Several months ago, Paramount Picture’s Transformers solo film, Bumblebee, came to theaters with high critical and moderate box office success. A few months later my review of the film was published in the student newspaper. Since then, numerous announcements have come out concerning the future of the Transformers film franchise with no clear direction or concrete plans. The series producer, Lorenzo diBonventura, has made numerous conflicting comments about the future of the franchise. Recent official statements by diBonventura and Hasbro seem to indicate that Bumblebee will be the beginning of a new Transformers series and a Bumblebee sequel is in the works. The Optimus Prime solo movie that was in development seems less likely to be made, but an animated Cybertron film appears to be in production.
If Paramount and Hasbro want to compete with the likes of massive blockbusters from Marvel and DC, they need to realize they are targeting the same demographic and must compete in this brave new world of cinema. They can’t continue to put out any movie and expect it to make massive amounts of money, the times and standards for big budget movies have changed. The main initial allure of these films was the astounding special effects, but now other studios can deliver that in spades and be critically praised. These movies were released when book adaptions were given two parts and Pirates of the Caribbean was still making massive bank. Now people scrutinize Marvel films to no end on YouTube in video essays, lauding their character writing and storytelling. If Hasbro wants to make movies that are taken seriously by the public and maintain an audience, they need to be more strategic about how they make their films. This means they should take calculated risks and new directions. Therefore, a Megatron character film could be a profitable decision for the studio to consider.
The Bumblebee film set up a “new storytelling universe” as Hasbro officially stated and didn’t feature Megatron, other than in deleted scenes. Director Travis Knight explained how he had planned to use him in the Cybertron battle scene but wasn’t able to because of the previous Michael Bay films’ continuity. Megatron is a character that has been wasted for five films and was missing in the most recent. They should continue to leave him out of the franchise until they know what to properly do with him. Here are some of my suggestions.
Take the anti-hero/villain centered story approach.
It may seem obvious to compare a villain like Megatron to other big bad guys in popular sci-fi/action films like Venom, Killmonger in Black Panther, and Loki and Thanos in the Avenger’s franchise, but it’s a good place to start. The characters originally started out as comic characters, and ten years ago wouldn’t be considered serious material for an antagonist in a movie. But now Marvel has proven that it’s possible to make a purple pruned chinned alien a compelling protagonist in his own right. These characters and their audience reception show that anti-heroes and villains can be written as very compelling characters. Megatron has no real characterization or development in all of Michael Bay’s films, and the best way to reintroduce him to audiences is to not only give him character, but well-developed character. In newer source material, such as prequel books like Alex Irvine’s Transformers: Exodus, Megatron has legitimate reasons as to why he starts the conflict on Cybertron. He lived as a low-class drone who was a gladiator in the arena, fighting for sport for the amusement of high-class citizens. He finds that Cybertron is run by corrupt politicians and wants to return it to the “Golden Age” of the planet, when there was no oppression or corruption. He has values that an audience can relate to and understand. Optimus Prime, before he was a Prime, (whether he was just Optimus or Orion Pax depending on the continuity) even agrees with him for a time. In fact, they were close friends that both believed their planet needed reformed. They differed in their methods, causing the eventual planetary schism when Megatron began staging attacks on several of the planet’s important cities, believing the only way to govern was to create “peace through tyranny.” Megatron’s arguments also ask when it is appropriate to use force to change society for the better, or worse, creating a compelling conflict that could be explored.
Megatron is the main antagonist of the franchise. Use him strategically.
Megatron is the main antagonist in the entire franchise. The most known and defining character in the 30 plus years of the series history. Sure, there are other and newer villains, but Megatron is the main one with the most character. He needs to be properly used throughout future films, not just a one and done villain (and then return for no real reason). Seeing that he was absent during Bumblebee, he could return in a later film once they establish other Decepticon characters as threats. Whether they be new original characters, or more well-known legacy ones, like Starscream or Soundwave. Megatron should be given a better narrative reason to be missing in action to establish him as a threat, as Marvel did with Thanos. Along those lines, Megatron could be searching for something that could play a role in why the Autobots would wish to defeat him, like the substance dark energon. This should also be tied to his character, making him an effective and memorable villain.
A Megatron movie could change the game.
If Paramount and Hasbro were to look to Marvel and DC as a standard and learn from their success and mistakes, they would benefit greatly. I think they could utilize the current strategies both are using to become a viable competitor to the two. Marvel has a large, interconnected universe that is devoted to furthering a larger narrative through several films. DC has since abandoned its attempt to emulate Marvel and has decided go its own way, choosing characters and creative talent to create movies no one knew they wanted, with films like Aquaman and Shazam standing out among other superhero films.
Paramount and Hasbro wanted a cinematic universe of their own, and they can still have it, and be more creative with individual films. Bumblebee was largely a kid friendly action/adventure/sci-fi film. Megatron, could be a bit more mature and pick and choose some other genre influences to make it more distinct; not unlike how Rogue One was almost more of a war film than other Star Wars films. Although this would be appealing to the primary demographic of 7 to 12-year old’s, it could be more mature for older audiences who would more likely want to see it. Again, Thanos or Killmonger are good examples to look to. His own solo film or series could also lead in larger Transformers films down the road and strengthen the movie brand.
These are just some suggestions for a potential Megatron film. The landscape of entertainment is changing and studios need to as well. Disney is engulfing more intellectual property and market share as the years go on and Paramount needs to have good products to fend off the forward march of behemoth. The superhero genre is adapting but is also in danger of becoming stale. Real competition posed by a non-superhero sci-fiction franchise film series may not only challenge the dominant movie form, but also adapt the Transformers brand on a storytelling level. Now is the perfect time to figure out what is the best course of action for this franchise and what will be the best plan for all stakeholders. I hope Hasbro has more creative input and decides to take some more risks that will pay off in the future. The creative potential the company has could be limitless, and we all could be benefactors.