Anthony Breznican
April 21, 2017 AT 05:00 PM EDT

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It seems strange to describe a shapeshifting alien robot as “controversial,” but there’s no other word for Hot Rod. The dude is divisive.

When the 1986 animated Transformers movie hit theaters, it also gut-punched millions of young fans by killing off Optimus Prime and nearly every other beloved hero and villain from the series. That cleared the way for a new wave of characters — and Hasbro toys, the real motive for the pop culture crime — but for many kids, it was the end of their fandom.

Hot Rod was just one of the newcomers, a brash young Autobot soldier (voiced by The Breakfast Club’s Judd Nelson) who despite his maverick ways was granted the Matrix of Leadership to become the new good-guy commander under the title Rodimus Prime. (I know … I know….)

If you were a little kid who loved Transformers back then, Hot Rod was the well-meaning stepfather you didn’t want.

Sony BMG

But … over the years, as Transformers evolved and was handed down to new generations of children, Hot Rod has earned a newfound legitimacy. To paraphrase Chinatown: “Politicians, ugly buildings, and Cybertronians all get respectable if they last long enough.”

Now he’s part of the family. And it’s time for a Hot Rod renaissance.

The character (pictured at the top, left) returns to the screen in this summer’s Transformers: The Last Knight, the fifth entry in the live-action ‘bot-bashing franchise from Michael Bay. Does this signal doom for Optimus and the others?

Probably not. Optimus is out of commission at the start of this film, but it would be madness to eliminate him completely. Every time Bay and Paramount Pictures turn on their Transformers moviemaking machine, it cranks out a billion dollars. So why kill off the stars who are laying golden energon cubes?

The robots-in-disguise series is actually expanding, with a Bumblebee solo film planned for next year and endless spin-offs and sequels in the works. But that means the franchise to have to shift gears if it wants to stay engaging.

In The Last Knight, out June 23, the Transformers are about to go medieval.


It turns out the war between shapeshifting alien robots extends all the way back to Arthurian legend.

Alongside Mark Wahlberg’s salt-of-the-earth mechanic, Anthony Hopkins is joining the cast as Sir Edmund Burton, an astronomer who — with the help of Hot Rod — has tracked these long-forgotten connections to another scholar, Oxford professor of English literature Viviane Wembly (Laura Haddock, who played Star-Lord’s mother in Guardians of the Galaxy).

She has no idea she harbors a genetic secret that could destroy (or save) the world. “[The humans] are empowered in a way that is very different than we’ve experienced before and honestly, it’s not easy figuring out how to empower the six foot human versus the 35- or 45-foot robot,” says producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura.

In the image here, Wembly comes face to face with the longtime friend she didn’t even know she had — the Autobot covert agent Hot Rod. She’s freaked out — and not planning to go quietly.

Hot Rod has secretly been serving as her protector in the guise of her father’s 1963 Citroën DS.

“It’s a rickety old thing, but she can’t part with it because she adores it,” Haddock says of the vintage vehicle. “This car has actually been put there to watch her and feedback information to Anthony Hopkins’s character about what she’s up to and her life. So yeah, she gets kind of taken [by surprise] in a really funny, dramatic way by this Hot Rod.”

The revelation also reshapes how she viewed her dad. “She’s not had a very good relationship with her father, but this is one thing that her father has done that makes her realize that maybe he cared than she thought.”


So far, the new robot doesn’t have an actor attached. “It’s still in the works,” di Bonaventura says.

Don’t expect them to go with, say, Nelson; The Last Night is looking for an overseas star to voice Hot Rod.

“We’re trying to make our cast as international as we can,” di Bonaventura says. “We think it’s fun for the characters, it’s fun for the series, it’s fun for the fans in the different countries. So a lot of the robots are not being voiced or we’re just in the process of casting them now.”

Also unclear – whether The Last Knight will feature any version of the not-so-classic ‘80s power ballad “The Touch,” which served as the triumphant soundtrack to the scene in 1986’s Transformers: The Movie when Hot Rod accepts the mantle of leadership.

It’s also the song Wahlberg sang in Boogie Nights when Dirk Diggler tried to transform from porn star to rock star – a scene that’s almost as cringeworthy as the name “Rodimus Prime (which shows no hint of returning in the new film.)

There’s got to be an homage to this, right? Hot Rod and Wahlberg in the same movie?

Come on.

Come on.

♫ You’ve got the pow-ERRRR! …YEAH! 

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