As promised, the latest film in the Transformers series delivers. ‘Bumblebee’ is a prequel set on America’s West Coast, in 1987. The film moves along at an engaging pace, is quaint and unexpected. High action scenes interweave with a smart storyline which is matched with a well chosen cast. Although debate about whether ‘Bumblebee’ is a prequel or a spin off, continues, the little that is wrong with this film, is outweighed by what the creators get right.
In a small list of highlights, the biggest was how the film succeeds as a prequel. As a flashback, ‘Bumblebee’ offers a solid start. Without offering spoilers, it’s enough to say that the storyline is consistent with the five Michael Bay films which came before it.
This is bolstered by careful attention to detail, such as when the Decepticon, Soundwave, makes his appearance for the first time. As with the first Transformer movies which brought the return of Peter Cullen’s classic voice to Optimus Prime’s, “Autobots. Roll out!” Soundwave’s one scene, signature robotic voice command “Decepticon’s. Attaaaack!”, brings Transformers back to its classic 1980s roots.
Although he only has one scene, Soundwave is the only old Decepticon to be reintroduced to the series, while two, new muscle car/combat aircraft Decepticon’s, fill the role of antagonist. In addition, talented new actors provided a welcome change of scenery. This adds to the distancing of ‘Bumblebee’ with the (big star saturated screen presence of the) film’s predecessors.
In a short list of significant letdowns, the biggest was the absence of Steve Jablonsky. Having created the soundtrack for all six Transformers movies, his absence felt odd and inconsistent. Without Jablonsky colouring the background with his now trademark Transformers sound, parts of the film felt empty. The careful insertion of some classic 1980s songs did not fill the void.
Italian film composer, Dario Marianelli may have excelled in period films like ‘Pride & Prejudice (2005)’, but he was a poor choice for the ‘Bumblebee’ movie. The absence of Jablonsky stood out like the size of Megatron’s ego. Marianelli had big shoes to fill. He was working outside of his genre and it showed. The Bumblebee soundtrack is a letdown and the absence of Jablonsky is a huge loss for an otherwise excellent film. In the end, not one song in Marianelli’s soundtrack succeeds in matching Jablonsky’s ‘Tessa’, ‘Autobots’, ‘No Sacrifice, No Victory’, ‘Arrival to Earth’ and the haunting witty flow of ‘Cogman Sings’.
In attempting to answer why Marianelli, and not Jablonsky, it’s anyone’s best guess. My own would be that a) it was contractual b) the makers of Bumblebee wanted to make a clean cut between ‘Bumblebee’ and its predecessors c) Jablonsky was too masculine for a movie with a lead female character.
If the Hollywood Reporter and Cinema Blend are right, ‘Bumblebee’ is as much a “soft spinoff” as it is a prequel. If Transformers goes the way the Star Wars franchise has, and its creative direction is ideologically liberated from its original cinematic creators, then all three options are probable reasons for why Jablonsky was not invited to the table.
Another somewhat minor letdown was John Cena’s character. His character’s role starts out strong, but by the end of the film, his character’s presence in many of the closing scenes is purposeless and comical. Not only does Cena’s character descend into a mockery of the strong masculine role, it could also be viewed as a further attempt to paint male authority as buffoonish. With the current political zeitgeist, it’s hard not to see this is a veiled (passive aggressive) upper cut thrown by Hollywood, in the direction of Donald Trump, and all white heterosexual men in general.
However, to ‘Bumblebee’s’ credit, this particular downside to the film is balanced by the admiration and affection that the film’s protagonist, Charlie Watson (played by Hailee Steinfeld), has for her late father. Watson’s father is portrayed as an attentive, engaged, strong and loving parent, who is deeply missed; something that Hailee Steinfeld communicates to the audience with heartfelt precision. In addition to this, because ‘Bumblebee’ stresses the importance of a child having a mother and a father, the film presents a strong message about grieving and the importance of family as being a built around male and female; dad, mum and children. The main point being that Watson’s father cannot be replaced.
Despite hidden prejudices that could be drawn out from the film, ‘Bumblebee’ is an unexpected, fun, inspirational family film. ‘Bumblebee’ delivers. If Hollywood Reporter’s speculation that the film is a spin off, then the story line is left wide open, not only for further films, but a multiverse conversion of Hasbro’s line of related 1980s heroes and villains. Something aptly coined by Graeme McMillan as the ‘Hasbroverse’.
If freeing Transformers from its original cinematic creators, in the same way that Star Wars has been liberated, I’m not all that optimistic about where the franchise will go. Overall, ‘Bumblebee’ is an unexpected, fun, family friendly film, with all the Transformer action. Other than the obvious absence of a Jablonsky soundtrack, and a few minor letdowns in the development, and consistency of some characters, ‘Bumblebee’ is not just a great start to something fresh, it’s an exciting filler, as we wait for the finale to Michael Bay’s cinematic Transformer interpretation.
 Voiced by Frank Welker (Megatron, Dr.Claw)
 E.g.: G.I Joe, Action Man & Transformers
©Rod Lampard, 2018
Disclaimer: I did not receive and remuneration for this review of any kind.