Who would have thought that it would have only taken Paramount Pictures 11 years to produce a critically acclaimed Transformers movie?
Even though it’s box office numbers are lesser than previous installments, Bumblebee boasts the highest critical praise in the entire six-movie franchise. The prequel directed by Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings) is even being labelled as the long-awaited proper Transformers movie craved by fans. When initially announced by the studio in 2016, many scoffed at the prospect of more films in a disgraced franchise. No disrespect to director Michael Bay, but even though his signature style broke the title into the mainstream— it also eventually plunged it down with 4 sequels.
It comes as no surprise that Knight’s prequel is turning heads due to it being the complete opposite of Bay’s movies.
Bumblebee‘s success has now sparked the conversation of more Transformer spin-offs and prequels within Paramount. Moving forward, the studio should heavily consider how they got themselves in this position in the first place.
What Bumblebee gets right can be divided into 5 sections that can serve as a basis for moving forward with the series. Not to say every future movie should follow the same formula, but instead pay attention to what can work in a rebounding franchise.
Here are the 5 steps the Transformers series can take after Bumblebee:
1. Ignore Bay Continuity
To stay loyal to Bay or not? This question lingers throughout Knight’s entire film and will follow Paramount in their decision making moving forward. The studio is in a tricky position because even though Bay’s films have profited over $4 billion dollars — their market appeal has been on a decline. Knight’s film having the lowest box office debut of them all is one obvious effect of this decrease. All the more reason for Paramount to see this as the last straw and completely ditch the Bay continuity. Luckily, Knight already fought hard to begin paving this path in his film. In a recent interview with io9, he revealed that it took great persuasion from the studio to revamp all the transformers in their “Generation 1” designs. This directorial choice was rooted in him having a childhood connection to G1. “I didn’t think it was radical but it was seen as radical in certain places. And so it took a little bit of kind of coaxing.” He continued to explain that Paramount thought it was essential to stay true to the continuity established in Bay’s films; even scrapped some original ideas for Bumblebee to do so.
Even with this being the case, the film still retcons Bay’s work. Characters sporting G1 designs contradict the way they looked on Cybertron in Bay’s films. The mid-credit scene reveals more Autobots arriving on Earth in 1987. This obviously contradicts their first arrival in the first film from 2007. However, Bumblebee tries to connect to the first film by featuring Sector 7 and the Chevy Camaro. These retcons and similarities just make things more noticeably confusing, not too dissimilar to Fox’s current X-Men universe.
More importantly, why stay loyal to Bay’s continuity when his films did not even do so? Each Bay film introduces new contradicting elements in the timeline. Transformers disappear and reappear in later sequels with no explanation. Transformers also mistakenly share the same names. The lack of cohesion was a commercial disadvantage when more cohesive franchises such as the Marvel and DC cinematic universes were on the rise. Paramount should take note of how Sony Pictures have recently handled the Spider-Man property. When all was declining— they took quick action with wiping the slate clean and starting new. Now, they have a whole slew of films planned from a successful reboot. Paramount can do the same.
2. Focus On The Past
If Paramount abandons the Bay continuity, then setting future installments in the past would only make it easier to understand for general audiences. Bay’s films are commonly associated with the modern day and distant future. Setting new films in the past would not only give them a more clear distinction but would also expand the creative sandbox.
Bumblebee takes great liberty in exposing giant robots to the U.S. culture of 1987. There is heavy nostalgia for the 80s at play, but thanks to Knight and screenwriter Christina Hodson audiences are reminded that not all nostalgia is cheap. It feels great and exciting to see these characters react to the time period in which they were created in. Here Paramount can learn what not to do from Fox and their X-Men prequels. Each of those films is continuously set one decade apart from another. The large time jumps only leave the films barely scratching the surface of fitting in their individual time periods. The film that directly follows Bumblebee should take place shortly after and further explore the late 80s. No era is always constant and it would be riveting to see Transformers further explore the change that rode the late 80s into the 90s. Untouched possibilities in this franchise that could only lead to more creative results.
Paramount should also not object to travel farther back in Cybertron’s past for it is a goldmine of storytelling that Bumblebee already proved to be exciting.
3. Borrow More From Source Material
The biggest weakness in the franchise thus far is lack of connective tissue from the source material. Films based on pre-existing media should never be chained down by them, and there is a benefit with creative liberties. However, there is such a thing as taking to many creative liberties. The Bay Transformer films have taken great creative liberties, but the oddest ones. Incorporating Arthurian legend and the 1969 moon landing were definitely choices. One cannot help to think why such strange choices were made when there is literally decades of popular storytelling to draw from. This is not to say that the next movies should directly adapt well-known stories. Instead, they should take inspiration from and adapt rich ideas that for some reason have been ignored for years.
Marvel Studios have set a prime example on producing hits based on popular material with Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War. Both are heavily inspired and borrow from original texts, but forge a new path that fits their screen narrative.
There are countless characters and stories that could fit in countless settings from Transformers lore that have yet to even be mentioned on film. Building from the popular Transformer shows and comics will appeal to all fans, young and old.
4. Continue To Go Smaller
This next step is simple, go small. Transformers has become well-known for its exhaustive action and constant high stakes. Not only does this get too familiar, but it’s also tiring. Nonstop ascending large-scale storytelling can exhaust and numb all of one’s joy. Bumblebee breaks the mould with a final battle that manages to balance important stakes in a small setting.
The smaller scale allowed a more intimate confrontation between good and evil to take place. Paramount should be unafraid of a smaller intimate or subtle story. Earth and the universe have been through enough in this franchise. Paramount is going to have to tone it down for audiences who are already getting weary of such high stakes in this current wave of blockbusters. Transformer movies of epic proportions can still be produced in smaller packaging.
5. Hire More Rising Talent
Paramount trusting Travis Knight with his live-action directorial debut is a great sign for the future of this franchise. If given the opportunity, there are plenty of hungry creative minds ready to jump on Transformers. Paramount needs to diversify who gets to play with Transformers behind the camera. They should not fear unexpected creative choices and trust rising talent like Travis Knight and Christina Hodson. Whatever Knight tackles as a director next is well worth a look, and Paramount should work hard to keep him in house. Off the strength of her Bumblebee script, Hodson is tackling the Birds of Prey and Batgirl for Warner Bros. Paramount needs to trust talented people, not just “name” talent.
Paramount is well aware of the fact that the Transformers property is a goldmine. However, they have disregarded its potential for more hollow pursuits. Bumblebee is a sign that this is perhaps a thing of the past. Maybe Transformers could rival other titan brands…In order to achieve such heights and stay relevant changes need to be made.