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#TAPReviews | “Bumblebee”

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transformers, paramount pictures, Bumblebee, Hailee Steinfeld ,John Cena, Travis Knight ,Bumblebee Movie, the action pixel, entertainment on tap
transformers, paramount pictures, Bumblebee, Hailee Steinfeld ,John Cena, Travis Knight ,Bumblebee Movie, the action pixel, entertainment on tap
© Paramount/Hasbro. Bumblebee is battle-ready. But is it enough?

After the metal drudgery of that which was Transformers: The Last Knight and director Michael Bay’s pill-induced method of frantic, scattered storytelling laced with pointless relics and the type of acting that can only be loathed, it was safe to say I had enough the Transformer film franchise roll out churn out. The fifth film, however, marked Bay’s awkward bow out of the franchise. And from that came… solace?

Then came the announcement of Bumblebee. Everyone’s favourite Autobot and the saving grace of the Transformers films. Over Optimus Prime. How did that happen? And this in all honesty, despite the cool images of the Decepticons and the likes, left us not-so-thrilled of a rehashing of the Robots in Disguise, especially so soon after The Last Knight. Then, the trailer.

We have been here before. Many a time. A trailer that sucks you in a little. Paramount’s trailer edit farm has won again. The Bumblebee trailer was enthralling. And at the risk of having my childhood dashed against the stones once more, we decided to get stuck in. One last time.

 
SPOILERS AHEAD
 

Prequel or nah?

It’s cute now, but he’s pretty much a eunuch for 85% of the film.

War rages on on Cybertron. And the factions of Transformers – the Autobots and Decepticons – clash for supremacy. And Bumblebee is tasked with a great mission. To secure Earth as a new base of operations, a place to regroup with the resistance to plan and strategise a comeback.

Bumblebee lands like a missile strike, interrupting an Army training excursion in the woods lead by John Ceeennaaaaa John Cena’s character Agent Burns. But wherever there is an Autobot seeking refuse, there is most certainly a Decepticon fast on the trail. And, of course, Bumblebee, being chased by Burns and his fleet of WMIK’s and heavy artillery, does his best to avoid casualties whilst making distance between them. Decepticons… not so much. Agent Burns team gets wiped out, caught in the crossfire betwixt these mechanical alien gods right after hearing something pleasant – Bumblebee’s true voice. Never thought a robot could sound that earnest.

However, there is still something that leads us to wonder if Bumblebee is actually a prequel? Or an entire new universe/universe adjacent.

We think the confusion comes because Michael Bay’s films have always been all-flash-little-substance, often bereft of narrative function. Bumblebee is not that off rip. However, we come to see how Bumblebee has come to lose his voice; the Decepticon demands Bumblebee tell him the location of his leader Optimus Prime. Bumblebee, being Autobot gang gang, is not about to snitch, so the Decepticon rips the Autobot version of vocal cords before tossing him off a cliff. Quite ugly. All that to say this has been one of the endearing elements of Michael Bay’s run. Which suggests it is a prequel.

In the throes of memory failure and entering a sort of stasis due to power failure, Bumblebee scans his surroundings before landing his sights on a VW beetle, which he scans and transforms into.

And during Bumblebee’s hibernation as a VW bug, he becomes the first car of Charlie, a girl whose home life is not the greatest. Father dead due to heart failure, no friends, crappy summer job, annoying sibling and a mom who seemingly has replaced her father with… Ron.

Now she has a car, and the promise of true independence. Except her car awakens into a towering mechanical alien being. It is Charlie who christens Bumblebee with his given name, and despite losing his voice, memory and being an overall eunuch, Bumblebee is reminded of his mission on earth and does what Autobots do best… defend.

And when the sentinel scouts from Team Decepticon intercept an beacon inadvertently sent by Bumblebee via Charlie tinkering with her new VW, Earth becomes a battleground for supremacy and Bumblebee and Charlie will be thrust in the thick of it. Ultimately, they are the last stand between Decepticons and Earth’s annihilation.

The Autobots as defectors

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This has been one of the inkling ideas that Michael Bay hovered over but never explored with any real sophistication.

Autobots are deserters. They had one important task… to act in the interests of Cybertron. However it is the Autobots that have abandoned the ways of Cybertron, hence the civil war. It would be interesting if Transformers really played with the concept of good and evil as a film. Imagine, the Autobots as traitors… terrorists?

Bumblebee only touches on this when the Autobot initially fought the Decepticon that took his voice. He calls Prime (and by extension Bumblebee and the Autobots) “traitor”.

So the Decepticons are… the good guys?! Whoa. Talk about a twist! Nah, only playing, “Deceit” is in there name. And only John Cena was wise to see it.

