Quick Hit: Our recent cinematic love affair with the 80s continues, now in the Transformer franchise.
Recently, we’ve seen a huge influx in interest in the 80s. Some of that may have been due to the aging of people that lived through the 80s as a child suddenly becoming adults with responsibilities, and longing for a more simple time. Some of it may just have to do with the 80s being a really cool genre. Regardless, between Stranger Things, the IT franchise, Ready Player One, and the upcoming Ghostbusters movie, it’s now an established cinematic trend. The Transformer franchise has now followed suit, in their Michael Bay-less prequel/spinoff, Bumblebee, which gives us an origin story for that character.
We start on Megatron as the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons drags on. The Autobots are losing, so Optimus Prime sends B-172 to Earth to establish a base. He’s pursued there by a Decepticon, who eventually confronts Bee in front of a sect of the American military (led by none other than John Cena). In the ensuing carnage, Bumblebee loses his voice box and his memory. Before he’s captured, he transforms into a VW bug. The next time we see Bee is when Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld from Edge of Seventeen and Pitch Perfect 2/3) finds him in a junkyard. Charlie is nearly as damaged as Bee, after the sudden death of her father leaves her searching for answers within herself. Eventually, because this is a Transformers movie, more Decepticons come to find Bumblebee, and yes, robots end up punching each other.
Reading through the plot, there’s some huge glaring similarities to E.T. and The Iron Giant. Young child (in this case, teenager) finds alien that has powers, government gets involved, things go bad, alien redeems itself as it learns about its own humanity. While there’s nothing bad in that, per se, because those are excellent movies, it does give the movie a well-worn feeling. The best thing about that is that you’re comfortable with the story – you know where it’s going after all – so the inclusion of a character like Charlie, who is angst filled and filled with nervous energy is a nice way to break that.
The majority of the relationships in the movie are cliché, but the one between Charlie and Bumblebee manages to stand out. In particular, there’s some fun tricks regarding Bumblebee’s method of communication through radio, and also allows the creators to pay tribute to an epic area of music. There’s also an overall compression of story that was severely missing from the rest of the series – they contained so many characters and locations that it was easy to lose track. The majority of the story here takes place in California, and there are a small amount of characters overall. Two or three Decepticon bad guys, 1 main Autobot, 1 main military soldier, 1 main military scientist, Charlie and her family and her love interest. It allows the story to focus in on the heart. The action scenes are similar – there is a lot less of the kinetic focus on the transformation of the errr… Transformers. Bee transforms in a near instant fashion, and it’s only on Megatron or with the first transformation that the obsessive focus is shown to their moving parts.
Alas though, there are some tonal issues that take place – namely with John Cena, who can’t seem to decide if he’s in a comedy or a serious role. He ranges from frequently funny to complete parody of the normal military establishment within these movies, and even strays into the range of cold and calculated. It’s unfortunate, because I like that this movie seemed pretty self-aware of the fact they’re discussing talking, giant robotic aliens.
Is it worth watching? Definitely. It may leave some fans of the franchise longing for more explosions and death though. But I loved the heart it showed, and I’m giving it a “B”.
For more on this film, check out IMDB.
"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy"