Transformers action figures were a childhood staple for millions – but not for director Stephen Caple Jr.
“They weren’t a part of my life growing up at all”, he told Zavvi. “At that time, my dad couldn’t afford to spend $30 on a toy for me – but now Hasbro has given me free reign to play with them!
“I actually bought my first Transformers toys during prep so I could show the team what kind of action I was thinking about. It’s really helpful to have a little Optimus Prime fighting miniature versions of all the other characters to help me get my vision across of how each scene should unfold…”
Several years after he first made action figures fight on set, and Transformers: Rise Of The Beasts has arrived in cinemas. Following on the heels of 2018’s 80s-set spinoff Bumblebee, this time around we’re in 1994, where a transwarp key is discovered in a museum artefact by intern Elena Wallace (Dominique Fishback), which alerts Optimus Prime to summon the Autobots, as they’ll finally be able to flee back to Cybertron.
This isn’t quite so simple, of course. While stealing a Porsche in the hope he can sell it for money, ex-military electronics expert Noah Diaz (Anthony Ramos) discovers the vehicle is actually Autobot Mirage (voiced by Pete Davidson) in disguise, meaning he’s along for the ride to help them get back home – just as the Terrorcons have been alerted to their presence.
In short, it’s textbook Transformers thrills, but Caple Jr. aimed to stand out from the Michael Bay movies that came before by adding a grittier, more character-driven aspect to proceedings.
He explained: “I feel like the film’s a little bit more grounded; we wanted to reflect the grit of New York in the 90s. The human characters have obstacles to go through that reflect their struggles in society at the time, and even the robots look different to the other films – they’ve got scratches and dents on them, they’re not as polished as they have looked previously.
“And then recreating the 1990s itself, I did everything from music, wardrobe, to production design to really capture that time period and get really specific with the details. The soundtrack is comprised of the hip hop tracks people were listening to throughout that year, and for the clothing we were looking at Karl Kani clothes and the old school Jordan brands – small details that really stood out and I think make the film feel of its era.”
Surprisingly, this movie about giant fighting robots has a personal touch too. One of the director’s best friends passed away before shooting began, and he was given free reign to recreate the character of Noah’s best friend Reek (Tobe Nwigwe) as a tribute to him.
“I got to rewrite the character and add in these fun, goofy traits that my friend had. His entire philosophy on capitalism and why he doesn’t buy cable, to his Xen nature and talk about people affecting his chi – these are all inspired by him, but the biggest comparison is that he was really funny, and would get me into trouble a lot of the time!”
Nwigwe told Zavvi that he was honoured to be playing a role that had such a deep personal connection to his director: “On set, whilst filming one of the opening scenes, my wife noticed that as I was delivering the lines she caught Steven getting worked up and emotional.
“It clearly meant a lot seeing this vision of his friend coming to life, so I thought that was an honour to be able to have that role in this movie, one that means so much to the person seeing the vision all the way through.”
Just like the director, Nwigwe didn’t have any Transformers toys bought for him growing up, but he did steal one from his cousin. That wasn’t the case for the franchise’s new human leading man Anthony Ramos, who was a super fan as a kid.
“I still remember that journey to Toys R Us with my mum and my brother very vividly”, he told Zavvi.
“I got the Stingray Transformer, it was one of my favourite toys – and then my babysitter took it away. Why would you take a Transformer away from a kid?”
Luckily, that didn’t stop his fandom, and with Beast Wars being one of his favourite TV series growing up, he leapt at the chance to play the lead in the movie where they’re finally getting brought to live action for the first time. He wasn’t even daunted by the prospect of his childhood dream becoming a reality.
“If I ever felt the weight of leading this franchise, I took it off immediately – there’s no point in carrying that because life is already so heavy, and there are bigger robots that can carry that weight for me. After all, it’s called Transformers, not Transformers And Humans!
“I’m really pumped about what we can do with this franchise and how we can expand this universe. There are things here that no human character in these movies has ever done, and there’s lots within the story the OG fans too – this narrative digs deeper into the comics lore in a way the movies haven’t yet.
“Plus, there’s a twist at the end that attempts something these movies never have. All these parts of the story are in the comics, and I’m excited to be helping to bring them to the big screen”.
It may be the seventh movie in the franchise, and the second prequel to Michael Bay’s series, but don’t write off the Transformers just yet: they may be sticking around a little while longer.
Transformers: Rise Of The Beasts is in UK cinemas now.