Transformers One Trailer Takes the Optimus Prime Origin Story in a Bizarre Direction

Is Transformers One a comedy? A drama? We aren’t quite sure after watching the first trailer.

Transformers One
Photo: Paramount Pictures

The long-awaited trailer for Transformers One has finally been released and it… was not what anyone was expecting.

Early details first confirmed in April 2020 revealed the film would be a fully animated prequel. Set on the home planet of the Transformers, Cybertron, the film takes place several years before the main story that’s been adapted so many times in both live action and animation, and focuses on the early relationship between Autobot leader Optimus Prime and Decepticon leader Megatron.

The implication of that premise was that we’d finally receive key context as to the motivation behind the two most important characters in the Transformers mythos. We’ve seen some glimpses of Optimus Prime’s past life in various continuities but Paramount devoting a big-budget theatrical film to that origin story sounded like a promising new direction for the franchise in animation.

Which makes the Transformers One trailer even more bizarre because it makes it look like that origin story will actually be presented as an all-out comedy… Check it out below:

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Within the first 20 seconds there’s the utilization of the “ding” sound effect you’ve heard in a million run of the mill comedy trailers. Optimus and Megatron argue like they’re in an improv show. Bumblebee wants to call himself “Badass-atron.” There are one-liners and gags that are right out of a mid-2000s DreamWorks family film like a group of bots realizing that, for the first time, they can transform. Optimus commands that they’ll all do it on three. He gets to one but then, OOPS, they all fall off a cliff.

Even if the trailer were completely leaning into the comedic tone, it’d still be bizarre for this universe, since most of the general audience likely think of Transformers movies as big action set piece blockbusters, but it’d be slightly easier to understand what the studio is going for. Instead the trailer also gestures at a deeper story that’s more in line with what you’d expect from a movie about how Optimus Prime and Megatron first became enemies. There’s a good chunk of the trailer where the jokes are dropped and we learn that the story will initially follow Optimus and Megatron’s past as lowly worker bots. We’ll learn how they broke free from servitude and ventured to the surface of the planet, an apparently forbidden act.

This element of the movie gestures towards longtime Transformers lore. There have been too many Transformers continuities to even begin to compare them all but a key part of many of them is that before Optimus Prime was the Autobot we know him as, he was just a regular bot named Orion Pax, revealed all the way back in the episode “War Dawn” of the original Transformers animated series. We even get Megatron being referred to as “D-16,” which has also been utilized as his past name in different continuities.

In essence, this fusion of slapstick comedy with what appears to be an intimate exploration of what drove Optimus and Megatron apart, along with delving into the lore of Cybertron, doesn’t really work in this jarring trailer. What is the film going for? It’s not that either of these directions should have been picked over the other. Plenty of Transformers media has been more focused on drama, in particular the comics, so delving into the past relationship of the franchises greatest enemies has real potential. The franchise is also no stranger to comedy — Beast Wars’ “Low Road” is full of fart jokes, toilet humor, and flat out zany shenanigans.

The problem with this trailer is that it doesn’t really convince us that the movie has struck a good balance between the laughs and the more serious moments. The concept of a “dramedy” is obviously not unheard of and can work for this franchise — the movies are not without their sillier moments. For Transformers One, the use of comedy could make the dramatic moments, like when Megatron eventually breaks away from Optimus and their friendship, hit that much harder. As of this trailer, though, this animated movie looks like it might be at war with itself. Hopefully once we see the final product it will all make sense.

Transformers One stars Chris Hemsworth as Optimus Prime/Orion Pax, Brian Tyree Henry as Megatron/D-16, Scarlett Johansson as Elita-1, Keegan-Michael Key as Bumblebee, Jon Hamm as Sentinel Prime, and Laurence Fishburne as Alpha Trion.

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Transformers One hits theaters on Sept. 13.