It’s apparent, very quickly in this conversation, that Steven Caple Jr. loves Transformers. Which, for most of the movies in this franchise, that certainly wasn’t the case. At best I’d say Michael Bay was indifferent to the Transformers themselves, but did like the idea of the action set-pieces he had in mind and the budgets he’d be allotted to pull those off. But those Bay movies also had a, to be kind, juvenile humor that just didn’t make a lot of sense for movies about highly advanced robots. But Caple, (who also brought back Ivan Drago when he directed Creed II) who genuinely loves the Transformers, comes in with a fresh attitude.
Now, yes, Travis Knight’s Bumblebee was both a change of pace and fresh, but it was still a movie about Bumblebee, a character we’ve spent a lot of time with over the course of the six prior movies. As Caple Jr. points out, everyone said they wanted something different. Well, he made something different.
Transformers: Rise of the Beasts is set in 1994 with a very ’90s soundtrack, as our Autobot heroes are trying to get their hands on a device that will open an intergalactic portal so they can return to Cybertron. Unicron, a planet that eats other planets, wants the device so he can come to Earth and eat our planet. Optimus Prime (who, as we discuss, is in this movie a lot) is indifferent about Earth and just wants to get back to Cybertron. Mirage, voiced by Pete Davidson, has befriended Noah (Anthony Ramos), a former military guy who left to take care of his younger brother, and Elena (Dominique Fishback), a researcher at a museum who is in possession of one-half of what everyone needs and can help the Autobots find the other half. And off they all go on their adventure and encounter the Beasts from the title of the movie.
Ahead, Caple Jr. takes us through a (pretty nerdy) adventure on what his philosophy is in regards to Transformers and why he picked the characters he did. And why it was important for Optimus Prime to finally have a full character arc and he explains why he didn’t want to make another Bumblebee movie.
Mirage has a large role in this movie. He was my first Transformer. I remember buying the comics and watching the cartoon, excitedly looking forward to his adventures, and every now and again he’d be in the background.
Yeah, he was very much neglected in the past. I mean, he’s a car, right? It was like, the Formula 1. And it was really cool. Have you seen the movie yet?
I have seen the movie. He turns into it for like a second.
So, yeah, for a second. It was an homage to the style that he originally was. But it was kind of hard, obviously, to have a reason for a G1 or Formula 1 race car in the middle of New York City.
He’s trying to blend in.
He is. So it was one for the fans, in terms of people catching it, just acknowledging like, “Hey, I know he was something else when we all grew up, but I will get there.” It was just having fun with the fact that he’s still flashy. And he has been nothing but in the background, but yet his place in the mythology is just really interesting, if you really dive deep, deep into it. I mean actually it’s pretty crazy because people don’t even know if he’s still a Decepticon or Autobot, which I thought was pretty insane.
Right, his bio says he can’t be trusted.
And so that’s exactly kind of where he’s at now. Pete Davidson and the way he played it? It feels like a Bugs Bunny, that type of character, where it’s like he’s charming and then all of a sudden he can just rip the rug from underneath you and trip you. And so he just feels like that throughout.
You make good points because his bio, Mirage’s bio is very strange. His original bio in ’84 is basically he’s kind of a rich snob and doesn’t really want to be an Autobot and just rather be back home hunting with his high-powered expensive rifle.
Yep, yep. Yeah, basically. But playing it up here where it’s like, a little bit of that carries over when we start to look at how he’s just still a rebel and an outcast when it comes to the remaining Autobots. Everyone’s like, “Let’s go,” right? He’s like, “Oh, please let me question that really quick and have fun.”
And you’ve got Pete voicing him, so it’d be tough to like, “Hey Pete, play just a snob.”
Then you wouldn’t like him.
Mirage basically has the Bumblebee role this time. And this time Bumblebee gets benched for a good part of the movie.
Yeah, he does. He does. It’s a good way to put it.
Also, Optimus Prime might be in this movie more than any other Transformers movie.
Yeah. And I think people don’t realize.
No, I don’t think they do either. People were surprised when I told them.
Yeah, when people see the film I’m like, “Okay, you can go back and rewatch the first Transformers, but he doesn’t come in until hour seven.” You know what I mean?
And then in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, he’s dead for most of the movie.
