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Where the TRANSFORMERS Movies Can Go From Here

Where the TRANSFORMERS Movies Can Go From Here

It’s considered heresy among toy collectors and cinephiles, but I have always been a fan of the Michael Bay Transformers movies. The box office tallies suggest others are as well, but I rarely hear somebody admit it. Now, with Hasbro announcing the live-action movie-verse is rebooting after the Bumblebee solo adventure, emotions are decidedly mixed. But of course I have thoughts.

Many of the perceived problems with “Bayformers” have been exaggerated over the years, or were a function of what was possible. Fans wanted robots to be the main characters, but they were expensive effects to render; to compensate, every movie features at least one smaller robot who’s achieved with practical effects. People complained at first that too many of the robots looked similar and were shot in confusing close-ups; again, this was a function of expensive renders. As the series has progressed, the robots have had more strikingly different appearances and colors and been given more screen time; with the upgrade to 3D as of Dark of the Moon, Michael Bay has even held his shots longer, making the action less confusing.

Were the designs over-complicated? To a point they had to be, if they were to portray realistic vehicles. Toy transformations were able to cheat by, for example, squeezing legs into an area where a person might sit, but a convincing movie transformation can’t. You could make a case Christopher Nolan overcomplicated the Batsuit in The Dark Knight from its basic comic design, but nobody does, because they like the movie. Optimus Prime is still recognizable as Optimus Prime, but I’ll totally grant they should have settled on something slightly more familiar for Megatron. And if you have complaints that Bay should have aimed the movies at kids and adults rather than 15-year-old boys, or been less broad with the humor, I won’t argue. It’s a choice that doesn’t always work.

The plots are often self-contradictory nonsense, but at their best, like The Last Knight, they capture the type of logic with which young children play. And it’s hugely frustrating that that movie ended on a tease of Unicron next movie, only for us to learn that the films won’t be continuing as is. Unless…

One of the great things about Transformers as a property is there have been so many iterations that didn’t align with one another (heck, it’s originally based on Microman, like the Micronauts, and even the Transformers branding in itself is a retcon) that a while back, Hasbro and Takara just declared it’s a multiverse, and everything counts. And who can move between all the realities? Unicron. So the easiest, in-continuity way to reboot is simple: begin the next movie with Unicron, and have him shift interdimensionally. Show the Cybertron origin story, as his twin Primus becomes the planet that will birth the Autobots and Decepticons. A movie that begins with two planet robots punching each other has my attention, and probably yours too.

What next? First, give Peter Cullen and Frank Welker healthy raises to continue voicing Optimus and Megatron as long as they’re able. No fan opposes that. Bring back all the characters who’ve been killed off or given short shrift: Starscream, Arcee, Soundwave, and Ratchet would be a good start. You can keep the basic aesthetic but still bring them more in line with classic designs; Age of Extinction proved that by giving Optimus his classic cab design, briefly. Have the human protagonist actually be Spike Witwicky this time, have his girlfriend be Carly, and let their roles evolve as they get older along with the series. Map out a plan that starts with a new version of the Generation 1 tale,and culminates in the future with a revised take on the original animated movie, in live-action. But mostly, map out a plan! Michael Bay has pulled off “Hey, surprise! They’ve been on earth the whole time…again!” four times. We’re due for a series that actually has continuity, and begins and ends with Unicron versus Primus.

And if Hasbro is still going for a Hasbro movie-verse–G.I. Joe and Micronauts movies are set for 2020, with an unspecified title in 2021 and Action Man recently announced–have Transformers be part of it. They share a common ancestor with Micronauts and are the natural plot device to evolve G.I. Joe into the shape-shifting vehicles of M.A.S.K. If Paramount can somehow get the rights back, Transformer technology could even evolve into actual holograms for, um, Jem and the Holograms. IDW Publishing comics have already done the heavy lifting on this. I’m skeptical moviegoers will go all-in on the Hasbro-verse, but it’ll be wild to at least see it attempted.

Finally, we can probably agree: no robot testicles. No urination. No robots that can just turn into anything at any time; the way Laserbeak operated in Dark of the Moon almost defeated the whole purpose of the concept. No robots that don’t transform into anything–the name means something. But you can absolutely keep the Mountain Dew soda machine robot from the first movie. We’re past due for a toy version. And please leave the Universal ride alone.

Images: Paramount/De Laurentiis Entertainment Group

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