WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Paramount Pictures' Bumblebee, in theaters now.
One of Bumblebee's biggest accomplishments is its return to distant Cybertron to depict the Autobots and Decepticons before they arrived on Earth. Director Michael Bay's films largely glossed over that part of Transformers history, leaving audiences to glean clues about the origins of their rivalry from their present-day battles.
But in Bumblebee, directed by Travis Knight from a script by Christina Hodson, fans don't have to listen to speeches by Optimus Prime or Megatron about their galaxy-spanning conflict. It actually opens on the Transformers home world, demonstrating that a War for Cybertron film is the way forward, and precisely what the flagging franchise needs for a reset.
Bumblebee illustrates how that can work in just two war scenes. The opening is a flashback that details how Optimus Prime sent Bumblebee as a scout to Earth in search of refuge for the Autobots, who are losing the fight against the Decepticons. It's a short but sweet prologue that's expanded upon later to highlight Optimus using his signature blaster and killing Decepticons. Those sequences provide not only a crowd-pleasing shot of nostalgia, but also an out for a soft reboot, and a much-needed course correction.
Fans have been fascinated with that origin for decades, as evidenced by the success of the Transformers: War for Cybertron video game. Bumblebee whets our appetites, but there's so much material to mine that can be used to "fix" the Paramount Pictures franchise. Here, we see Generation One versions of heroes like Optimus, Bumblebee and Cliffjumper, as well as such Decepticons as Shockwave, Soundwave and Ravage, depicted in a way faithful to the source material, and undoing the complex designs and personalities grafted onto them by the Bay films.
Focusing on the civil war also serves as a character study for characters that weren't done justice by earlier movies, such as Megatron and Starscream on the Decepticon side, and the Dinobots, Jazz and Ratchet on the Autobot side. With Bumblebee's ending altering the franchise timeline, and having Autobots arrive on Earth in 1987 (rather than in the 2000s), a fresh depiction of the original conflict is the perfect prelude to Knight's mid-credits scene.
The war flashback actually ends with Bumblebee jetting off in his space pod, and Optimus being rushed by dozens of Decepticons. Given that the Autobot leader makes it to Earth in the finale, a War for Cybertron story could fill in the narrative gap, and even reach further back, delving into the philosophical disputes the finally erupted into a world-shattering conflict.
That part of the mythos has been revised time and time again over the decades, most recently in IDW Publishing's just-concluded Transformers comic series, which depicts Optimus (an ambitious soldier named Orion Pax) and Megatron as brothers in arms who use their military clout to overthrow the powers that be. Cybertron's forces were colonizers, and the duo sought to upset the world order. Bay's movies simply established the two were enemies, but something like this adds depth to their feud. It's also an opportunity to rectify what Bay did with the Knights of Cybertron, as well as with Unicron, in the critical and commercial failure The Last Knight.
These are core to the Transformers universe. Going back to the beginning and establishing a history (which IDW is coincidentally doing again in 2019), as opposed to shoehorning in the lore for plot convenience, helps to build a continuity, something Paramount has struggled to achieve.
"We are going to do another big Transformers movie. It is going to be different than the ones that we’ve done before," said franchise producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, and a film focused on Cybertron's past would certainly qualify. "I think we've learned something in this movie about tone that I would think the next big Transformers movie is going to have. It's not like we're going to copy it but we've learned something."
Ultimately, Bumblebee offers a fresh start for a cinematic universe with so much potential. As long the studio can get audiences to connect emotionally to the other robots in disguise, like we did with 'Bee, it should be smooth sailing.
Directed by Travis Knight from a script by Christina Hodson, Bumblebee stars Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Pamela Adlon, Jason Drucker, Abby Quinn, Rachel Crow, Ricardo Hoyos and Gracie Dzienny.