Generation One Transformers

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It’s always the short scenes that rekindle yearning for what could have been. In what could be deemed a flashback, Bumblebee envisions the raging war on Cybertron; a city of metal and gloom plays the backdrop to the orchestra conducted by the illustrious Optimus Prime. But it is not Prime like we remember him in the Transformers film series. Optimus Prime is more in line with the toys and animated series; no overly-complex mechanical gears and flaps. More solid, definitive shapes and designs.

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“Eject”

It was awesome enough to see Prime run-and-gun, with an adventurous seamlessly-moving camera meandering through the chaos. It is when Shockwave enters the dance where I kinda lose all civility. Is it the voice that has gone through a modulator created by the joint efforts of what must be androids and the devil? Is it that his chest ejects a badass metallic canine? Mimicking the greatest portable music device ever created – only second to the vinyl record – the cassette tape? To answer the question, it is all of the above. Awesome.

One of my main issues with the modern design of the Transformers has always been, despite the realistic design, the character can get lost amidst all the finer details. Do not get me wrong, the Transformers’ designs work on many levels, and it is a feat within itself. The precision in design and suspension of disbelief is evident.

However, it’s one drawback is it is hard to discern what’s what sometimes, particularly in fast-moving sequences where two of them tussle. It can look like slightly uniformed debris at times. The G1 Transformers, however, had more solid structures and the undercarriage gears and fandangles were not as prominent.

Having that said, I do prefer Bumblebee’s design as the VW bug as opposed to the Camaro any day. Which kinda made me a bit disappointed when he opted for the scan Camaro surgery at the end of the movie.

Defend

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Resist.

Bumblebee, I must admit, has been the best-designed Transformer we have ever gotten. And that says a lot considering he was a footnote in the animated series and animated movie. And one of his more glittering characteristics, aside from his method of communication, is that war-visor that slips into place like a Spartan’s helmet. And he looks like a yellow jacket most here. Aw, buzz buzz.

In the first instances of the film, where Bumblebee has no recollection of who he is our his mission, the visor would snap into place during times of angst, or perceived danger, almost as an instinctive defence mechanism. So, when it came time to go to real war, it was great to see him in action.

And even as a eunuch, his natural instinct is the same as when he was a full-fledged Autobot soldier – to defend. This gave us oddly very touching moments between Bumblebee and Charlie. Her bonding with a car became a symbiotic relationship that mirrored her bond with her deceased father and both their love for fixing broken things as mechanics.

Bumblebee is a bit “ET phone home”, admittedly. That is, however, not a bad thing in this case. The narrative, god, dear I say all of this in one sentence, is solid in this Transformers movie. God, I’m trembling. Tender moments, humour (some not as effective as others) and characters made for a great outing. And it all fits in a neat box. Charlie diving in waters of a collapsed dam to rescue Bumblebee. Despite being a diving champion, it was an act she could not do since her father passed. Bumblebee and Charlie foiling the Decepticons’ plan to radio home and broadcast that Optimus Prime essentially was about to use earth as a safe house. It was a concise story and executed without any extra fluff or relics or boulder ball sacs or some jive-talking Autobots. Christ.

And, it would seem that in the Decepticons using Earth’s technologies – interconnecting phone lines and mainframes – may have inadvertently gave us humans the internet. So, this post is brought to you by our prestigious overlords.

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Bumblebee is a good movie. And you should go see it. To wash off the past decade of Michael Bayism. Sounds harsh, but tell me I am wrong. I dares ya.

Now, this does not negate the fact that this film has made every effort to ensure that it fit as snuggly as possibly into Michael Bay’s Transformers run, so as much as you may want to cleanse the palette, Bay’s going to be in the back of your throat.

We’re sure there are some major plot holes (wasn’t it pitched that Bumblebee fought the Nazis in World War II in The Last Knight?), but none the less I am looking at Bumblebee as a standalone, which feels better on my sensibilities and on this film’s rating.

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One other thing that has to be highlighted. The reduction in the number of characters did tons for character and narrative development. Three Decepticons, with two mainly being the focus of the manhunt for the defector Bumblebee. This was a calculative, commendable move. Is it just us or is it Autobots can’t fly? That’s like a huge disadvantage, no? Team Decepticons is getting ever closer to recruiting me.

There is set to be an Optimus Prime solo film as well as a Cybertron animated movie. So if Bumblebee is indicative of anything, it would seem Paramount finally got the point and are set to finally put all that investment in IMAX cameras and filming technology it spearheaded to good use.

#TAPReviews
6.9 Reviewer
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Pros
  • Bumblebee (voice, design all of it)
  • Great character development overall
  • Succinct narrative with touching moments
  • G1 Transformers
Cons
  • Not sure why there was a compelling need to include Bumblebee in the Michael Bay universe
  • Several years too late
Story
Characters
Design/VFX
Music/Dialogue
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