If you don’t know I’m a Transformers fan by now then you are extremely new to this website. Ask me what the greatest toy ever invented is and I’ll tell you…LEGOs actually. It helps expand imagination, basic building skills, and you get to make your own toys! Ask me what my favorite is and I’ll tell it’s Transformers because I don’t have time to build LEGOs and Transformers has a fascinating multiverse. While I’m not into every take on Transformers I have yet to see one that isn’t just a matter of personal taste. Yes, even the Bay movies. There are worse ways to screw up an adaptation (I’ve gone over a few this week and if I had the guts we’d be talking about that Powerpuff Girls desecration that leaked out this week. I have to make myself read the script but based on what I’ve already heard, “campy” is the least of this garbage’s problem.
So back to Bay’s Transformers. It suffers from a lot of problems but those problems come from Bay himself. Put a director who at least has more respect for the franchise, even if he isn’t necessarily a fan, and you may get something better. That was our hope when it came to 2018’s Bumblebee, a prequel unless it isn’t to the 2007 Transformers that brought the franchise beyond the regular fans and back to the nostalgic…before screwing it up royally and then constantly doubling down in sequels. When the movie hit I saw all kinds of praise for it. I still remained skeptical. G1 Bumblebee is my favorite Autobot and any Transformer bearing his name in the multiverse has to prove themselves to me. Transformers Animated gave us a Bumblebee that was more like Rattrap, and while Rattrap is my favorite of the Maximals I want Bumblebee to be Bumblebee and Rattrap to be Rattrap. I finally got to watch the recording from Epix 2 that’s been sitting on my DVR for some time now. Did it live up to what I wanted in a Transformers movie?
RELEASE DATE: 2018
RELEASED BY: Paramount Pictures and Allspark Pictures
RUNTIME: 1 hour 54 minutes
SCREENWRITER: Christina Hodson
DIRECTOR: Travis Knight
GROSS REVENUE: $127,195,589
ESTIMATED BUDGET: $135,000,000
The Plot: It’s Charlie’s (Steinfeld) birthday but she doesn’t feel like celebrating. Unlike her remarried mother and her brother she is having trouble adjusting to her father’s death, which has also made her afraid of heights and unable to resume her diving competition since that was the last time she saw him before his heart attack. Meanwhile, the kid down the street Memo (Ledeborg–and who names their kid “Memo”?) is trying to get the nerve to ask her out. Sounds like the makings of a typical teen drama you’d see in 1987, when this movie takes place. However, Charlie gets herself a car…that just happens to be our boy B-127 (Dylan O’Brien until he gets his voice destroyed a few minutes in), a crashed Autobot seeking to establish a base on Earth in hopes of one day retaking his homeworld of Cybertron. Sector 7 makes contact with two Decepticons, Shatter (Angela Bassett) and Dropkick (Justin Theroux), who trick them into help track down the fugitive while Sector 7 thinks they’re tricking the Decepticons in the hopes of obtaining their technology. One agent, Burns (Cena), isn’t too sure about this but will do his duty, even if it means destroying the renamed Bumblebee.
Why did I want to see it?: Well, everyone was saying this was actually a good Transformers movie, so despite dropping out partway through Age Of Extinction and not even bothering with The Last Knight I was curious just the same. I was hoping they were right since what I saw in trailers looked good.
What did I think?: If the whole movie had been like the first five minutes that alone would have made me happy. The regular designs of the Transformers just won’t work in live-action, but the direction Bay and ILM took went a bit too far, making them look like walking junk (and I don’t mean that as an insult) who almost seemed to move by transforming. Bay wanted to make his vehicle look “kewl” and that’s why he made the choices he made, like a kid. The end result were robots that you could barely tell apart especially in heavy action scenes. Too many of them had such similar colors they rarely stood out when tangled together.
These designs however make a nice compromise between the classic look and what would work alongside real people and settings as opposed to animation. They’re actually great designs, though the Cybertronian Transformers looked a bit too much like they turn into the Earth modes they would turn into in the series (except for Arcee (Grey Griffin), who never had an Earth mode), except we also never see them transform. A transformer that looks like Starscream has the classic Seeker Cybertronian mode from the original cartoon and both Shatter and Dropkick take on two Earth modes as Triple-Changers, plus of course Bumblebee getting his traditional VW Beetle mode for most of the film, but nobody else really transforms.
I’m also a bit disappointed that Peter Cullen is the only one to return. The other classic characters we see–I’ll let you see if you can tell who is whom–are not voiced by their old actors. Mark Ryan doesn’t even return from his two-line role in the first movie (and the prequel “animatic cartoon” (I don’t like “motion comic” either, but it was adapted from an IDW miniseries). They don’t have many lines, except for Optimus Prime, mostly done in recordings. (Also, points to Optimus able to overcome his Bayformers addiction to ripping faces off.) It would have been nice for any of the surviving actors to come in. That said, the actors they do get do a great job. Among the voices Griffin and Steve Blum (who takes on as Wheeljack) are the ones I know but all fit well with their characters, and we even get Soundwave with his classic modulation, something Frank Welker didn’t get playing him in Dark Of The Moon.
