4K Blu-ray Review: Bumblebee

Even though I grew up in the ’80s I never actually was a Transformers kid. I didn’t really have anything against them, I just preferred Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and G.I. Joe. Honestly, I’m not sure why I never got into Transformers. If I had to guess, it may have actually been as simple as I didn’t want to have to stop whatever story I had going in my head while playing with my toys so that I could transform each figure. I mean, who has time to figure out how to turn something into a car when everyone is supposed to be escaping the erupting volcano that is your staircase?

Be that as it may, I am a fan of the Michael Bay Transformers series (some may say that’s why I could be a fan, as no purist could enjoy such nonsense! **scoff**) though I do think it’s worn out its welcome. Since 2007 there have been five Transformers movies done by Bay, with some hits, some misses, and one complete disaster in the most recent Transformers: The Last Knight. By this point the storyline has become so convoluted and ridiculous that it’s indefensible.

I’m a big proponent in reviewing movies for what they are, and the Transformers franchise is something you go see if you want to watch giant robots battle it out while transforming into various vehicles to battle it out some more. Massive explosions, crazy visuals and loads of action…that’s what you’re signing up for when you buy a ticket to Bay’s Transformers films, so I know going in I’m not going to get the deepest of stories and that’s fine. But over the course of five films this series has contradicted itself multiple times, with the last film revealing that the Autobots have been on Earth for centuries, and even helped the Allies defeat the Nazis in World War II. Yep, that’s how far out there the franchise is at this point: Bumblebee helped take down Hitler.

So it may shock some to find out that the new film, Bumblebee, takes place in 1987 and it begins with the destruction of the Autobots homeworld of Cybertron, where as the world falls to the Decepticons, Bee is tasked with protecting Earth by his leader Optimus Prime so that the Autobots can eventually use it as a home base once they gather scattered forces and regroup. So, they sort of touch along the lines of how the 2007 film begins, but also kind of soft reboot it to fit this film’s narrative – and that’s a great thing, as this movie really focuses in on the fun and heart that the franchise has been missing for the most part.

That’s not to say it ignores the other movies, as Director Travis Knight says it does take place in the same universe; however, at the very least this seems to erase the part about Transformers hanging out with Merlin and blowing up Nazis and being recognized as war heroes. So that alone is a win for everyone! What Bumblebee does is it focuses in on a simple story that puts characters first, and action second.

Bumblebee has a job to do, but unfortunately, he lands right in the middle of an S-7 training exercise on a secret military base upon his arrival to Earth and immediately finds himself in the crosshairs of Colonel Jack Burns (John Cena), who doesn’t take to kindly to this intrusion. Sector 7 is a secret government agency that monitors extraterrestrial life, so they’re all hands on deck at this point, ready to take Bumblebee down. That is until a Decepticon, Blitzwing gets into a brawl with Bee after following him to Earth, and the Sector 7 squad is incapacitated during their brawl.

Bumblebee is also direly injured in the battle, having his voice box destroyed (which we knew happened from the first film, but never knew how it happened) as well as his memory damaged to the point of it being erased. In his final moments before shutting down, Bee sees a Volkswagen Beetle, which should please fans of the Generation One transformers. Now, that’s one very cool thing I noticed in relation to the Bay films, but just assumed they did it so that this movie stood out on its own; however, the design team was specifically instructed to make the transformers look like their Generation One toy counterparts, only with some upgraded graphical features. Knowing that in hindsight is that much cooler, though I’m sure fans who noticed it right away surely freaked out.

This change – especially regarding Bumblebee – allowed for a much less intimidating look to the Autobots and Decepticons. While still being a massive robot in disguise, Bee has lots of smooth curves and rounded edges to him, as he’s taken the form of the aforementioned Beetle he’d scanned. This makes him incredibly friendly looking, which fits perfectly with the story being told, which centers around friendship.

That relationship is formed with Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld,) a young lady who on her 18th birthday is gifted this junker of a Beetle from her uncle, so long as she can get it started and drive it off his lot. She does so, and upon arriving back at home she sees that there certainly is more than meets the eye when it comes to her new set of wheels. It’s at this point that we find out that without his memory, Bee is unsure of where he is or what to do and his vulnerable, young natured self sort of feels like a giant puppy when he first interacts with Charlie.

Putting this story of two lost souls bonding and helping one another try and find their place in the world above the explosions and car chases was an incredibly smart move this time around. Technically this is the sixth live action Transformers movie, and this franchise has needed a fresh jolt to the battery for some time now. We’ve seen two hours straight of non-stop explosions, and while that can be fun, it’s really great to take a step back and get to know these characters and watch this giant CGI robot evoke an emotional response from the audience that many humans can’t even come close to doing.

Now, that’s not to say this film isn’t packed with action, as it is, it’s just that it’s paced out nicely and allows the story to breathe and develop between these big bursts of high-octane entertainment. While Bee is trying to find himself alongside his new friend, two Decepticons, Shatter and Dropkick, have come to Earth to find Bee in hopes that he’ll tell them where Optimus Prime is located. What’s great here is that things aren’t piled on to the point where it’s just a bunch of random Autobots and Decepticons blowing up, and nobody knows who’s who on screen. While you may miss their names, the fact that there are these two really evil Decepticons chasing Bee is all you really need to know. They’re hunting Bee, as is Sector 7, so needless to say, you won’t be left hanging too long if action is what you crave above all.

