Even Optimus Prime is more than meets the eye.
In June 2023, pop culture’s coolest sentient semi will return to the big screen in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, with actor Peter Cullen again lending his voice to his most iconic role. Despite the presence of Cullen, director Steven Caple Jr. says Optimus Prime isn’t much like the character fans are familiar with. Nor will the Transformers movies be the same, with Caple Jr. describing Rise of the Beasts as “a true reboot.”
In a video interview with Black Girl Nerds, Caple Jr. explained that Optimus Prime will have a completely different and slightly disillusioned mindset regarding Earth and humanity in Rise of the Beasts. The movie is set to be a sequel to both 2018’s Bumblebee (which took place in the late 1980s), and a quasi-prequel to the Transformers films helmed by Michael Bay.
On the relationship between Optimus Prime and his Maximal equal, Optimus Primal (voiced by Ron Perlman), Caple Jr. says the two Optimuses won’t be best friends at first honk.
“What I think is gonna be different is, they’re not buddy-buddy from the jump,” Caple Jr. said. “We see their origin story, we see how they unite, and I think that’s pretty cool to the franchise. That goes for all the new characters.”
On the subject of Optimus Prime, Caple Jr. said:
“We find Optimus Prime in a new place, and a new mindset with a different perspective. We know him as, ‘I’mma protect Earth,’ and now he starts off differently. He’s like, ‘I’m stuck here, I’m trying to get back home. Who are these humans?’ So we see the growth in who Optimus Prime becomes while introducing new characters like Optimus Primal, who might be more of a vet when it comes to humanity and understanding the global threats and how we need to work together. That’ll be the biggest surprise, how the characters enter the film and come out the other side.”
That’s not all that’s changing about the Transformers. In the same interview, Caple Jr. acknowledged the political metaphors in the Transformers lore.
“I always thought it was slightly more political,” Caple Jr. said of the never-ending war between Autobots and Decepticons. “Especially when you dive into the deep story of Megatron and how he came about, and the true origins of Decepticons. In our case, in our specific film, it’s more about good and evil. And that is kind of the time we face now.”
Caple Jr. added that he rewrote the script for Rise of the Beasts in 2020, which he remembers as “a rough year.”
“I actually got a chance to rewrite and work on the script. And it was about seeing good prevail, and have more of an uplifting tone to it all,” Caple Jr. said, alluding to the sociocultural upheavals of 2020. He added that the movie might even feel like a reboot, albeit symbolically more than literally.
“This film is more about if the Autobots and the Maximals can work together to take out a bigger faction than we haven’t seen on screen before. And it’s the Terrorcons. If fans know where Terrorcons come from, then they know. They know what to expect. We have a lot to unravel, because this feels like a true reboot.”
While only die-hard Transformers fans may care about the particulars of the film franchise’s canon, Caple Jr.’s use of the word “reboot” is still enough to raise eyebrows. While the 2018 prequel Bumblebee created a clear set-up for 2007’s Transformers, the 1994 period setting of Rise of the Beasts raises new questions about the Transformers’ supposed secret history on Earth. Their history can’t really be secret when the shapeshifting robots are causing explosions everywhere from Brooklyn to Peru.
But maybe Rise of the Beasts will end its story in a way that ensures every story element lines up perfectly... at least until the next Transformers movie rolls out.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts will open in theaters on June 23.