The Transformers movies to date can be said to be sadly lacking. My first Transformers movie experience was back in 1986. This great film was a cartoon and had the unusual significance of being Orson Welles last film (voicing Unicron) and had Star Trek alumni Leonard Nimoy voicing Galvatron. This film was a love letter to the original series and worlds away from the explosion fest of Michael Bay’s series.
Bumblebee is kind of a soft reboot of this franchise. In some scenes it looks as if this acted as sequel to Bay’s film, but its style and direction are completely different. In this film we get to see the war on Cybertron and the arrival of the Autobots on Earth.
Significantly each of the Autobots and Decepticons encountered looked like their comic book selves. Shockwave, Soundwave, Ravage Optimus, them all looked like they should. Bumblebee himself wasn’t exactly like the comics but close enough and he had the characteristic VW beetle alternate form.
Disappointingly some of the other more traditional elements of Transformer lore were lost, the Autobots didn’t come to Earth on the Ark and Bumblebee didn’t form a friendship with the Witwickys, however, this didn’t overly matter.
The new human in the mix was Charlie Watson. Charlie had a lot of emotional baggage and gave the film its heart. It is her journey that drives the film forward. She starts out isolated and alone, struggling with the loss of her father and coming to terms with a new stepfather. The partnership between Charlie and Bumblebee is a mutual one. Charlie gains confidence and strength and Bumblebee gains a voice.
The film is not without action, but the action is more carefully crafted than Bay’s. At times, the set pieces were as fast paced and confusing, but they had a greater logic and were easier to follow. The action is counteracted by a heavy dose of humour that is well pitched and timed, much of it coming from Charlies family.
This is far from the perfect Transformers story, that I hope will come from the new Netflix series, War for Cybertron, but it comes close. It has a greater empathy and moral core to it enabling it to transcend the one note of the other films.
As a reboot for the franchise it will be interesting to see where it leads although I was disappointed that Bumblebees last act was to change his form to a Camaro, oh and what ever happens we need more Optimus Prime, much much more.