Transformers One Does Not Look Like What You’re Expecting

Transformers One Does Not Look Like What You’re Expecting

As a massive fan of Transformers: The Movie, few films on the upcoming calendar fill me with as much excitement as Transformers One. Directed by Josh Cooley (Toy Story 4), the first animated theatrical Transformers film since that 1986 masterpiece is coming September 13 and, at CinemaCon, Paramount revealed footage for the first time ever.

The film is entirely set on Cybertron and tells the story of how the two most famous Transformers, Optimus Prime and Megatron, went from best friends to mortal enemies. Chris Hemsworth and Brian Tyree Henry provide the voices of Prime and Megatron, only they’re not called that at the start. They’re called Orion Pax and D-16, respectively. Filling out the cast are Scarlett Johansson as Elita-1, Keegan-Michael Key as B-127 (who’ll become Bumblebee), as well as Steve Buscemi, Laurence Fishburne, and Jon Hamm.

So how did it look? I have to say, I was disappointed on multiple levels. The CG animation looks more familiar than not—just the kind of basic “robots running around” you instantly picture when I say that. The tone seemed aimed at a very, very young audience. And any hints of this promised feud and betrayal are completely missing. Obviously, Transformers is based on toys so, at its core, it’s a kid franchise. But after decades of violent, live-action movies and rewatches of the dark animated original, it has, at least by reputation, developed a slightly more serious tone. Not totally serious, but a balance of humor with gravitas. Transformers One, at least based on this first footage, isn’t that.

We meet Prime and Megatron as young, lowly worker robots that don’t have the ability to transform. They fool around, fight, and act like teenage brothers. Also, it’s important to note they don’t look like the characters we know and love. They’re almost like a base-model robot without any upgrades. They don’t even have faceplates, so each character has a full face: eyes, nose, mouth. Aesthetically speaking, this was, as they say, a choice.

After messing around in the depths of the planet, an epic journey takes the friends to the forbidden surface of Cybertron, which is off-limits and deadly. Eventually, we see them get the ability to transform but it’s not something that happens instantly. The footage shows the characters attempting to figure out how to use their powers and bungling them a lot. Prime tries to do it but then only hides his head. Bee becomes a car, but can’t figure out the wheels so he falls down a cliff as he screams about not having wheels.

Later, a big villain emerges and the group decides to use their newfound powers to stop him. But they still don’t have the hang of it and act all shocked and surprised as they develop things like laser hands or face shields.

Basically, the whole thing looks like a bunch of dumb kids who slowly begin to grow up and learn responsibility, and they’ll make a lot of mistakes along the way. One assumes, since we know the film is building to a lifelong rivalry between the main characters, things do eventually shift. But there was very, very little sense of that in the footage.

Even an extended scene in 3D, which 100% added to the experience, was more humor-focused than action-focused. The action seemed to occur just so the characters could fumble their way through it in ways that were more funny than exciting.

So yeah, Transformers One might not be the spiritual followup to Transformers: The Movie we hoped it would be. Or, maybe it will be, once we see more of it. What was absolutely clear from the footage screened though is that this Transformers is not aimed at 40-year-olds who collected the original toys and were shocked to see Optimus Prime die. It’s aimed at their 10-year-old kids who could care less about that. This is probably a smart play in the long run, but today, at CinemaCon, it was a bit of a shock.

Image: Hasbro/Paramount