5 Things 'Bumblebee' did Right!!!
First, I want to say this!, I love the Transformers’ franchise, I’ve watched multiple cartoons based on the franchise (from Beast Wars to Robots in Disguise) and I’ve seen every Transformers movie prior to this one. When it comes to seeing giant alien robots duking it out, Transformers have mastered this art.
Now when Bumblebee first came into the limelight I looked forward to this movie because Bumblebee is one of my favorite Autobots. My only concern with this movie was that this was going to be another ‘style over substance’ film with too many Transformers and little plot and character development from both the Cybertronians and humans. However, I found myself extremely pleased with the direction of this movie in terms of plot, characters, and 80’s setting. I was also pleased with Travis Knight’s understanding of the original Transformers as the opening scene showed various characters based on the original Autobots and Deceptions. When you watch Bumblebee and compare it to Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, you clearly see which director actually bothered to read the source material.
The plot to Bumblebee is simple: the Autobots and Decepticons are at war on Cybertron with the Autobots losing the war and are forced to retreat and regroup. Bumblebee (who is originally known as B-127) is tasked by Optimus Prime to set up a base of operations on earth and wait for him and Autobot reinforcements. When Bumblebee lands on earth he is attacked, loses his voice and forced to shut down. When Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld) discovers Bumblebee as a 1967 Volkswagen Beetle two Decepticons by the name of Shatter and Dropkick follow Bumblebee’s signal to earth and they trick the humans into using their technology to find Bumblebee and torture him about the Autobots whereabouts. After Shatter and Dropkick discover that the Autobots are coming to earth they plan to bring an army of Decepticons to earth also. After an intense final battle Bumblebee kills Shatter and Dropkick and prevents them from bringing more Decepticons to earth. The movie ends with Bumblebee and Charlie saying farewell as Bumblebee eventually meets with Optimus Prime as more Autobots arrive.
One issue I have with every Michael Bay’s Transformers’ movie is they will introduce multiple Autobots and Decepticons only for most of them to die in the next scene. As for the ones that do survive they are immediately forgotten later on. What works for Bumblebee is that the number of Autobots and Decepticons are kept to the bare minimum. The movie focuses on two Autobots (Bumblebee and Optimus) and two Decepticons (Shatter and Dropkick) and any other Cybertronian introduced is immediately killed after their introduction or never named. By doing this, the movie allowed its audience to really know these Cybertronians past the fact that they are fighting a war and they can transform into Vehicles.
John Cena - Not the Hero or the Villain
I ended up liking John Cena’s character (Jack Burns) the most due to him being the most relatable character in the movie. In addition to being the only military officer with any common sense in the movie, I liked how he was the voice of reason among his fellow government officials and pointed out how they shouldn’t trust alien robots right on sight. It makes perfect sense that he wouldn’t trust Shatter and Dropkick because he saw the damage the Cybertronians can cause so, why would he trust any of them. Towards the end, I enjoyed his character and his development throughout and after the final battle he noticed that Bumblebee was not like the Decepticons and allowed Bumblebee and Charlie to escape while saluting them for their efforts. In the end, Jack Burns was the most relatable character because he acted exactly how any of us would act when first coming into contact with aliens from another planet.
Decepticons: Personality Much?
One of my personal dislikes with the Decepticons in Bay’s Transformers’ universe is that they’re all one-noted characters. In his universe, they are either crazy, psychotic, violent or a combination of the three. In Bumblebee, the two main Decepticons, are still violent but they at least have enough smarts to not immediately kill all the humans and instead use the humans to further their plans. I highly doubt the Decepticons from Bay’s Transformers would have been smart enough to come up with a plan without massacring a few hundred people first. As for Shatter and Dropkick, they definitely stood out as solid characters. Shatter’s sneaking nature was clever and showed a level of intelligence not shown in Bay’s Decepticons and Dropkick’s fighting nature demonstrated that the Decepticons are still violent, but done to a more manageable degree.
It Broke Gender Roles
One of the many problems with the Transformers films prior to Bumblebee was all the main female leads were reduced to sex objects. We get it, sex sells but there’s so much more to the Transformers’ franchise than attractive women and it’s not like only horny teenage boys watch these movies. In Bumblebee, Charlie Watson is a loner that operates by her own rules. Yes, she has a crush on a boy and experience awkward ‘crush’ moments, but she’s a teenager going through a very unsettling period in her life. Unlike Mikaela (Megan Fox), Carly Spencer (Rosie Huntington Whiteley) and Tessa Yeager (Nicola Peltz) Charlie isn’t used as a plot device for some male lead to come and save the day. Instead, Charlie is a strong independent female who doesn’t need a man holding her hand to fight the big fight. On another note when Memo (played by Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) does try to hold Charlie’s hand he gets the classic ‘I’m not there yet” response which definitely was one of the funniest moments in the movie.
The Movie parallels 1980’s cartoon and 80’s pop culture
Since Bumblebee is a prequel, it would make sense that the movie would be set in a different time than our current one and how fitting that the movie would take place in the 80’s when the Transformers franchise first launched. As I said, the first scene shows many Autobots and Decepticons from the original 80’s cartoon and even though I was not born in the ’80s, I’ve studied enough 80’s pop culture to follow the references and music played in the movie. Notable examples include Girlfriend In A Coma by The Smiths, Higher Love by Steve Winwood, Everybody Wants To The Rule The World by Tears For Fears and Don’t You (Forget About Me) by Simple Minds. In the end, Travis Knight’s respect for the source material definitely earned my respect as a director for the franchise.
Michael Bay’s Transformers movies have been criticized for its excessive american patriotism, juvenile humor, women depicted as sex objects and racist stereotypes (Skids and Mudflap ring a bell). However, in Travis Knight’s Bumblebee, we get military affairs, humorous interactions between humans and machines and teenage hi-jinx, with better-crafted humor that is less offensive. Overall, Bumblebee has a combination of action, heart, and humor with strong moral values and lessons on companionship. I encourage anyone and everyone to see Bumblebee. Although this is a prequel or a reboot of the entire Transformers film franchise, I feel that this is one of the best Transformers movies yet.