The Bumblebee solo film could end up proving to be the soft reboot the series so desperately needs. After 2017's Transformers: The Last Knight - director Michael Bay's fifth installment in the series - underperformed at the box office, it became clear the Transformers cinematic franchise had to evolve. Bumblebee was in development before The Last Knight's release, and is technically a prequel to the Bay films, but with some very minor adjustments it could prove to be a franchise revitalizing effort, rather than a small scale stop gap.
Even at the height of their popularity, Bay's movies never really captured what made Transformers such an enduring franchise for so many generations. Bay's CGI robots were technological monstrosities - little more than shapeshifting tools for the director to indulge in his infamous appetites for epic scale chaos. The human characters were mostly present to indulge in toilet humor and run in terror when the robots started toppling skyscrapers. Bay's singular gift for making destruction seem almost balletic was enough to keep audiences coming back for more until The Last Knight.
Fan expectations were low for Bumblebee - a prequel starring the mute Autobot scout set in 1987. But the warmly received teaser trailer suggests director Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings) may have uncovered some magic in the robots in disguise. The designs aren't a radical overhaul, but they're cleaner, simpler, and more strongly evoke the aesthetic of Generation 1 than Bay's largely anonymous looking mechs. Starscream, in particular, looks much closer to his iconic G1 design than the grey, ape-like hulk from Bay's films. It's hard to gauge from a teaser trailer - and pretty much every Bay Transformers movie had a great trailer - but the lowbrow humor and cascading, contradictory mythos of the previous films seems to have been abandoned for a lighter, more character driven take.
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Bumblebee Can Save The Franchise
Bumblebee was always meant to be a lower profile spinoff, but it's become increasingly clear that the franchise's future may well rest in the Volkswagen Beetle's trusty hands. Following The Last Knight's failure and Bay's departure from the director's chair, there's been an assumption that the franchise would pull a hard reboot, with Bumblebee as sort of a final whimper for the old iteration. But if Bumblebee is as good as it seems to be, and has managed to inject some heart and emotion back into the Cybertronians, why not just use that as the new starting point? It's not as if the continuity of the Bay movies really makes any sense; every sequel contradicted the previous one in some way or another, with The Last Knight retconning the Autobots and Decepticons into integral parts of virtually every chapter of human history. Considering Bumblebee is set 20 years before the first Bay movie, it seems unlikely there would be many direct references anyway.
And while the movie was originally conceived of as a prequel, there's no reason that couldn't be shifted a bit through some clever reshoots, erasing any nods to the previous films and establishing this as the beginning of the Transformers' story on Earth. Reshoots tend to get a bad rap as something only extensively utilized for troubled productions, but this would be a case of having so much faith in what Knight is doing to solidify his vision as independent from what came before, and to serve as a blueprint for what's next. Legendary voice actor Peter Cullen has confirmed he's involved in the film in some capacity, and introducing a nobler, less bloodthirsty Optimus Prime in the film's third act would be a great way to signal that the franchise is ready to move forward in a new direction.
There's even a fairly obvious template for this kind of soft reboot - the X-Men film franchise. After hitting the skids with bombastic, boneheaded movies like X-Men: The Last Stand and X-Men Origins: Wolverine, director Matthew Vaughn took the mutants back to the 60s with X-Men: First Class, a stylish, thoughtful period piece that was ostensibly a prequel, but ended up resetting and refocusing those films in fundamental ways that can still be felt in that franchise to this day.
- Bumblebee (2018) release date: Dec 21, 2018