6:00am PT by Graeme McMillan
Could 'Bumblebee' Launch Hasbro's Cinematic Universe?
Officially, Bumblebee — the Transformers spinoff that dropped its first trailer Tuesday — is a prequel to the earlier movies in the series, taking place two decades before Michael Bay’s 2007 original. But what if, as should only be expected from this particular franchise, there’s more than meets the eye going on…?
As might be clear from the Rick Astley cassette joke at the end of the trailer, Bumblebee is set in 1987 — which might explain why the film redesigns not only the title character, but also the transforming jet to resemble the original 1980s toyline. It might also explain why the Bumblebee in Michael Bay’s Transformers movies only speaks using samples of Earth media. (“Music can help you say what you’re feeling,” indeed; who knew that Hailee Steinfeld was responsible for that quirk?)
As much as the trailer suggests that Bumblebee is a straightforward prequel that sets up the Bay movies, there are already elements that don’t quite make sense about the continuity of the series as a whole: Why didn’t any of the Autobots reference Bumblebee’s previous adventures with humans when he found Sam Whitwicky (Shia LaBeouf) in the first movie, especially considering the similar way in which he found the fleshy sidekicks in question? If Bumblebee was out having adventures and meeting humans in 1987, wouldn’t secretive government agency Sector 7 have known about them prior to the 2002 Beagle 2 Rover camera footage referenced in the first Transformers movie? If there are cars with robot arms sticking out, as seen in the trailers, why don’t other people suspect there’s something weird going on, in general?
Clearly, there are retcons to be had in the future of the franchise as the result of Bumblebee. The question is, how extensive will those retcons be?
For some time, Paramount and Hasbro have been planning to build a shared cinematic universe that folds Transformers in with G.I. Joe and other Hasbro toy properties, including Micronauts, Visionaries and more. Such a plan seemed complicated by the lack of those properties in the Transformers cinematic series as it was under Bay's reign, but what if Bumblebee was less a prequel to the existing Michael Bay series, and more the beginning of something altogether different?
The model for this method would be Fox’s X-Men franchise, which used the prequel X-Men: First Class as a stealth relaunch for the series as a whole, moving forward from that point with a series of movies that may have contradicted existing canon, but did so in a way that revived the franchise and allowed it to back out of the narrative dead end it had accidentally moved into.
It could be argued whether or not the Transformers franchise has reached such an impasse in terms of story — although the plots of the existing Transformers movies do feel as exhaustive and exhausting in terms of scope as the first three X-Men movies — but, with Michael Bay stepping down and Hasbro looking to redirection of the franchise, Bumblebee feels like the ideal place to start over without making too big a deal of it for audiences.
Indeed, the shared universe could be introduced slowly, with the briefest mention of G.I. Joe, or any of the other properties — perhaps having someone seeing Bumblebee transform and start imagining what would later become the quasi-transforming vehicles of M.A.S.K., for example — and the suggestion that something bigger is to come, a la Marvel’s first Iron Man movie.
If handled with some degree of subtlety, Hasbro could use the prequel nature of Bumblebee not only to relaunch the Transformers franchise, but also to set the Hasbroverse of it all in motion with the suggestion that it’s always been there, it’s simply that audiences hadn’t seen the full picture yet. After all, if the Transformers are going to share a world with all the other toys, it’s not only robots that get to be disguised anymore.