Over the past few months, Hasbro and Paramount have been laying the groundwork for a new series of films based on the toy company’s iconic intellectual properties. The list includes Snake Eyes, an untitled continuation of that movie, as well as a G.I. Joe film based on the character Chuckles and another project based on M.A.S.K. by Bad Boys For Life writer Chris Bremner. Of course, we also have two new Transformers films in the works with one set to be a sequel to 2018’s Bumblebee and the other based on the 1990s Transformers sequel series Beast Wars. Earlier this month, Paramount and Hasbro announced the release date for the upcoming Transformers film which could very well be the rumored Beast Wars project. While neither company has confirmed this to be the case, it is the perfect place for Hasbro and Paramount to take the property if they want to do a more widespread reboot of the Transformers franchise.
You see the Transformers franchise was something of an odd animal even during its original run. Like many other cartoon franchises of the era, the whole series was a glorified commercial meant to sell you Hasbro’s action figures. What ultimately separated it from many of its peers was a genuine effort on the part of its creative teams to make it into something more than it was. Did it always succeed? Absolutely not and any fan of the original cartoon will tell you that the original series was not objectively good by any measure. The effort, however, did shine through just enough that Transformers tends to be more unironically loved than other cartoons of the era. This effort didn’t fully manifest itself into something that one might call objectively good until its sequel series Beast Wars debuted in 1996.
For those of you who may not be aware, Beast Wars: Transformers was a sequel to the original Transformers series and functioned as something of an in-continuity reboot of the franchise. Taking place several hundred years after the events of the original series, Beast Wars focused on a handful of Transformers known as the Maximals and Predacons who had renewed their conflict with one another after crashlanding on a seemingly alien planet that had a few uncanny similarities to prehistoric earth. And if the people at Paramount and Hasbro are intending to do a more widespread reboot of the franchise, this is probably the best place for them to go as the show’s very roots can solve many of the problems that the live-action films had.
The Michael Bay Transformers films from Paramount were, up until the release of Transformers: The Last Knight, massive money makers but detested by critics and longtime fans. One of the more common criticisms that came up with the films was their tendency to make the Transformers themselves the supporting characters in their own movies and instead focus on the more pesky human characters like Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky and Mark Wahlberg’s Cade Yeager. Even more egregious was the franchise’s tendency to focus the action on the military human characters instead of the Transformers themselves, often cutting away to the military fighting while the Decepticons and the Autobots fought in the background or even completely off-camera. As an unintended side result, the Transformers characters were hard to distinguish from one another and it was difficult to form any emotional attachments to the CGI creations. Sure, they all had their own names and designs but most audience members would be hard-pressed to describe any of the Autobots’ personalities or characteristics outside of Optimus Prime or Bumblebee. Heck, even their designs were so similar that even visually it was difficult to tell them apart once they started moving. The Decepticons got it even worse in this regard, with most of them lacking anything resembling a personality. They were visually interchangeable with one another save for the vehicle they turned into, serving as little more than cannon fodder for the Autobots and soldiers.
Now to be fair, it’s not like Michael Bay and company had a lot to go on with the source material. The Transformers often lacked anything resembling a fully realized arc that would last past a single episode. Heck, characters would sometimes be introduced just to promote a new toy only for said characters to fall into the background for the rest of the series. While it seems clear that Michael Bay and company were uninterested in doing anything more with these characters, the argument could be made that they didn’t have a whole lot to draw from, and this is where Beast Wars distinguishes itself from its predecessors.
The thing that made Beast Wars so different from previous Transformers series was a massive improvement in its writing. Sure it wasn’t exactly on par with Batman: The Animated Series but the characters had their own distinct personalities and flaws that remained consistent throughout the series. Each of them had their own arcs that didn’t necessarily resolve their flaws but saw them grow and evolve as the series went on. This, of course, not only involved the Maximals but the Predacons as well who had their own little arcs which often became recurring subplots that would last throughout a good chunk of the series. No fan could ever forget the constant scheming of Tarantulas or the bizarre romance between Silver Bolt and Black Arachnia. The series also contained what was perhaps the single best character arc in the franchise’s history in the story of Dinobot who went from a ruthless power-hungry Predecon to a dedicated Maximal before giving the character a fitting ending that broke the hearts of any kid who watched it. The list of distinguishable storylines and subplots goes on.
So right off the bat, you have a series that separates itself from its predecessor in terms of writing quality and effort. However, and perhaps more importantly, the series offers the producers a chance to junk the status quo of the original films and tell a new story without flat out repeating itself. In addition to the overall improved writing, Beast Wars distinguished itself from its predecessor in two ways that could be used to revitalize the franchise. The first and most obvious was that the characters all took the form of specific animals and had personalities that matched their respective beast. Something like this would give audiences something fresh and new to look at with action-packed set pieces. In addition, it would also solve the problem of the various characters blending together visually as the color pallets of animals will inherently be more varied than those of a bunch of dark cars.
The second and perhaps most important thing is the setting. As mentioned earlier, Beast Wars takes place on an alien world that lacks anything resembling a human character. If Hasbro and Paramount were to opt to stay true to the source material it would mean that the film would focus entirely on the Transformers as the main characters, eliminating what was arguably one of the biggest flaws of the Michael Bay films. Now the odds of Paramount and Hasbro actually doing this are pretty slim. Like it or not, most audience members would, in all likelihood, require a point-of-view character to have all of this madness explained to them and additional star power to get them into the movie theaters. However, setting the film on an apparent alien planet with characters cut off from support and resources could still, at least in theory, partially eliminate this issue. The finales of these films often have armies of Decepticons being blasted away by the Air Force and Navy and despite always being on the defensive, you kind of get the sense that the human characters could have eventually handled everything. Taking these kinds of advantages way from the human characters would force them to rely more on the Transformers themselves to do the heavy lifting and keep the action focused on the robots who we actually came to see fight.
In the end, we still have no way of knowing what Paramount and Hasbro will do with the Transformers until they make an official announcement about the future of the franchise. It could very well be that the 2020 Transformers film will be the Bumblebee sequel and that will be our new status quo. However, taking their inspiration from the Beast Wars cartoon would give them a wealth of storylines and three-dimensional characters to draw from with a new setting and things for the robots to turn into to keep things fresh. And if this new setting were to help keep the Transformers at the center of the action… well, that would be just prime.
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