Starring Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr, John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, Stephen Schneider, Len Carlou, voices of Angela Bassett, Justin Theroux, Dylan O’Brien, Peter Cullen. Directed by Travis Knight. (2018/113 min).
ON BLU-RAY FROM PARAMOUNT
Review by Stinky the Destroyer😺
As someone who has absolutely loathed every movie in the bloated – and endless – Transformers franchise, sick dread welled in the pit of my gut upon first-seeing the trailer for Bumblebee last summer. Simply avoiding these movies has never really been an option because my wife actually likes them, so I just knew this cynical cash-grab loomed somewhere in my future. But at least I was able to avoid its theatrical release. Cruel husband that I am and citing holiday budgetary concerns, I made her choose between this and Aquaman. For obvious aesthetic reasons, Jason Momoa won out.
So now it sorta surprises me to say that not only is Bumblebee easily the best film in the franchise by a wide margin, I have to grudgingly concede it’s one of the more engaging recent movies aimed at a mass audience. After a woefully-familiar opening action sequence – yet-another CGI showdown between Autobots and Decepticons – it morphs into everything the previous Transformers movies aren’t: witty, character-driven, charming, occasionally bittersweet and anchored by good performances. Though it could be considered both a prequel and a spin-off, the film has more in common with The Iron Giant and The Love Bug than Michael Bay’s brand of ‘bot bashing.
Not to beat a dead horse, but the absence of Bay’s heavy-handed approach is exactly what a story like this needed (Laika Studios veteran Travis Knight directs here). While it doesn’t win any points for originality, the fact that it draws favorable comparisons to The Iron Giant (with a little E.T. thrown in for good measure) is pretty remarkable, thanks to Knight’s more humanistic approach and screenwriter Christina Hodson, who dares to create characters who feel more-or-less authentic (only a few bitchy teenage antagonists ring hollow).
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As for the titular character, Bumblebee is wonderfully childlike and endearing, especially once he loses his ability to speak. Instead, he learns to express himself by speed-dialing through his car radio for songs that reflect what he’s feeling. Nostalgic Transformers purists will also appreciate the fact the film takes place in the 80s and Bumblebee himself is once again a VW Beetle. The two Decepticons who track him to Earth also have distinct personalities. Especially amusing is Dropkick, who professes to enjoy blasting people because he likes “how they pop.”
Despite scaling back on the over-the-top spectacle the franchise is infamous for, Bumblebee still remembers its pedigree. But by taking the time to create well-rounded characters, we feel there’s a lot more at-stake during the inevitable robot showdown. And even though the conflict is the least interesting aspect of the film, we’re spared Bay’s typical seizure-inducing style. We can actually follow the action pretty closely and, for once, are not bombarded by so much hyperkinetic CGI that it ceases to be logistically convincing.
Best of all, Bumblebee tells a great stand-alone story, meaning one doesn’t need to endure any previous Transformers film get anything out of it. Its almost Disney-like approach to a familiar tale renders it engaging for fans and non-fans alike. I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but Bumblebee is a terrific film.
“BRINGING BUMBLEBEE TO THE BIG SCREEN” - Consists of five featurettes: “The Story of Bumblebee,” “The Stars Align,” “Bumblebee Goes Back to G1,” “Back to the Beetle,” “California Cruisin’ Down Memory Lane.”
OUTTAKES – Mostly featuring John Cena, these are hilarious. It’s almost like he’s going MST3K on his own movie.
“BEE VISION: THE TRANSFORMERS ROBOTS OF CYBERTRON” - The opening action sequence, along with text descriptions of the Transformers characters doing the fighting. Only fanboys will care.
“AGENT BURNS: WELCOME TO SECTOR 7” - Featuring John Cena in-character.
“SECTOR 7 ADVENTURES” MOTION COMIC – Continues the story begun in the comic book.
DVD & DIGITAL COPIES
PURR-R-R. A SURPRISINGLY GOOD SCRATCH BEHIND THE EARS.