and including Chinese products placed where Chinese products ought not be (like the Texan main character’s Chinese ATM card).

It felt bland and cynical and exhausting.

But then Hasbro got the crazy idea to hire actual writers for what it’s dreaming of as a Hasbro Cinematic Universe. Serious writers, the likes of Michael Chabon, Brian K. Vaughan, and screenwriters involved with Marvel Cinematic Universe projects. And that interest in writing as a thing perhaps they should care about shows in Transformers: The Last Knight. As much as it can in any Bay Transformers movie.

This latest installment is perhaps the platonic ideal of the series. It’s very much a Michael Bay Transformers movie, loud and nonsensical and somehow overstuffed with too many ideas to follow through on even at two and a half hours, but it’s the best a movie can be while still living up to all that. For once it feels like it’s meant to be that way instead of being an accidental mishmash of poorly spliced-together drafts and overlong fights no one had the guts to tell Bay to shorten.

Where previous movies treated the characters, especially the robotic ones, as little more than action figures to smash against each other and the occasional Barbie to ogle, this one has more heart to it. The most likable human characters from the series return (short only Tyrese Gibson’s Epps, as Gibson was busy shooting The Fate of the Furious) along with the Autobots who weren’t pointlessly killed off in prior movies, and for the most part they’re actually pretty charming and memorable.

While a lot of The Last Knight still happens For Reasons, it at least follows a logical progression (for a change!) and never gets bogged down. The plot is constantly plowing ahead, with a story momentum that matches Bay’s visual energy. It’s the kind of “What the f---?” that leaves you grinning and laughing instead of facepalming.

There’s a huge improvement in overall diversity, too, with a female lead who’s inherently important to the plot – not just by her association with the male lead – and actors of color, men and women, in roles that could have easily been throwaway white men. The Arthurian backstory scenes even include Sir Morien, a Moorish Knight of the Round Table, someone who could have easily been (and often is) left out.

It’s still not an objectively good movie, but neither was 1986’s The Transformers: The Movie. But like that cult classic, The Last Knight is fun, visually impressive, and full of likable characters, even when they’re completely and inexplicably nuts. I was dreading another Transformers movie after Age of Extinction. Now I’m eagerly awaiting the next one.