8:10am PT by Graeme McMillan
Franchises In Disguise: How to Turn 'Transformers' Into a Shared Universe
With Paramount talking to Robert Kirkman, Zak Penn and others about joining the writing team for its Transformers franchise, it appears that there really might be more than meets the eye when it comes to the studio's plans to build out the Hasbro toy property into a fully-fledged cinematic universe.
The problem for both audiences and Paramount alike is the fact that, at first glance, there doesn't appear to be enough variation in the Transformers concept to allow for multiple series running parallel to each other. The success of Marvel's cinematic universe isn't that each character is a superhero, but that each character offers something just different enough to make each series individual and worthwhile as a standalone offering. Differentiating that one robot turns into a car while another turns into a different car isn't going to cut it.
Thankfully, the answer to this problem already exists in Hasbro's archives. The Transformers toyline has been around for three decades by this point, and has gone through a number of reinventions and variations on its core concept in that time. With 30+ years of comic books, cartoon series and fan-fiction to use as source material, everything necessary to build out Transformers lore is ready for the taking. Here are five suggested directions things could go in, taken from existing mythology.
Oddly left mostly untouched by the movies to date, the war between Autobots and Decepticons on their home planet was an important part of the original comic books and Saturday morning animated series. The very act of abandoning Earth for an all-Transformers movie would make for a fascinating change of focus from the movies we've seen, and also allow for the introduction of an all-new cast while Optimus Prime and his compatriots fight the good fight amongst humanity. And should events bring Cybertron and Earth together in a later crossover movie, all the better.
A little-used character from the original 1980s comic book series, Circuit Breaker was a human who was left paralyzed after a Decepticon attack. Instead of just surrendering to bitterness, however, the demands of comic book origin stories meant that it was the inciting incident that led to her adopting a technological alter ego that allowed her to walk, fly and fight back against all Transformers, good guys or otherwise. While the movies don't need to follow the example of the fictional Josie Beller to a strict degree, the idea of a movie focusing on what humanity is doing with alien technology would appear to be a no-brainer.
A 1988 subset of Hasbro's toyline, the "Pretenders" concept was very simple: they were Transformers who would disguise themselves as human beings or other living creatures. The movies have already played with this idea before all too briefly, with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen featuring a Decepticon disguised as a college student, but imagine this idea taken to its logical conclusion: a paranoid thriller about a secret invasion of the Earth happening while everyone's attention is drawn towards the intentional distraction of those giant robots right outside the window. Is the world ready for Invasion of the Body Snatchers: Robot Edition?
The 1995 relaunch of the Transformers toyline saw Hasbro abandon trucks, planes and tape cassettes as alternate forms for the heroes and villains of the series. Instead, the robots turned into animals, with the Maximals and Predacons being portrayed as descendants of the franchise's original Autobots and Decepticons (Don't worry; Optimus Prime was still around, albeit renamed Optimus Primal, so as to better fit his new bestial form — he was, at different times in the line's history, a bat and a gorilla). The movies have already featured the Dinobots, so why not bring in more robots that can become animals for some animalistic action, Planet of the Apes-style?
G.I. Joe Vs. Transformers
Rights might be complicated, but Hasbro's two major boys' toys properties have been crossing over since 1986's first G.I. Joe and the Transformers comic book series. They've since had multiple comic book meetings, and characters from the G.I. Joe animated series showed up in disguise during the third season of the 1980s Transformers animated show. Currently, the mash-up is at the heart of a psychedelic comic book series by creator Tom Scioli that takes full advantage of the incongruities in mixing the two properties together. Given the techno-militaristic appeal of both movie franchises, couldn't a big screen meeting do the same?