From Page to Screen: Hasbro Cinematic Universe by Jerry Whitworth
Announced in mid-December, Hasbro has entered into an agreement with Paramount Pictures to produce a shared film universe centered around its biggest franchise G.I. Joe. Something of a modern day craze following the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Hasbro/Paramount venture joins the likes of 20th Century Fox’s X-Men Universe, Warner Bros’ DC Extended Universe, Universal’s Monsters Cinematic Universe, Warner Bros/Legendary’s Godzilla Vs. King Kong series, and Disney’s Star Wars Universe (not to mention everything done with Alien, Predator, and Terminator, the former two crossing over together in film twice). For Hasbro’s shared film universe, G.I. Joe will be joined by M.A.S.K., Micronauts, Visionaries: Knights of the Magical Light, and Rom: The Space Knight. Interestingly enough, Transformers was not listed as being affiliated with this venture which is likely due to it being developed for its own universe including spin-off films. G.I. Joe and Transformers’ producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura has gone on record that while the two properties being in a crossover was possible, it was unlikely. Of course, there’s My Little Pony which is enjoying its own success currently including an upcoming animated feature film in 2017 from Legendary and the 2015 film adaptation of Hasbro’s Jem from Universal which was an unmitigated disaster (bearing little to no resemblance to its source material). Lets then now take a look at the five properties for Hasbro’s upcoming interconnected cinematic crossover.
Hasbro’s biggest franchise, G.I. Joe was created in response to the popularity of Mattel’s Barbie toyline as a male-based contemporary featuring characters from the U.S. military. Over time, interest in the line waned as Mego and Kenner rose up to dominate the action figure market with licensed properties (with built-in audiences). Considering the unexpected impact of Kenner’s success with the Star Wars line, Hasbro decided to go into the smaller figure market and teamed with Marvel Comics to revamp the G.I. Joe brand with its A Real American Hero line. Highly successful, ARAH was adapted into comics, animated television and film, and later live action film in 2009’s G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Despite being panned by its audience, the picture made enough money to see a sequel in 2013 with G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Again panned, it was nonetheless seen as an improvement and performed better financially than the first movie. Though in development, little is known about the upcoming third film but it’s likely Dwayne Johnson (who played the character Roadblock) will return to lead the cast where even before it was announced the movie would set the stage for a shared universe, there was talk of adding the character Matt Trakker to the project. Trakker was the one who founded the task force Mobile Armored Strike Kommand (M.A.S.K.) and helped design the vehicles used by it. M.A.S.K. was developed by Kenner where the toy company was acquired by Tonka in 1987 and then Hasbro in 1991 and M.A.S.K. was folded into the G.I. Joe toyline in 2008 (a situation which mirrors GoBots, produced by Tonka which was bought by Hasbro in 1991 and then folded into Transformers in a manner).
Developed and produced by Kenner in 1985 trying to capitalize on the success of G.I. Joe and Transformers, M.A.S.K. featured small, simple figures with vehicles that generally transformed into different vehicles (semi tractor into a commander center, helicopter into a jet, muscle car into an airplane, etc). The series ran for three waves of its toyline, two seasons of its animated television program, and a comic book series from DC Comics. The storyline featured a special task force called Mobile Armored Strike Kommand (M.A.S.K.) lead by Matt Trakker founded to stop the criminal organization Vicious Evil Network of Mayhem (V.E.N.O.M.) where both groups employed transforming vehicles. This premise obviously closely mirrors the story of G.I. Joe and Cobra with the addition of transforming vehicles which mirror the Transformers. Kenner, including M.A.S.K., would be acquired by Tonka in 1987 and then Hasbro in 1991 as Matt Trakker emerged in G.I. Joe in 2008. The series’ story was adjusted that Trakker developed vehicles that appeared ordinary but could transform into military transport forming the M.A.S.K. unit as Cobra initiated a counter unit called V.E.N.O.M. It is then likely this will in a manner be adapted for Hasbro’s shared film universe and, should Trakker emerge in the third G.I. Joe film, could perhaps form a subplot within the picture.
