Fred McNamara on Paramount’s plans for a shared Transformers universe…
It’s almost laughable how aggressive the internet turned when Paramount announced they were treating their live-action Transformers franchise to a Marvel Cinematic Universe-styled expansion. We’re also being treated to a constant stream of rumours regarding whether or not Transformers 5 will be a two-parter, the introduction of such classic character as Ultra Magnus, Cyclonus and Unicron, and the more recent suggestions that Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox may be returning to the series as well as a prequel being on the cards.
But do any of these rumours get your blood pumping? Should we actually be excited for an expansion of the Transformers films? Does such an expansion means that there is now a massive opportunity for the franchise to redeem itself? Or is this just another classic example of films being made by executives/accountants/corporate-type folk and will surely fall flat on it cold, robotic face?
The very notion of a ‘shared universe’ implies a focus on the weaving in/out of characters and stories. Events and persons are spread out across a multi-chapter canvas without necessarily being labelled as sequels. It’s almost become a rite-of-passage for movie-goers to laugh and scorn at Paramount’s Transformers movies for their cack-handed approach to such mind-boggling concepts and characters and plots! But surely because of its expansion, that means greater care must surely be put in place for these elements – maybe less racial stereotypes and glazed eye-candy and more depth to these robots in disguise.
The flipside of this is that Transformers is, first and foremost, a toy. The toyline, adapted way back in the 1980’s from the Japanese line Diaclone, preceded all TV shows, comics and films, many of which were created simply to act as a promotional tool for the toys. There’s the rather 2D mind-set you can go with when looking at Paramount’s decision – more films, more toys.
A shared cinematic universe is surely taken from what Marvel are currently winning at, which must surely result in comparisons based on the tactics Paramount choose to employ in getting their universe rolling. With Marvel’s near-constant high standard of producing well-executed flicks that have a mass market appeal, would we be kidding ourselves in thinking that the Transformers films could adapt a stronger hold on their own deliverance?
It may well be, because at four films in, the regular critical backlash that Transformers drags itself with doesn’t stop those four films being as gigantic at the box office as Optimus Prime himself. Seeing how successful Marvel also are at the pictures, and how merchandise-friendly Transformers is, these were surely two key reasons for Paramount expanding on its cinematic adventures for the Cybertronians.
But when looking at it this way, you just have to ask yourself – where’s the heart in all of this?
One reviewer summed up Avengers Assemble as being ‘Transformers with heart’. That’s how the Marvel Cinematic Universe can crush Transformers films, because every MCU film has some moral conflict for its hero and villains that hooks the audience and makes loving these films even more enjoyable. On the other end of the spectrum, it’s become commonplace when going to see a Transformers movie to expect almost nothing but overly-rapid CGI robots beating seven bells out of each other. If you like that sort of cinema, then Transformers has no competition.
Paramount’s take on the Transformers, with an emphasis on visual spectacle over almost everything else, is what manages to separate itself from other cinematic universe franchises. After all, it’s not like other Transformers media is devoid of engaging characters or strong plots – there’s plenty of comics and TV entries out there that have a lot of charge in those departments.
Therefore, are Paramount having their cake and eating it? Are they on the verge of creating a mass cinematic juggernaut that’s guaranteed to make a profit regardless of audience/critical reception? Or are they taking it a stage further and simply not bothering how fans and critics alike may react to future instalments?
If fans want a genuinely attention-grabbing Transformers adventure, they’d be best checking out any number of Marvel/Dreamwave/IDW titles based on the Cybertronians, or even several TV entries. This would leave the cinematic side of things clear to do whatever the hell it wants, and that’s just what it’s been doing for the past eight years.
Perhaps that’s exactly how Paramount are thinking. Perhaps, in those respects, the Transformers can do no wrong. They’re a sure-fire money-maker, indestructible against any type of criticism at all, and appear unwilling to listen to what makes a solid Transformers story. Understandable that they can’t hear you though, given the sheer metallic noise of those films. The expansion of a cinematic universe certainly spreads out the canvas for stronger films, but given its track record, maybe it really is a forlorn hope that the Transformers movie series is beyond salvation.
Mind you, in the world of the Transformers, appearances can be deceiving…
The Transformers universe is awash in characters and stories that outdo any of the Bayformers movies. With so much inspiration to pik’n’mix from, we might be fools in thinking all hope is lost. The way the cinematic franchise currently stands, a shake-up is definitely needed to increase the quality of these movies. Bay must not only go, but stay far, far, far away, and never return. Plus, the scripts need to take a more graceful approach to these metallic hulks, and thanks to the recent announcement of Iron Man scribblers Art Marcum and Matt Holloway joining Paramount’s writing team, we could be seeing the pieces of the puzzle slip into place.
Also, and perhaps this is being optimistic, but between the four Bayformers movies, with the possible exception of the first entry, things can’t get any worse than these previous flicks. Right…?
Maybe, just maybe, the Transformers’ cinematic universe could light our darkest hour…