Exactly, exactly. So this one, he’s there from the beginning. I think it’s 15 minutes without him not being there. So we introduce him 15 minutes within the film and he’s there for the ride. He’s talking, he’s moving. He has an opinion. But yeah, actually, and wait until… You haven’t seen the deleted scenes.
I have not.
He had maybe two deleted scenes with Optimus Prime that goes really deep into his mission to get back to Cybertron. I can’t wait to release them. It’s a really cool fight scene between him and the Decepticon, Transit. And we just had to cut it, because it just cleared up the story. But I do miss that scene. It is a really cool thing.
So who decides Mirage gets a starring role? Were there a list of Transformers to choose from?
I did, early on. When I first got the script, most of the characters were in the film. What I added, again, he’s no longer there, but it was the Decepticon named Transit. It was Scourge, Nightbird, Battletrap, all the villains. Unicron. They were in the original script when I received it. Basically, it was me who brought in a Terracon. And then Mirage. He was in the script, but he wasn’t a character written at the top. It still was about Bumblebee a little bit, but a little bit of Optimus Prime. It was kind of like the other movies. It was kind of all mixed together. No one kind of outshined anyone or had an arc. And so I gave Optimus Prime the arc because I wanted to start him somewhere differently.
He wasn’t like that in the very first script, actually. He wasn’t trying to get home. He was just here on Earth. And they found the key and he was like, “We’ve got to protect humanity.” And I was like, “We’ve seen this Prime 100 times. What if he just doesn’t?” And so I added that Optimus Prime, sort of, special agenda, but then I needed a voice to combat that. And that’s where Noah comes in. But then also Mirage. I didn’t know he was going to be played by Pete Davidson yet, but I was like, okay, I can use Mirage as a voice. I can use him to go against Prime. I could use him to side with the humans and I could use him to add a little bit of my humor. And so I dove deep into Mirage’s character, brought him up to the forefront. The studio actually was like, “I don’t know if we want to bench Bee.” I’m like, “I promise you he’ll be in the movie and he’ll have a great comeback.”
What a great needle drop when he comes back, too.
No, it is. And that whole Bumblebee thing was like, we just finished a whole Bumblebee film! And one of the reasons we’re even here now, for Transformers: Rise of the Beasts, is that you guys wanted something new like The Beasts! So for us to bring up Bumblebee, it would’ve been more music drops, like needle drops for his music, his radio, but he wouldn’t have been able to connect. It would’ve been wrong to try to connect him to Noah or Elena, knowing he just had a whole movie with Charlie. And it just feels like we’re just kind of passing him along to humans, and I didn’t want to do that.
The five movies Michael Bay directed were obviously very successful. But I don’t think he has any connection to any specific Transformer, and doesn’t always get that some of us do. You know what I mean?
And I think that’s always been my complaint. I liked the first. I think the third one is kind of a wild ride that I kind of enjoyed. But you can tell these are just machines to him? The way he kills off Jazz so nonchalantly in the first one? It comes through that you like these characters. Correct me if I’m off-base.
Yeah, no, you’re not at all. I mean, I think it was one of those… I mean, they were just moving along. The first one took its time, you know what I mean? I can’t speak for anyone, what they were trying to do, they were just getting into the action sequences, you know what I mean? And raising the stakes for who they were losing. For me, we lose some people in battle. Again, you saw the movie, you know what happens. I won’t spoil it for the fan who hasn’t seen it. But if there’s any death, I want it to be very motivated. And it’s like, “Oh, we lost this person,” but you see why. And we spend time with that one person as we do, rather than just kind of blowing past it. That was it for me. I didn’t want to kill anybody’s favorite. Get rid of a Transformer and just walk away from them like that person didn’t serve any purpose overall.
Jazz was voiced by Scatman Crothers in the cartoon. There’s a huge connection between kids from that era and Jazz because of Scatman. And his death is an afterthought. Anyway, that’s my little Jazz rant. But you don’t do that. You do understand that people have a connection to these characters.
Yeah, no, completely. And we’ll definitely err off some of the stuff, the lore stuff, some of the mythology, some of the original Transformers. Most of it’s to keep people on their toes. Some of it’s to set up some new things for the future. Seeing that I may be part of this moving on and making some more of these films, a lot of the foundation was set up in here. And I’m curious and excited at the same time in terms of what the fans will think when checking it out. Not everyone’s going to be opinionated because we’re all not die-hard fans. But I think, overall, the important stuff will still kind of follow through in these types of films – especially connected with the character that we all love. Or giving a new personality, some of the ones that kind of been in the franchise, but haven’t really.
