Rise of the Beasts Expands the Transformers Movie Universe Beyond What We’ve Seen Before
Exclusive: Director Steven Caple Jr. reveals what's new in Rise of the Beasts and how it expands the Transformers universe!
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Steven Caple Jr. is known for grounded, character-focused stories about the sort of people you might run into every day, without a giant robot fight in sight. Films like The Land and A Different Tree. Even his most recent film, Creed II, only features fights on a decidedly human scale. But Paramount believed this made him the perfect name to take over the core Transformers franchise after Michael Bay’s departure.
“They wanted me to bring that grit and character from my dramas to make people feel for these robots but keep the action and adrenaline high,” Caple recalls.
More Than Meets the Eye
Caple was already a lifelong fan of the franchise, but unlike many fans, his love of Transformers began not with the toys but the animated 1986 movie.
“That was my first introduction to it. Watching a VHS tape at a friend’s house, and that got me hooked,” Caple remembers.
Caple fell into the perfect age group to enjoy both the original Transformers cartoon and, later, the Beast Wars series that came out in 1996, two years after Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is set. He relished the opportunity to expand the Transformers universe beyond humans, Decepticons, and Autobots.
“I thought it was time to step out and build out into the universe. So that’s where the Maximals and Terrorcons and other factions come into play,” he says.
The Maximals, the robots that put the “Beasts” in Rise of the Beasts, were always particularly fascinating to Caple.
“You have a different relationship with vehicles,” he says. “With animals, even in the cartoon, there’s a sensitivity to it. We can relate to [Optimus] Primal, to apes, birds like Airazor, and cat breeds like Cheetor. There’s an emotional connection.”
Caple also offers a new perspective on familiar characters.
“I want to see a different [Optimus] Prime,” he says. “I want to see a Prime that doesn’t quite understand humans, doesn’t understand Earth, and only cares about Cybertron and his people, so it was kind of like an immigrant story.”
Transform and Roll Out
As well as making his audience connect with giant robot animals and cars, Caple also set out to connect his audience with different cultures. He’s proud of how little green screen is used in the movie and points out Creed II used more to depict its boxing arena.
“If we show Machu Pichu, we’re going to Machu Pichu and shooting at Machu Pichu,” he says. “I wanted to speak Quechua; I wanted to dive into the culture.”
This meant going as far as hiring locals to put on a traditional local festival that, due to Covid, had been canceled the year Rise of the Beasts was filming.
“We could provide jobs and have people come out and create their floats and act as if we were actually doing the festival during a really tough time for the country, and that was tremendous to me,” Caple says.
There were also challenges; filming in jungles and at high altitudes where oxygen was thin was one thing. But while the locations were very real, as yet, there are no 30-foot-tall robots for actors to respond to. So Caple had to adapt to that as well.
“The first week we were on set, I thought I and my AD could speak into these big megaphones pretending to be Optimus Prime or Cheetor, and the cast could bounce off that, but we aren’t actors,” Caple says. “Even though the actors were amazing, I felt we needed to bring another layer of realism to it, so on our third or fourth day, we found it in our budget to cast actors and put earpieces in our actors’ ears, and I’d have five or six voice actors off camera. The actors would hear that while acting opposite a tennis ball on a stick, and it made a world of difference. I tried to cast people locally who could be similar to, say, Michelle Yeoh [who voices Airazor in the film] and have her regal elegance, which created a whole different experience.”
Caple is not signed on to direct another Transformers (yet), but he has no shortage of ideas for where to take the franchise next.
“I introduced Unicron. I was dying for Unicron to show up in a live-action movie, and to be honest, I’ll put it out there, I want him to be across the next two or three films, a really huge major villain,” he says.
Caple also wants to expand the Transformers universe in a far more literal sense.
“I feel like we spent a lot of time on Earth, and it’d be interesting to see what else is out there, there are different Transformers and different planets, and we just need the right vehicle and the right team to really do it,” he says. “I feel like this was the foundation of that, of something really special.”
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts hits theaters on June 9.