Transformers producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura knows how to roll the dice. During a tenure as an executive at Warner Bros. Pictures, he snapped up the film rights to Harry Potter and threw an exorbitant budget at two indie filmmakers to make something called – check notes – “MATRIX.” When he went independent in the 2000s, di Bonaventura lured none other than Michael Bay to take on the long pregnancy. transformer over the finish line. Cut to 16 years and seven sequels later, and the producer is still gambling with robots in disguise.
“And that IS a gamble,” di Bonaventura tells Polygon, as his new film, Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, continues to run in theaters and digital platforms. “Every movie is a gamble and what you add or take away are gambles.”
Rise of the Beasts had its own game: While di Bonaventura says his team wanted to add Maximals, the animal-like Autobots that arose in the ’90s Animal wars cartoon, in the main franchise for years, they couldn’t crack a story that would actually work. “Of course, animals and cars don’t mix,” he says. “They can’t go into an urban environment, they would be a bit too obvious. There is no cloaking robot for them in an urban environment.” The remake was a sequel to an earlier one, sandwiched between Bay’s main films and the ’80s set Bumblebeethat transplanted the action to Peru with an Indiana Jones relic-chasing twist.
The modest success of Bumblebee prompted di Bonaventura and Paramount Pictures to carefully weigh their next play; It’s been five years since Optimus-less, and the yellow Autobot takes a bit of a backseat this time. But the Transformers team isn’t waiting to get its next game in the franchise. This time it was built right at the end of Rise of the Beastswhen the film’s human hero Noah (Anthony Ramos) is recruited by none other than the GI Joes, who want the Autobots’ help with… something.
“[The G.I. Joe tease] it’s definitely a promise,” says di Bonaventura, when asked if the Easter egg is anything more than a little piece in the water. “I’ve had a lot of questions about that, and here’s my straight answer: We haven’t developed the script. So we don’t know exactly [how they fit in], but the answer is like in every other movie, a group of humans and robots fight the evil to save the day. GI Joes will be a part of that.”
GI Joes were a lot NO during the initial Transformers movies (though one could easily mistake Josh Duhamel’s Autobot-affiliated strike team NEST as an offshoot), which begs the question of how they would suddenly team up with the Transformers in a future movie. Di Bonaventura says don’t worry, the team behind the series actually cares about the continuity. The manufacturer notes Rise of the Beasts takes place in 1994 and Bay’s first film is set in 2007, which gives them 13 years for the Joes and Autobots to go undercover together.
“Continuity definitely matters,” di Bonaventura points out, comparing his approach to how Peter Jackson adapted the Lord of the Rings books. As a Tolkien fan, there were certainly things he missed and characters he wanted to see – but the dramatic effect of the changes was everything. “For me personally, I think [continuity’s] overwhelmed, because sometimes you miss a great idea. […] I think one of the things I find particularly exciting about this movie is that you get to meet Optimus before he’s the character you met in the Bay movies. There is definitely an evolution between the two things. For me, this is not inconsistent. You’re allowing Optimus’ emotionality, his vulnerability.”
The continuity-breaking gamble doesn’t always work. In an early meeting with Rise of the BeastsVillains, Terrorcons, Optimus Prime… gets his ass kicked by their leader, Scourge. Not every Autobot makes it out alive, but when Optimus gets back up, he does wild. Probably too bitter for Optimus Prime purists.
“We had to turn it back a bit”, says di Bonaventura. “When we first showed it to an audience, there was a scene that was cut from the film because we just didn’t need it. Optimus’ anger at being caught was so violent that they were like: Whoa, that’s not Optimus Prime! But it was. And it was right. I think Optimus in some respects has the same problem as Superman, which is that you have to be careful if he just looks invulnerable, because then how interesting can he be? So I really like that he delivers his ass in the first fight, and it builds in the later fights.”
Mounting a Transformers/GI Joe crossover event on an epic scale shouldn’t threaten the delicate fabric of the TF Cinematic Universe—there’s a long history of comics pairing the two teams that paved the way for this moment. But di Bonaventura knows he is still gambling. When I ask him to clarify how he envisions the crossover working, he draws specific lines that people who aren’t in charge of billion-dollar franchises might object to.
“They’re going to be part of a Transformer set — we’re not going into GI Joe’s world, they’re coming into our world,” says the producer. And as for the classic Joe characters created by movies like 2021 Snake eyes? “I think the characters should come in.”
Just don’t expect Cobra Commander to hit Optimus Prime also difficult.