‘Bumblebee’ Blu-Ray Review: A Delightful ‘Transformers’ Prequel
1984 was the year Transformers was introduced to the world, and its titular machines — robots capable of disguising themselves as standard automobiles and vehicles — have endured as a pop culture fixture ever since. Cavalcades of toys based on the series’ characters remain a mainstay in toy stores, and generations of children have grown up with Transformers through its many comic book and cartoon incarnations.
In 2007, the mechs appeared in their first live-action adventure, brought to life by director Michael Bay. Bay has since helmed four sequels, all of which further demonstrated his filmmaking weaknesses and consequently grow progressively worse, culminating in 2017’s disastrously received Transformers: The Last Knight. Bumblebee, a spin-off starting its namesake yellow soldier, is the sixth and latest Transformers film, but does it give its flagging franchise the boost it needs?
BUMBLEBEE BLU-RAY REVIEW
Bumblebee exists in an interesting place in terms of its series’ chronology, as it’s simultaneously something of a prequel to and a soft reboot of its five predecessors. Even the series’ two most iconic characters, the venerable Autobot leader Optimus Prime and villainous Decepticon leader Megatron are mostly no-shows, with the former only making a few short (if significant) appearances and the latter being absent altogether.
Instead, director Travis Knight wisely sought to wipe Bay’s baggage away, allowing him to focus on his two protagonists: Bumblebee and the snarky teenager Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld), the latter a newcomer to the franchise as a whole. All of the antagonists, however, are disappointingly underwhelming and the parts focusing on them are unquestionably Bumblebee’s weakest. Decepticon mercenaries Shatter and Dropkick lack any memorable traits, serving only to give Bumblebee similarly powered foes to fight against in the climax — a fight that isn’t particularly novel or well-choreographed. U.S. Army lieutenant Jack Burns (John Cena) fares better and develops somewhat, but his presence is undermined by the feeling of how he and his men have little power in the Autobot-Decepticon struggle, two key moments aside.
Bumblebee’s presence, however, is delightful; upon surviving a near fatal attack after arriving on Earth, he loses his ability to speak and regresses to a childlike mentality. Charlie becomes something of a surrogate big sister to him, teaching him about the world he now inhabits and helping him in his mission to secure Earth from Decepticon rule. It’s a mutually beneficial relationship, one that’s fun to watch develop despite its predictability. The sequences where the pair goof off, such as listening to cassette tapes or trying to egg a car, are Bumblebee’s highlight.
However, despite being a property that champions seeing robots engage in bombastic action sequences, it’s Charlie who steals the show in Bumblebee. She’s by default the most relatable character; she’s anotagonized by a bully (while otherwise self-confident, she becomes docile in her bully’s presence), her family struggles financially, and she’s grieving the loss of her father (something her mother swiftly moved on from upon meeting a new man, causing a wedge between them). Steinfeld’s layered performance gives her character a level of depth heretofore unseen in these movies, portraying Charlie’s social ostracism and nuances with tact and care.
Transformers fans will want to procure a copy of Bumblebee’s headlining film because, as the Blu-ray case boasts, over 60 minutes of extra material is included. Collectors will also appreciate the inclusion of the Sector 7 Adventures comic book, itself a prelude to the disc’s “Animated Motion Comic: Bumblebee’s Next Adventure” bonus feature.