I feel bad for you that you’re talking to probably the only huge Mirage fan on this planet. And you might not have been expecting one. But I’ve been waiting for this guy to have his day for a while.
That’s exciting, man. No, that’s cool.
So why is Mirage a Porsche? Speaking of Jazz, he’s the famous Porsche, obviously. But I realize he dies in a future movie.
It wasn’t to step on Jazz at all. One, I was trying to get out of the form, the sort of one race-car type of vibe. And then when we were developing it, it was originally a Lamborghini, kid you not. And then as we were designing the Lambo, we were like, “What’s fast?” Mirage is a fast character. Stay true to that. As we were designing the Lambo, the Lambo, it was also done before, as we know, in one of… I think Last Knight. Was it Last Knight? No, the one before that. Age of Extinction?
Age of Extinction. Yeah, the fourth one. Lockdown.
And so we were like, okay, that’s been done. And then as we were doing it and designing, I kid you not, Porsche reached out and said, “Can you experience our Porsche experience driving our cars? So we think it could be flashy as Mirage’s character.” Porsche was pitching itself as the car. And he has an ability to change into anything. And I think that’s kind of the gimmick. But for right now, he’s a Porsche. In the next movie, we’ll see where Porsche is, but it could be something else. You know what I mean? Just allow itself the freedom. But no, it wasn’t for the Jazz fans. And to your point, yes, Jazz did pass in earlier movies and I just wanted to not touch into it.
Right, you don’t want to get people attached to Jazz, and then he dies in 2007.
Exactly. Exactly. And then Mirage, do we want him to stay a Porsche? or are we going to switch to a new car? It just allows us little more room, his ability to switch.
So these are such nerdy questions. Okay. Wheeljack is in this movie. But Wheeljack is also in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and also just gets killed out of the blue. I love Wheeljack, but this Wheeljack and that Wheeljack seem nothing alike.
Yeah, they’re different, man. I know the fans have been calling him Pablo Wheeljack, so I’m going to ride with the fans on that one.
So these are different characters?
Yes, exactly. When I got into the film, they had already wanted the Wheeljack part of this picture, but they wanted to redesign it and actually lean more into the science and nerdy part of Wheeljack. They felt like the Wheeljack – I don’t know if this is the studio or Hasbro who was here before me – he was kind of falling into the lane of the other characters. Kind of tough. Ironhide, and those kind of vibes. Just didn’t feel like enough variety across the board. And so, for me as a fan, I was like, “All right, how can I keep some of the essence?” But I was like, I’m going to just dive deep into the lore and just gave him his whole sort of personality and a different look as we start to now develop and move on. But yeah, that was it. It was no shade or callbacks to the other Wheeljack at all. But people started calling Pablo Wheeljack, which I thought was kind of funny. And Cristo likes it too. He’s like, “I’m down for that.” Cristo Fernandez, who plays him, which is cool.
You mentioned Unicron. You’re replacing Orson Welles. Isn’t that weird? That he did a Transformers movie?
One hundred percent. What’s funny is we tried to keep up with that! We were trying to go to, at first, bigger name actors because we’re like, “Look, Orson Welles did it.”
“Oh, you think you’re too good for something Orson Welles did?”
Exactly! Some people bounce back, “Oh, he was looking for a paycheck for X, Y, Z.” It didn’t matter. We started not gaining much traction, I just stopped it immediately. I was like, “Am I just chasing the name now?” Is there someone you could really even compare to Orson Welles? So it just felt silly. And so I asked the studio, can we just switch it up and kind of go with the best voice? And one of those people was Colman Domingo, because I saw him in Euphoria. And I was like, his voice is amazing. And I showed the studio, because a lot of people haven’t seen Euphoria and they’re like, “Oh, it really is.” So, added that to the mix and was like, “Yo, he’s our Unicron.”
[We will have more with Steven Caple Jr. later with more spoiler-ish topics.]
‘Transformers: Rise of the Beasts’ opens this weekend in theaters. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.