If Michael Bay is looking for ideas for the next batch of Transformers movies, we’ve got ’em!
Transformers: Age of Extinction is in my estimation the best of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies. That sounds like a backhanded compliment, and I suppose it sort of is, but it’s where my opinion is camped right now. It’s at least as good as the 1980s animated movie, which is typically thought of as a franchise high-point — so if “enthusiastically earnest nonsense made up of mashed-together pulp-scifi tropes and accidentally-intriguing ideas wrapped around a commercial for robot toys” is Transformers-speak for “good” then this is the “good” live-action Transformers movie.
It certainly has the most engaging (if cluttered) storyline of the series thus far: Having decided that Transformers are too dangerous to have running around be they Decepticon or Autobot, a CIA-run black ops outfit is hunting and killing them indiscriminately. But while their stated goal is protecting humanity, they’re actually running two separate scams: Selling the slaughtered robot’s remains to a tech firm with a contract to build human-controlled knock-off Transformers (there’s an unforeseen glitch in that scheme, foreshadowed by the Trans-Fakers’ leader having been christened “Galvatron”) and enlisting backup from a mysterious third faction of Transformers who claim they’ve been charged with capturing Optimus Prime on behalf of their species “creators.”
As ever, this is mainly gibberish that exists to justify the action scenes, but it’s of the same vintage that informed the animated series that formed the foundation of the franchise’s mythology. Specifically, it recalls the episodes “Day of The Machines,” in which human-built sentient robots are hijacked by Megatron, and “Megatron’s Master Plan,” wherein the Decepticons partner with a crooked politician to smear the Autobots and have them deported. This follows on the heels of the previous film having borrowed a few key plot points from “The Ultimate Doom.”
With that in mind, here are seven dubious “classic” storylines from Transformers animated past that could work as big-screen adventures now that someone has worked out the surprisingly difficult algorithm for making $200 million movies out of cheap cartoons from the 80s…
“THE GOD GAMBIT” (Season 2, Episode 26)
The corporate overlords of 80s adver-toons were not particularly concerned with quality control. And while that mostly meant a shoddy product it occasionally meant some eyebrow-raising stuff getting past the radar — in this case, an introduction to atheism 101.
Some Autobots and Decepticons are fighting it out in space and crash on a primitive alien planet that’s in the middle of a sectarian conflict: A group of rebels who “believe in reason and common sense!” are attempting to stage a coup and prove to the citizenry that the “Sky Gods” they’ve been made to worship and make offerings to are a fabrication of their High Priests used to maintain influence and control. Said Priests try to turn the sudden arrival of giant creatures from the sky to their advantage as evidence in their favor, but get more than they bargained for when AstroTrain, Thrust and Starscream conclude that they’ll rather enjoy being not-so-benevolent “gods.”
Sure, the last decade or so of science fiction has beaten the old “Chariots of The Gods” riff into the ground, but there’s only so many times you can have these guys tear up another human city. Sending the franchise to space makes sense, and since the Transformer species’ whole motif is pretending to be what they’re not it would make sense that some of them are pulling this shtick somewhere in the universe.
UNICRON (Transformers: The Movie)
Unicron is technically a character, not a story, but the basics of its existence would easily support a feature — or several features. Introduced as the principal antagonist of the animated Transformers: The Movie, Unicron basically a riff on Marvel Comics’ Galactus — a sentient mechanical planet that travels the cosmos literally devouring entire worlds to power itself, ultimately revealed to be the “alt-mode” of a malevolent planet-sized ancient Transformer. In many versions of the continuity, Unicron is effectively Transformers’ version of The Devil and/or embodiment of all cosmic evil, while the Transformer homeworld Cybertron is secretly the “alt-mode” for of Unicron’s good counterpart (and Transformer creator-god) Primus.
Sounds like a movie to me.
QUEST FOR SURVIVAL (Season 2, Episode 29)
It’s odd that the Insecticons (they transform into giant bugs, basically the Decepticon equivalent of the Dinobots) have yet to make it into the movies, unless you want to count the reimagined Scorponok in the first one. Their locust-like behavior, a literalization of the overconsumption = bad moralism of the series, made them among the creepier consistent villains.
In “Quest,” the Insecticons often unmentioned secondary ability to copy themselves when they’ve consumed sufficient energy/matter gets supercharged, and they threaten to spread out over the planet gobbling up all matter while self-replicating at an alarming rate. Transformers versus the “Gray Goo” hypothesis? I’d buy a ticket to that.
WEBWORLD (Season 3, Episode 16)
Transformers’ third season is known for having some of the most “out-there” scifi concepts as the basis for its storylines. But few of them are stranger than this one, which asks the burning question: “What if Galvatron (aka Megatron: Mark II) had the Jack Nicholson part in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest?”
