iReview | BUMBLEBEE

Sent on a mission to find a safe planet that the Autobots can call their next home Bumblebee goes back a generation and presents the origin story of one of the most valiant Transformers of them all.

As a movie franchise the Transformers have outpaced any expectations in Hollywood. No one could have imagined that a feature-length film based on a popular line of action figures from the 80s that also inspired a companion animated television series would have box office bankability a decade after the first film hit the multiplex. Five installments later, Michael Bay’s epic has continued to ignite the imagination, and in the latest spin-off, Bumblebee establishes the origin story of one of the franchise favorites.

On a mission to find a safe haven, the Autobot B-127 finds his way to Earth.

After several attempts at elaborating on the Transformers mythology, an intergalactic race of intelligent robots that are engaged in a civil war over their world’s depleting resources, Bumblebee is the first at successfully recreating the familiar aesthetic of the “Generation 1” Transformers many of us grew up with. The film opens with a look at the warring factions on their home world of Cybertron. The heroic Autobots led by Optimus Prime sends his most valuable agent B-127 on a mission to secure on outpost on Earth away from the prying eyes of the evil Decepticons.

As the battle rages B-127, the eventual titular hero of our story, is blasted into space and crashes in a blaze of glory on the planet Earth in the midst of military war games — and its 1987! The military give chase to the alien robot in their midst, but B-127 has bigger problems when an enemy agent discovers his location and attacks, merciless ripping out B-127’s vocal chords and severely damaging his memory processor. B-127 deals his assailant a final blow, but in the end he’s rendered nearly inoperable and goes into hibernation.

Hiding in plain site as expected n the guise of a yellow classic VW Bug, the Autobot is discovered by a young woman, Charlie played by Hailee Steinfeld, and the pair immediately develop a bond. Charlie names the alien “Bumblebee” and proceeds to uncover his true mission, introducing Bumblebee to 80s music in an effort to help him to learn to communicate, especially with his audio vocalizer still damaged. It isn’t long before two Decepticon agents uncover the fugitive and proceed to converge on Bumblebee’s position.

Prequel vs Origin Story?

When it was first announced that a stand-alone feature focusing on Bumblebee would be spinning-off of the film franchises, many assumed it was in an answer to the growing mass-proliferation of the Star Wars universe after Disney had purchased the brand from George Lucas. With the exception of perhaps Optimus Prime himself, it made since that if any of the characters in the arsenal of the toy brand could be made to stand on its own Bumblebee would emerge the likely asset. It also helps that he is introduced the Transformers film franchise.

Michael Bay may have set a tone with his first five Transformers movies, but perhaps passing Bumblebee along to Travis Knight may have been the right call. Setting the film in the late 80s is fittingly meta, but it also gives the mythology of the Transformers room to breathe. As a lead character Bumblebee works really well, because similarly to other benevolent E.T.s, the hero is incredibly relatable, and not to mention very cute. That doesn’t mean the VW Bug can’t pack a punch, and proves a formidable soldier.

As a sidekick Hailee Steinfeld is wonderfully appealing and organically fits in to the time and place of this particular adventure. It’s also a welcome change from the highly charged testosterone of its predecessors. Steinfeld’s Charlie may not continue with the next installment of Bumblebee but that’s OK. The real hero has been established and the audience is already invested in his journey. Perhaps the next time around, the eager young scout will be joined by other Autobot favorites like Wheeljack or Ironhide, before the next major threat, in the meantime Bumblebee can handle it.

Bumblebee starring Hailee Steinfeld and John Sena, directed by Travis Knight is available now on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD. Rated PG-13

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