Produced by Mego in 1976, the Micronauts toyline was an Americanization of toys from Japanese company Takara’s Microman series (Takara would later form an alliance with Hasbro to similarly bring its Diaclone and Microman: Micro Change toys to America as the Transformers). Micronauts would experience five waves of releases from Mego and a popular comic book series from Marvel Comics by Bill Mantlo which was published for seven years (including a crossover with the X-Men), long outliving the toys and, for that matter, Mego which folded in 1983. Micronauts would re-emerge in 2002 as a comic book and toyline licensed from Abrams Gentile Entertainment (AGE), which was founded after Mego’s closure to maintain the company’s intellectual properties. SOTA (State of the Art) Toys would later acquire the license to produce Micronauts toys in 2005 but failed to get the project off the ground. An announcement was made by Hasbro in 2009 to produce toys and perhaps a feature film around Micronauts but by 2013 the project was still in limbo. In July 2015, Hasbro announced Micronauts was finally going to be revived (along with M.A.S.K., Rom: The Space Knight, Action Man, and Stretch Armstrong) and in November revealed it would crossover with the Transformers toyline. Regarding the film universe, it might be beneficial to use the established platform of the Transformers franchise (four films strong with a fifth coming in 2017) as the springboard for the Micronauts film which, at this time, is being overseen by Akiva Goldsman (who’s running the writer’s room for G.I. Joe and Micronauts and originally headed up the writer’s room for the Transformers cinematic universe). While, again, Transformers at this time is not affiliated with the coming Hasbro crossover films, that doesn’t necessarily mean either a Transformers film can’t establish the characters or that those characters can’t in some manner have come from developments from one of the Transformers movies. It would certainly be an easier task, perhaps, to explain Micronauts in the context of the alien Transformers than to simply otherwise toss them into the G.I. Joe universe as is (not to mention, as noted, Micronauts and Transformers share a common lineage). The actual story around a proposed Micronauts film would be challenging to describe as much of the narrative from the Marvel series would be off limits as those were deeply rooted in the Marvel Universe. That being said, a constant in the Micronauts seems to be the use of the Darth Vader-inspired Baron Karza as the antagonist and Space Glider as the protagonist who’s generally joined by the knight Acroyear and transforming robot Biotron (although, the toys themselves may indicate Force Commander or Biotron was intended as the line’s protagonist).
Set on an alien world of sword and sorcery called Prysmos, Visionaries featured the conflict between the benevolent Spectral Knights and malevolent Darkling Lords. Both sides employed enchanted armor and staffs where the former was empowered by mystical animal totems and latter being dipped in energy wells of magic. Set in the post-Age of Science, the groups employed vehicles which operated on magic as its fuel. Likely, Visionaries was based on the success of Mattel’s Masters of the Universe toyline (which similarly combined magic and science) but emerged at a time when the action figure market was in decline and was a commercial failure. Supported by an animated series from Sunbow (who worked with Hasbro and Marvel on G.I. Joe and Transformers, Visionaries the first time they cut Marvel out of the arrangement) and a comic from Marvel, both series ended abruptly with the failure of the toyline. Out of the five intended series making up the coming Hasbro shared film universe, Visionaries maybe the most challenging to inject into the bunch. While Micronauts and Rom both feature aliens, both also are heavily involved in the use of advanced technology. The G.I. Joe films thus far have employed technology perhaps a decade or two from being viable so its elements of science fiction maybe such intermingling with the Micronauts and Rom won’t be so far fetched. However, Visionaries relies heavily on medieval combat supplemented by magic spells. The difference in application against the other projects seems almost insurmountable.
When Star Wars turned the toy industry on its head, Parker Brothers (known for producing board games) wanted to enter the action figure market to take advantage of the rush. Deciding to offer something unique, they opted to produce an electronic action figure with lights and sounds based in the science fiction realm in hopes of luring Star Wars’ audience. The result was Rom: The Space Knight, provided a backstory of a cyborg warrior and leader of the knights of the Solstar Order, an organization of heroes in conflict with the magical Dire Wraiths who are able to assume any form. As the Wraiths were all but wiped out by the knights, Rom followed the remaining Wraiths to Earth wielding the most powerful weapon of his people in the Neutralizer. Sadly, Rom underperformed at stores but inspired a Marvel comic book series written by Bill Mantlo that was published for over six years and became a cult classic remembered fondly even today. Numerous attempts over the years have been made to revive Rom but to no avail. Parker Brothers was merged with Kenner in 1985 which would be acquired by Tonka in 1987 and then Hasbro in 1991. It was announced at San Diego Comic-Con International 2015 Rom was being revived as a comic book at IDW Publishing. Rom maybe one of the easier stories that could be adapted to the coming Hasbro shared universe, simply have him arrive on Earth and attack what appears to be people (including celebrities and politicians) which could attract the attention of G.I. Joe (who can see firsthand the true form of a Dire Wraith thus making them allies in Rom’s struggle).