However that’s only a small portion of the movie, and as good as it is to get Transformers that look right it’s the story that makes or breaks here. While no movie is perfect this is at least an improvement over the rest of the films in this series. While it still annoys me that Bumblebee loses his voice (and not by Megatron, as alluded to in the first movie) this is a prequel…depending on which person in charge you ask. While there are a few continuity errors they are at least explainable and I still have an easier time believing Transformers are still a secret by the end of this movie than I have any of Bay’s movies. Bumblebee and Charlie work well together and she’s less annoying than any of Bee’s previous human friends so already that’s a plus. Memo is barely there but at least fits in where he’s needed and we don’t get the “hero and heroine get together” cliché, but instead the possibility that they may have a more normal growth to their relationship, whatever it turns out to be. Plus, potential interracial romance where nobody cares they aren’t the same race. There’s something you don’t see in movies. Ever.
Charlie has a great character arc, as she deals with the impact of her father dying and how that’s affected her. At first you think she’s going to be this “nobody understands me” brat who has to work to being a better person, but as it goes on you learn why her dad’s death had the impact it did on her and she doesn’t really hate her family, not even her new stepdad. Her character arc is natural but at one point you can kind of guess how it’s going to be completed…but when it’s getting over a fear of high diving due to memories you have to work it in somehow. She’s also a wiz at mechanics thanks to her dad but outside of fixing Bumblebee up a bit it really doesn’t fact as much as I would like outside of the final step in her arc. Still, I was rooting for her most of the time. I’ll get back to that.
Bumblebee isn’t quite the child he is in the Bay movies, outside of one scene that makes sense given it’s his first time in a house and the damage to his memory circuits plus his damaged vocal unit have him a bit confused. Again he’s Sector 7’s favorite punching bag but here he gets to fight back a bit more without hurting the humans. I like seeing him in his more traditional vehicle mode with an explanation of why he switches to Bay’s Camero mode at the end.
This is my first time seeing John Cena act outside of pro wrestling promos and he did pretty good. He’s the only agent who questions listening to a bunch of guys called Decepticons. Of course then you remember Sector 7 are the jackasses until the first movie ends so of course they aren’t trustworthy. Agent Burns (I’m assuming a coincidence and not a nod to the Rescue Bots show since this isn’t Bay and his writers grabbing random references) at least has some positive traits.
So why isn’t it perfect? The story takes place in 1987, which would be a few years after the toys came out. 1984 would have been more accurate, or even a little sooner to play into ARG and extended media’s backstory that the classic toyline, comics, and cartoon were created by Sector 7 to hide the presence of Transformers, though that means they at least on some level knew about Autobots and Decepticons. It wasn’t featured in the movie but was in official promotional material (and they really went all out back in the day to set up this alternate reality game) so it would have been nice. Also Stan Bush’s “The Touch” is played by Bumblebee at one point in the hopes of motivating Charlie and as far as I know that was made for Transformers: The Movie so how would he be able to play it? Was it made instead for a (hopefully better than we got) GoBots movie?
Also there are times when it leans a bit into the time period in a typically cliched way but also a rather distracting one for me. The cliché is that they have to keep reminding us they’re in the 1980s and that gets on my nerves. ALF is referenced in the movie, the movie is filled with 80s songs (though that part kind of worked when it wasn’t just background music), and The Breakfast Club, particularly the final scene with the character lifting his fist high, is a visual moment. In fact some of Charlie’s personal story, the distracting part for me personally, almost seems like it could be a John Hughes movie. There’s a boy Charlie may or may not like, there’s a rival girl who’s such a bitch she makes light of Charlie’s dad dying (I wanted to punch her in the face and I’m a grown man) which I though went a bit too far even for the traditional bitch rival, and of course Memo is the nerdy guy you want to see her get together with and sometimes does. It turns out to be such a non-factor that Sam’s bully in the first movie felt like he mattered more while rival girl feels shoved in because 80s movie and other guy disappears right after we learn Charlie can’t high dive anymore. I don’t think the movie would have missed these character otherwise and the “revenge scene” on rival girl I just really had no interest in. That really made it feel like an 80s movie, only thrown in clueless big robot who wants to help. I didn’t watch those movies for a reason. At least the family ties (no pun intended, Alex) aren’t trapped in that and are resolved rather well.
Was it worth the wait?: I guess, but I really wish I had gotten to see it sooner when I was still able to discuss it with fellow Transformers fans, though I had fallen out of what little community ties I had to focus on this site and my waning medical issues by then. It is indeed a better live-action Transformers movie than we got and Travis Knight along with Christina Hodson (holy crap, one writer credit in 2018?) seemed to at least care more about making a good Transformer story than explosions, hot car, and making normal women look slutty through cinematography alone because the dialog doesn’t quite match up. I would like to add this to my DVD collection at some point because this is a good Transformers movie at long last. I haven’t been able to say that since the actual 1987 (the animated movie came out in 1986 so at least there’s some chance “The Touch” was available). If you only see one live-action Transformers film this is the one to watch.