A recurring subplot throughout the season is that Galvatron is losing his mind — and not just in the figurative sense. Distraught, his Decepticon lieutenants opt to drop him off on a small planet that’s been converted into a gigantic intergalactic mental-hospital by a race of aliens who specialize in psychotherapy.
No, for real. That’s the actual premise of an entire Transformers episode. It doesn’t go well, for the record. I’d like to see this as the subplot of one of the movies, but instead of the blue monkey guys a Transformer therapist voiced by Woody Allen or Dr. Katz.
A DECEPTICON RAIDER IN KING ARTHUR’S COURT (Season 2, Episode 24)
Time-travel! Now there’s something that might be fun to play with in this franchise!
Think of this as a thematically “lighter” counterpart to The God Gambit: Two small groups of Autobots and Decepticons are zapped back in time to medieval Europe, where they’re taken for “strange knights” and Starscream (because it is always Starscream) sets himself up as a feudal lord. It’s one of the “funny” episodes, but it’s a cult fave owing partly to its weirdly quasi-realistic take on medieval times and pseudo-science. The Decepticons first order of business is teaching the humans how to build makeshift electrical generators, the “magic spells” wielded by a Gandalf-esque wizard turn out to be differently-named achievements in chemistry, and the supposed “epic clash” of good and evil lords is basically a trumped-up misunderstanding between feudal landowners that the Autobots inadvertently help bring to a peaceful conclusion. On the other hand, there’s an actual dragon, so…
But c’mon, would it not be cool to see Transformers stomping around more-or-less Middle Earth? It worked out pretty memorably the last time Michael Bay played around with fairy-tale imagery…
FIVE FACES OF DARKNESS (Season 3, Episodes 1 – 5)
This five-part episode was both the debut of the series’ radically-changed status-quo following Transformers: The Movie and also that film’s de-facto lower-budget (its animation/continuity errors are the stuff of legend) sequel. Of primary concern: It expands on the deeper-mythos of the Transformers to previously-unprecedented degrees by expanding on The Quintessons, five-faced mechanical eldritch horrors introduced sans-explanation in the preceding film.
Short version: The Quintessons are a more-ancient-than-ancient race of mechanoids that created the ancestors of the Autobots and Decepticons as a slave-labor force on ancient Cybertron. Mistreatment of their creations led to a rebellion and eventual Quintesson exile, followed by their eons-later re-emergence in the wake of Unicron’s destruction.
While the Quintessons have never been explicitly mentioned in the live-action films, Lockdown — the leader of the new third faction of robot antagonists in Age of Extinction — claims to be acting as a kind of intergalactic repo-man for the Transformers’ previously unheard of “creators.” So it feels like a safe bet that they or something like them is planned as a possible route for the next movie.
THE REBIRTH (aka AMERICAN HEADMASTERS)
Okay. History lesson time.
Transformers didn’t actually get a proper fourth season. Instead, what’s often called “Season 4” by fans is actually a three-part episode (set sometime after the resurrection of Optimus Prime at the conclusion of Season 3) called “The Rebirth” that feels like the launch of new season in that it introduces about 30 new characters, brings the “war for Cybertron” story to a close and sets up an entirely new conflict and status-quo that could have continued on into further episodes… but instead just serves to explain the existence of the (then) most-recent run of new toys: The Headmasters (their heads would detach and transform into smaller humanoid robots that would “pilot” the rest of the body in vehicle-form) and Targetmasters (same deal, but their weapons became the pilot instead).
While “Generation One” Transformers continuity actually continued in Japan for several more seasons/series beginning with a more “straightforward” conception of The Headmasters as a new team of Autobots who gradually took up leadership roles among The Autobots (Optimus dies again!); the American (non)launch of the characters was significantly more ambitious and bizarre.
In “The Rebirth,” a group of the (unexplained) new Autobots, along with Arcee, Hot Rod and Daniel Witwicky (Spike’s annoying son from The Movie,) get involved with a group of humanoid aliens in a state of war with mechanical enemies of their own. Through a series of bizarre complications (and a prophecy about a Cybertronian Golden Age) the good and evil aliens both decide to form allegiances with the Autobots and Decepticons whereby the Transformers will allow their heads to be converted to transform into suits of power-armor to be worn by the humans/aliens, allowing them to merge into organic/machine hybrids: The Headmasters.
Spike himself becomes the head of Cerebros, who in turn transforms his entire body into another even bigger head for Fortress Maximus — the most absurdly-enormous original Transformer toy of all — while Daniel sustains battle injuries that necessitate him permanently becoming Arcee’s Headmaster partner. Because obviously, there will be no uncomfortable issues whatsoever down the road for a 10 year-old boy having to live as the head of the Transformers’ sole female member.