The Transformers One Trailer Gives The Robots In Disguise A Spider-Verse Makeover

"Transformers One" has released its first trailer, finally giving the public the peek that CinemaCon attendees got last week. Directed by Josh Cooley (director of "Toy Story 4," so he knows how to make movies about toys), the film looks to offer a breezy and colorful animated adventure akin to the "Spider-Verse" films.

Does the title "Transformers One" sound like a misnomer to you? Audiences have already been subjected to eight of these movies and they're infamously not good ("Bumblebee" is innocent and 1986's "The Transformers: The Movie" barely skirts by on nostalgia despite how cynical it was). Well, you see, the ninth "Transformers" movie will be going back to the beginning. Set on Cybertron, the home planet of the Robots in Disguise, the film is set before the Transformers got to Earth, before the Autobots and Decepticons went to war, and before Optimus Prime and Megatron had those names.

The 2007 "Transformers" movie (by far the most enjoyable of the ones Michael Bay directed) arrived at the right moment. CGI was reaching its apex and the movie blew audiences' minds like they hadn't been since "Jurassic Park." The novelty of seeing realistic-looking Transformers in a live-action setting, and duking it out in heavy metal action scenes, carry the movie. Moments like the Decepticon Blackout ravaging a military base in Qatar, or the Autobots arriving on Earth (elevated even further by Steve Jablonsky's heavenly score) remain breathtaking.

The newness and gravitas of Transformers in live-action is long gone now. Frankly, this series is a more natural fit for animation (and comics), where an artist doesn't have to worry about realism and can let these colorful robots run wild.

The origin of the Transformers

"Transformers One" centers on Orion Pax and D-16, the robots who will one day become Optimus Prime and Megatron. The friends toil away as disposable workers beneath Cybertron's surface until they decide to leave their life underground and learn the secret of transformation. Along the way, they befriend B-127 (Bumblebee, before he had his name and voice box ripped out) and Elita-One (Optimus Prime's girlfriend-to-be; introduced as a one-off character in the original cartoon, Elita and other female Autobots like Arcee have grown important ever since Hasbro realized girls like "Transformers" too).

From what's been revealed, Cybertron is a repressive society and our heroes are at the bottom of the hierarchy. The "Transformers" comics from IDW Publishing had Cybertron governed by "Functionism" (a caste system where each Transformer had an assigned role depending on what vehicle they transformed into). Since Orion and D-16 acquiring transformation looks to be a major story beat in "Transformers One," I imagined the inequality will have different roots. There's also the question of which of the two Transformers origin stories the movie will use. Were the Transformers created by the godlike Primus in his image, or by the wicked alien Quintessons to be enslaved? Mind you, there appears to be a Quintesson in the film's trailer at one point, so that matter may have already been settled.

The movie will be using celebrity voice actors: Chris Hemsworth as Orion (to be fair, Peter Cullen's heroic voice wouldn't fit a green rookie), Brian Tyree Henry as D-16, Keegan-Michael Key as B-127, Scarlett Johansson as Elita, Laurence Fishburne as Orion's mentor Alpha Trion, and Jon Hamm as Sentinel Prime (leader of the Autobots before Optimus — you may remember him as the villain in the third movie, "Dark of the Moon"). Will we see any other classic "Transformers" characters in this movie, including Autobots like Ratchet, Jazz, or Prowl? Stay tuned.

The best Transformers prequels

If you need to sate your appetite for "Transformers" prequels after this trailer, you've got a buffet of choices even while you wait for "Transformers One". 

In the original cartoon, there's "War Dawn" (a time travel story showing how Orion Pax became Optimus Prime) and "The Five Faces of Darkness" (revealing the Quintessons as the Transformers' creators). If you can track down out-of-print video games "War for Cybertron" and "Fall of Cybertron," they're excellent too. Set in the final days of the war, these games are third-person shooters in the vein of "Gears of Wars," with sharp dialogue written by and for "Transformers" fans. There's been many "Transformers" prequel comics too, from Simon Furman and Don Figueroa's 2002 mini-series "The War Within" to Brian Ruckley's 2019 ongoing "Transformers," which added unprecedented depth and world-building to pre-war Cybertron.

My favorite of these comics, though, is James Roberts and Alex Milne's 2011 two-parter "Chaos Theory," showing Optimus and Megatron's first meeting and how they inspired each other's life paths. Optimus (a cop in Cybertron's capital city of Iacon) told Megatron (then a simple miner) to keep writing his treatises on personal liberty — words that would birth the Decepticon movement, which then corrupted them. In turn, Megatron's writing pushed Optimus to question the system and fight for freedom, leading him to claim the name "Autobot" to mean not automaton but autonomous. If we don't get Orion Pax quoting Tony Benn in "Transformers One," what's the point?

"Transformers One" is scheduled to release in theaters on September 20, 2024.