It’s been a long time since a Transformers fan could leave a movie feeling satisfied with how they’ve spent their time and money. Even those with only a casual interest in Cybertron’s finest must have experienced the same diminishing returns from the five Michael Bay instalments.
Five Michael Bay films. That genuinely hurts to think about, let alone commit to written words. So much promise was shown in his first bombastic robot rampage in 2007, that many were hopeful our childhoods would be lovingly respected and repacked in glorious new cinematic techniques.
As the action got bigger, the already wafer-thin plots became even harder to find as we zip from one massive set piece to the next. For all the Impressive CGI and camera work, the battles scenes are confusing, the acting uninspiring and the running times are bloated to the point of tedium. The four sequels total over ten hours of self-important, turgid ridiculousness. Despite all the rumours that each film would be his last, Michael Bay became a bigger enemy to the Transformers than Unicron himself. Under his rule, any spark of heart or soul in the stories had slowly faded away.
Then along came a leader to light our darkest hour.
Travis Knight had found success as a director with the charmingly adventurous CGI animation Kubo and The Two Strings in 2016. Previously, he’d been lead animator on three fantastically esoteric stop-motion projects, Coroline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls. That trio proved he had the chops to helm his own film, as well as an understanding of child-like wonder and fantastical storytelling.
It was these qualities which lead to Knight being given the reigns of Bumblebee. Set in the mid 1980s, the film served as a prequel to the Bay series, albeit with some tinkering to the timelines. With admittedly low expectations upon seeing it. I was utterly blown away by Bumblebee. As a 36-year-old boy, there was nothing more for which I could have asked. That said, I am going to ask for more. The brief but enthralling glimpse of Generation 1 Transformers characters gifted to us in Bumblebee, has triggered thoughts of other solo movies that should be given life. So, in no particular order of preference, here are the next Transformers characters I’d like to see given the Bumblebee treatment for roll out into cinemas.
Firstly, let’s all pretend that the good name Hot Rod was never sullied by Bay in The Last Knight. He was never a Frenchman who fought Nazis and carries a weapon to freeze time in isolated bubbles, OK? Good. Now we’ve cleared-up that faux pas, we can think about the real character.
As pretty much the star of still the best Transformers movie, Hot Road was voice by 80s icon, Judd Nelson. The 1986 feature-length cartoon saw him fulfil his destiny and become Rodimus Prime, the next Autobot leader.
With the same perfect blend of youthful petulance, hope and ambition brought into a new movie; Hot Rod would make for an interesting counter to Bumblebee’s cautious shyness. He’d be eager to explore Earth for all the fun he could have, giving him all the more reason to help protect the planet and its people in any way possible. Throw in a cameo from old-timer Kup to mentor his transition, and all is good with the world.
If whispers are true, such a spin-off might already be in the pipeline. From the sprawling writer’s room, Paramount established to plan the Transformers Cinematic Universe, a single positive might be a 1990s-set Hot Rod solo effort.
With his soulful voice, a knack for cultural awareness and snappy lingo, it’s fair to say that Jazz is G1 Transformers’ attempt at racial representation. That is at least, how my innocent child’s mind interpreted the character and little has changed in the years hence. To credit the creators, however, Jazz goes beyond mere tokenism, as his role is a prominent one. As the Autobot’s head of Special Operations, he aided Optimus Prime by being adaptable, improvisational and trustworthy. It’s no wonder he was stationed with Cliffjumper to steward Moonbase One in the movie.
In the spirit of the ground broken by Black Panther, let’s see Jazz lead a band of Autobots on a rescue mission. With usual military strategist Prowl incapacitated during battle and Optimus Prime captured by the Decepticons, some old favourites must hatch and execute a plan to save their esteemed commander, and get Prowl to Ratchet’s outpost for repairs.
Wheeljack is on-hand to crackpot some inventions in the field, Ironhide won’t rest until he can once again fight by Prime’s side and let’s include Brawn for some demolition expertise. In fact, any G1 characters are welcome along for the ride except Blurr. Blurr is never welcome.
Arcee, Elita One and the female Autobots
Thanks to the tremendous hit that is Wonder Woman, the idea of a female-led comic book movie is no longer just fantasy. Indeed, with Brie Larson’s Captain Marvel seeking to follow in Gal Godot’s footsteps, let’s keep the strides of representation going with Transformers.
Naturally, Arcee would be just as much at home slugging it out with the boys, as she more than held her own in the animated movie, and even made a brief appearance in Bumblebee’s opening melee. Due to the lack of women on Cybertron, romantic scenarios have arisen between Arcee and numerous robo-blokes over multiple generational storylines. Perhaps we could be treated to an awkward Autobot love triangle in the midst of Cybertronian civil war scuffles.
What I would dearly love to see, is Elita One lead her girl gang against some of the most iconic bad guys in the Transformers canon. As a secretive cohort of resistance fighters, they would be expertly positioned to thwart a giant opponent like Devastator. Individually, the Constructicons are pretty anonymous, but there’s no doubting the awesome power of their combined form.
Considering Bay literally ballsed-up his incarnation of Devastator, the character deserves the kind of gravitas he was afforded in the 1986 feature. When Springer, Kup, Arcee, Hot Rod and Daniel witness the formation of the gigantic destroyer, the tension is palpable and the threat real. Reimagining that or a new similar scenario with a female force fighting back would go some way to neuter the sins of the previous regime.
Of all the enemies available to reboot and finally afford some proper big screen treatment, it’s this flying fellow. Arrogantly self-destructive, petulant and nakedly ambitious, he is everything audiences want in a pantomime villain. But all of these incredibly human qualities make him highly relatable and a rich source of comedic hubris.
As the impatient leader of the Deception jet fighters, he wouldn’t be short of an ensemble cast to support assaults against the Autobots. There could be a lot of fun had with the interpersonal relationship between Starscream, Skywarp and Thundercracker as they attack the mostly ground-based good guys from above. Perhaps they could form the basis of a Suicide Squad style antihero brigade, only…better.
Chuck in any mix of the pompously logical Shockwave, the creepy Insecticon trio, the sturdy Astrotrain and the charmless triple-changer Blitzwing and you have enough ammunition for fun and explosions. Cast Megatron in the absentee Joker role and the picture is complete.
If Starscream is the character we love to hate, then Soundwave is the one we all secretly love. But not me. I openly adore this walking boombox baddie. Maybe I’m jealous of his vocoder-like voice, his steadfast loyalty or his ability to eject cassettes from his chest, but I can’t put my finger on why he makes me so happy. He just does.
As a comic foil to the maniacal Megatron or childish Starscream, his deadpan demeanour and army of sidekicks would be welcome in any (all!) of this next generation of Transformers movies. There is a fantastic buddy comedy movie to be made here, it doesn’t need to cost $300 million, but it needs to happen as soon as possible. If a movie is a step too far, spin it off into a TV series. If Disney can produce Marvel and Star Wars TV shows for its forthcoming streaming platform, why can’t Paramount get in on the action? Some characters would be better served by the episodic format, after all, this whole crazy Transformers things started out as a toy that was turned into a TV show, you know, for kids.
When I saw Soundwave in the Bumblebee cinematic trailer, that’s when I knew I had to see the film, despite my reservations. It would delight me for all eternity to see him unleash Laserbeak, Buzzsaw, Ravage, Frenzy and Rumble on the world as often as possible.
In another act of reclamation, we need to return Unicron to his rightful majesty. Rather than what feels like an add-on to an already crowded gathering as seen in The Last Knight, a better legacy is deserved for the monster planet.
The recent revivals of Godzilla and King Kong could provide the template for a film in which the villain turns out to be the saviour. If Unicron recognises a threat to Earth greater than his own, that would be enough for him to fight for intergalactic supremacy over a potential rival. We know he prides himself on his stature and ability to dominate everything in his path, yet he is well aware of his weaknesses.
I doubt he’d ever sacrifice himself outwardly, but were he to survive an initial outing, the emotional impact of a return that saw him needing to be slain could serve a fitting ending. His death is a fantastic end to the cartoon film, thanks mostly to the theatrically agonised tones of Orson Welles. While no other actor could come close to such a grand performance, the character deserves a new cinematic platform.
When looking up at a clear night’s sky as a kid, I always used to imagine being able to see Unicron’s disembodied head, suspended in space, illuminated by reflected moonlight. Truth is, I still do and during the daytime as well. These are the kind of inspirational memories present and future generations deserve to take from Transformers movies until all are one.
Bumblebee is released on DVD & Blu-ray this Spring.