Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Bumblebee

And here we are again on Fishing in the Discount Bin.  You know how this works, I watch a movie and blog about it.  This time out, we got Bumblebee.  This is in my notes at April 7, 2019.

Bumblebee is the best Transformers movie since the first one.  And I still have a soft spot for the 2007 film that kicked off this whole franchise.  But it became painfully evident that Michael Bay only had one Transformers film in him.  The second through the fifth were the just the same story over and over...just bigger, louder, and more explodey.  Clearly, a new creative vision was needed.  

Enter Travis Knight.  Animator and head of the stop-motion animation studio Laika, and director of the 2016 cusp-of-a-cult-classic animated film Kubo and the Two Strings.  Based on the success of Kubo, he was snatched up by Paramount for the Bumblebee solo film.  Knight is also a fellow child of the 1980s.  He grew up with the toys and loved the toys, and that is fully on display in the opening sequence.  That opening sequence makes me weep with joy.  Gone are the clunky, Bionicle designs of Michael Bay...Knight's Transformers are sleek and smooth and designed to evoke the look of the 1980s toys.  The opening sequence depicts of the fall of Cybertron as the Autobots are driven off the planet by the Decepticons and forced to take refuge among the stars.  But, before they leave, Optimus Prime has a special mission for Bumblebee.  Bumblebee is being sent as advance scout to a planet called Earth to defend it from the Decepticons and begin establishing a base for the Autobots.  And Bumblebee is off. 

Bumblebee arrives in the middle of some Sector 7 war games, being led by Agent Burns, played by the WWE's latest breakout superstar, John Cena.  Bumblebee is immediately branded a hostile and hunted down by Agent Burns.  The Decepticon Blitzwing shows up, and he and Bumblebee throw down. Bumblebee defeats Blitzwing, but Bumblebee is critically wounded, his voice processor ripped out, leaving him unable to speak.  With his dying breath, he takes the form of a VW Beetle and is rendered comatose. 

Enter our heroine, Charlie Watts.  Charlie has a greater-than-normal amount of teen angst going on.  She lost her father in a car accident.  He was on his way to one of her swim meets, so, feeling guilt-ridden, has given up her love of diving.  Her mother's about to re-marry, and she's just upset that her whole family has moved on and she hasn't.  On her 18th birthday, she buys a rusty old VW Beetle from a scrapyard, but, as we soon learn, there's more to this Beetle than meets the eye. 

While working on her car (she's a bit of a gearhead), she manages to revive this Transformers.  As he can't speak and seems to have no memory, she notes that his electronics make him "buzz like a little bumblebee," so she names him Bumblebee.  And thus a friendship is formed that helps these two damaged souls to heal. 

Meanwhile, two other Decepticons have come to earth, tracking Bumblebee:  triple changers named Shatter and Dropkick.  The pass themselves off as a galactic peacekeeping force who've come in search of fugitive Bumblebee.  They soon con their way into Sector 7 to gain human allies.  Needless to say, Agent Burns is suspicious of them and their motives.  He has one of my favourite lines:  "They call themselves Decepticons!  That's not setting off any red flags?"

This all goes on while Charlie and Bumblebee have their teen shenanigans that are equal parts E.T. and The Iron Giant.  This gets dangerously close to Stranger Things territory.  It's set in 1987, and comes very, very close to feeling like a 1980s film.  Charlie is also a bit of a music geek and, introducing Bumblebee to music is what gives Bumblebee the idea to try to communicate through his radio.  So the soundtrack is peppered with some classic 1980s hits.  (I cheered in the theatre when they slipped in "The Touch" from the 1986 animated Transformers movie.) 

Iron Giant comes into full swing in the climax, though, when the Decepticons attack and Bumblebee finally gets his memories back and goes into full war machine mode.  And we get that giant robot-on-robot action that the franchise is known for. 

But what sets this apart from the other Transformers films is we have characters.  Charlie is a person who goes through stuff, unlike Shia LeBeouf who just screamed hysterically half the time.  Bumblebee is a character who grows and evolves, unlike in the Bay films, who treated the Autobots like military hardware.  The characters are finally treated with care and respect. 

And that's what makes Bumblebee the best Transformers film. 

Although, Hasbro kind of blew their chance for a little cinematic universe action.  Wouldn't it have been great if John Cena's character was, like, Flint, and our post-credits stinger was him being re-assigned to G.I. Joe?  With Charlie being a music geek, when we pan across her albums, couldn't we have thrown in one from Jem and the Holograms?  Come on, Hasbro, get on this. 

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