Bumblebee: Mining 80s Nostalgia Produces Best of Transformers Series

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Bumblebee Blu-ray and DVD

For the first fifteen minutes of BUMBLEBEE, I found myself over-analyzing things. The battle for Cybertron, for instance, was fought between Autobots and Decepticons who transformed themselves into vehicles already. Why? They did not have vehicles there to blend in with, they traveled under their own power, they had programming (in English) that had to have been put in by somebody, and, most distracting, their "mouths" moved when they spoke when their voices were sent through speakers, so there was no reason to use movement to articulate sounds. In fact, being advanced electronics, it was more likely they would communicate directly, wirelessly, through technology akin to Bluetooth.

And then I got it. It wasn't that BUMBLEBEE was cheesy like an 80s movie. It's not that BUMBLEBEE was even an homage to cheesy 80s movies.

BUMBLEBEE was filmed, produced, and written to be on a par with the best of the 80s movies -- cheese and all. And once that piece fell into place, my whole perception of the film...

...transformed.

Bumblebee is an Autobot soldier, feeling Cybertron as it falls to the Decepticons. Sent by Optimus Prime (voiced once again by fan-favorite PETER CULLEN), Bumblebee's mission is to protect Earth so that the Autobots can regroup there later and use it as a staging area to counter-attack the Decepticons. But he is found almost immediately upon arrival by a Decepticon, who tries to get him to talk about where Optimus Prime is hiding. During the fight, the Decepticon, realizing Bumblebee won't talk, decides to make his decision permanent and destroys his voice synthesizer, before ultimately losing the fight to Bumblebee, permanently. Heavily damaged, Bumblebee finds a form he can hide in and heel, settling upon a Volkswagen Beetle that ends up in a junkyard.

He is later found by a sullen teenager, Charlie, played by HAILEE STEINFELD (ENDER'S GAME, SPIDER-MAN: INTO THE SPIDER-VERSE), a mechanicaly inclined high school girl who just wants her own car for her birthday so she can escape her dismal existence since the death of her father. When she repairs the Beetle, she discovers Bumblebee's true nature, and after some initially expected shocks forms a friendship with the Autobot. She even gives him a voice, of sorts, replacing his broken unit with a radio that he can 'speak' with by scanning up and down the dial and picking selected bits of dialogue and lyrics to play.

However, the repair also sends out a signal, alerting the Decepticons to his presence on Earth. These Decepticons forge an alliance with the U.S. military machine, despite protestations from an over-the-top action hero, Agent Burns (JOHN CENA). During this alliance we discover the secret origin of the Internet, as they hunt for Bumblebee begins, while he and Charlie have their own misadventures and character growth.

In true 80s movie fashion, Charlie's family is made up of overprotective mother (PAMELA ADLON), out-of-touch father (STEPHEN SCHNEIDER), and karate-kid little brother (JASON DRUCKER). There's also the would-be-boyfriend / nerd-friend, Memo (ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL's JORGE LENDEBORG, JR.), who learns of Charlie's secret early on.

If you can remember how you felt seeing some of the best 80s action/comedy movies, you'll get that feeling again with BUMBLEBEE. This film surpasses the entire Michael Bay TRANSFORMERS franchise in several areas. For one thing, you can actually see the action, as it is filmed with light. You can see the details of the robotic characters, as they actually look like the Transformers characters we grew up with, rather than some mass of techno-organics that are indistinct.

BUMBLEBEE combines all the best of films like SHORT CIRCUIT, WAR GAMES, and THE LAST STARFIGHTER in terms of style and tone. It's easy to say that John Cena has turned in much better action roles, but this is John Cena as seen through the lens of a 1980s filmmaker, and bearing that in mind he translates his role to the screen in superb fashion. Hailee Steinfeld also delivers an emotionally grabbing character who is believable, relatable, and wholly 80s.

If you're a true Transformers fan, you will want to get this and add it to your video collection. Hopefully, BUMBLEBEE will serve as the launchpad for a new Transformers franchise, reimagined and rebuilt from this point forward. TRAVIS KNIGHT (director) and CHRISTINA HODSON (screenwriter) have crafted a Transformers flick that is wholly new and yet wholly faithful, and is something old fans and new can get behind.

Grade: 
4.0 / 5.0