I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster with the latest Transformers movie news. The headlines made it sound like all my dreams were finally coming true. A live-action Beast Wars movie? Yes, please. Unfortunately for me, I have an ounce of media literacy, so I clicked past the headline and quickly discovered that the recently announced Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is going to be just another casualty in a long line of Hollywood bastardizations of the Transformers franchise. Maybe it’s my fault for getting my hopes up, but I’m still in disbelief that Paramount is planning on doing that same old tired boy-meets-bot schtick for something as cool as Beast Wars.
I would never expect a film franchise about robots in disguise to be high art, and admittedly, even the source material is little more than a glorified toy commercial, but Michael Bay’s Transformers films were an unmitigated disaster. The original film and Revenge of the Fallen are tolerable, but after that, each one was significantly worse than the one before it. They aren’t even absurd fun like the Fast & Furious series. They’re just bad.
I had given up on ever seeing a decent Transformers movie until Travis Knight’s Bumblebee came out in 2018. Unlike Bay’s films, Bumblebee had some heart, and it was genuinely a fun watch. John Cena stole every scene with his self-aware portrayal of his hammy Jack Burns character, and the whole movie had a joyful Saturday morning cartoon vibe that worked so much better than the previous films. It’s not my favorite movie by any stretch, but it was a step in the right direction, to say the least.
The series effectively went on hiatus after Bumblebee, and Paramount was reportedly looking to retool the franchise with more oversight from Hasbro. This sounded like good news to me, given the quality of other Transformers projects outside of live-action film. Transformers: War for Cybertron Trilogy is a fantastic Netflix series that is well-regarded and has spun-off into one of the most successful toy lines Hasbro has had in ages. IDW’s Transformers comics are better than ever, including the recently rebooted Beast Wars series by Erik Burnham and Josh Burcham.
The thing that all of the stories have in common, and what I would argue is what makes them great, is that there’s no people in them. These aren’t stories about human characters learning to work through their grief, trauma, or self-esteem issues by partnering up with the Autobots to save the world. They’re about alien robot wars. That’s not to say there’s nothing thematically salient in these stories, but I think they do a good job of proving that Transformers doesn’t need to be anchored by human characters. It turns out there are plenty of interesting and dynamic characters and relationships to explore in the Transformers universe already.
So what do we know about the next Transformers movie? Unlike the original Beast Wars series, which took place on prehistoric Earth, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts takes place seven years after the events of Bumblebee, placing it somewhere in the mid-90s. In The Heights’ star Anthony Ramos will play the lead. His character will be “a flawed and vulnerable hero who has made mistakes in his life and is eager to redeem himself with the help of Optimus Prime.” The official synopsis describes it as a “90s globetrotting adventure and introduces the Maximals, Predacons, and Terrorcons to the existing battle on earth between Autobots and Decepticons.”
If you’re unfamiliar with Beast Wars, it starts hundreds of years in the future with the descendants of the Autobots and Decepticons now united in an uneasy alliance. A defector using the name Megatron leads a group called the Predacons, guided by a message from the original Megatron, in pursuit of a powerful energy source. The Maximals, led by Optimus Primal, pursue them. The two factions travel through time and end up on prehistoric Earth, where they are quickly upgraded to beast forms in order to better acclimate to the planet’s conditions. This is where the Beat Wars take place. So, you know, not exactly a ‘90s globetrotting adventure.
I am not a purist when it comes to adaptations. Every creator has the right to adapt their source as faithfully or inaccurately as they want. I would be open-minded to a reimagining of the Beast Wars story if this didn’t sound like the exact same garbage we’ve been seeing for over a decade. When I heard they were going back to the drawing board for the next one, I didn’t realize that they’d already written on it with permanent marker.
Bumblebee was only a good movie compared to The Last Knight and Age of Extinction. Taking that format forward for Beast Wars is a huge mistake, and I think that Paramount is foolish for thinking the masses won’t see a Transformers movie if it doesn’t have a human face attached to it. You can tell good stories about robots. If you don’t believe me, I’ve got decades of Transformers comic books you can borrow.
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