Bumblebee also feels like a much more family friendly film than Bay’s Transformers, as the focus is on friendship and family instead of sex and violence. Now, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the latter, but this movie has a much more all ages vibe than the PG-13 one that the rest of the franchise showcases and its stronger as a whole because of it. Credit must be given to screenwriter Christina Hodson, who has created a strong protagonist in Charlie, and really lets the bond between her and Bumblebee blossom at its own pace, never rushing it for the sake of squeezing in one more battle sequence. She’s also given them both a solid supporting cast of characters that help keep the story buzzing along nicely.

Steinfeld also does fantastic work here, as she’s often working alongside nothing but a stick with a tennis ball on it for a great deal of her more emotional scenes. Both her superb skills and the design team that brings Bumblebee to life with his giant, emotion-filled eyes are the main reason that this film will tug at your heartstrings one moment, while getting your adrenaline pumping the next. Cena is also a welcome addition to the franchise, and his character fits right into the tone of the film. Cena’s a larger than life presence, and so is his character. Burns just comes off like that macho military guy who won’t stop until the mission is complete, but there are moments when he shows real signs of humanity, and Cena’s the perfect actor to portray that type while also throwing in a few solid wise-cracks that don’t break character but will bring the laughs.

Overall, Bumblebee is a hugely entertaining time to be had. It’s almost sad to know that this is a prequel to the franchise that’s already been established and not a fresh start for our Autobot friends. As I started this review out saying, I do enjoy most of the Bay Transformers films, it’s just that they’ve run their course and are so convoluted at this point that a fresh start, with a new take on the characters would be welcome at this point. Hopefully that’s something the studio and all involved take note on after the major stumble that was The Last Knight, and the welcome surprise that is Bumblebee.

There’s nothing you want more when watching a Transformers film than beautiful visuals and an immersive, booming audio mix, and Bumblebee delivers both in 4K and on Blu-ray. The 4K transfer looks phenomenal, from the opening action sequence on Cybertron, right down to the heart to heart talks between Charlie and Bee. Everything pops beautifully, and the action comes right out at you. The transformations look and sound fantastic, and the CGI fits right into the on-screen world without looking separated at any time. The audio mix is also spectacular, which this franchise is known for. There’s often so much going on in these action scenes, and while it’s a bit more honed in this time around, it’s still wonderful to hear every bit of the transformations happening, and explosions coming from every direction.

Special Features:

Bringing Bumblebee to the Big Screen – This is a big five-part feature that runs in total at about 47-minutes in length. It breaks down into the following five featurettes:

The Story of Bumblebee This four-minute featurette talks about bringing the prequel to life, why Bumblebee was chosen as the central figure, as well as his relationship with Charlie.

The Stars Align – This is a seven-minute featurette that sees Director Travis Knight talk about wanting Steinfeld to be in the film, her agreeing and what she brings to the table, as well as why John Cena was the right fit for his semi-antagonist role.

Bumblebee Goes Back to G1 – This featurette is just over 10-minutes in length and is where I learned about the whole Generation One Transformer look to the film, why they chose to go that route and what it brings to their story. They talk about why it was important to the heart of the film, and the look they were going for in general. This is a really fun featurette to check out that fans should enjoy.

Back to the Beetle – This is a six-minute featurette that focuses more in on Bumblebee himself, why going to the Beetle look that he was known for in the original cartoons over the much more alien warrior look from the Bay films was important this time around. The cast and crew also just talk about their admiration for Bumblebee and why he’s often viewed as the favourite Autobot amongst fans.

California Cruisin’ Down Memory Lane –
This is the biggest feature of the five, at just under 20-minutes in length, and focuses on the time period of the film. We see how they hunted for the right locations to shoot, just how much they had to build, how important it was to find the right cars for the time period, and what the 1980s adds to the film that they could have fun with over the usual modern day setting we’ve seen thus far in the franchise.

Sector 7 Archive – There are two featurettes in this section as well, though one is more of an instructional video as though we were recruited into Sector 7. Cena’s character welcomes us to the agency in this brief video that’s just under a minute.

Next up we have Sector 7 Adventures: The Battle at Half Dome, which is a motion comic that’s just over nine-minutes in length. Now, this may be better suited for fans of the cartoons, but it’s definitely aimed more at kids over your average fan of the film franchise. The cartoon was cheesy, with an extreme amount of exposition that just goes on and on instead of keeping it a bit simpler in terms of delivery. Again, maybe I’m the wrong audience for it and hopefully the right one will enjoy it more.

Deleted and Extended Scenes – There are about 10 scenes in total here to scan through if you enjoy watching deleted and extended scenes. I don’t, as you often realize that they’d just hurt the pacing and were cut for a reason, so watching them after the fact often seems pointless.

Outtakes – There are just under 10-minutes of outtakes to be viewed here for those who want to enjoy them!

Bee Vision: The Transformers Robots of Cybertron – This is the opening scene played out again, only this time the screen briefly stops on each Transformer that shows up on screen, says who they are, what side they’re on, and things like that. Fans may enjoy checking this feature out.

Paramount Pictures Presents Bumblebee. Directed by: Travis Knight. Written by: Christina Hodson. Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, Stephen Schneider, John Ortiz. Running time: 114 Minutes. Rating: PG. Released on Blu-ray: Apr. 2, 2019.

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