Film Review: Bumblebee (2018)

Also known as: Transformers 6 (working title), Brighton Falls (fake working title)
Release Date: December 3rd, 2018 (Berlin premiere)
Directed by: Travis Knight
Written by: Christina Hodson
Based on: Transformers by Hasbro
Music by: Dario Marianelli
Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, Glynn Turman, Fred Dryer, Angela Bassett (voice), Justin Theroux (voice), Peter Cullen (voice)

Allspark Pictures, Di Bonaventura Pictures, Tencent Pictures, Bay Films, Paramount Pictures, 114 Minutes

Review:

“The darkest nights, produce the brightest stars.” – Memo

The first three minutes and twenty seconds of this movie are pure Transformers perfection. The opening scene hit every single note in the right way and proved to me, right out the gate, that this was not a Michael Bay Transformers movie and that the creative team behind this film, actually cared about the source material.

Then the next scene was spectacular and the opening twelve minutes or so were a hell of a lot of fun, punctuated by John Cena being awesome because he initially felt like a heel in the story.

Now the film starts to taper off from its awesomeness a bit once we meet the main, non-robot characters, and deal with teen angst and crappy summer jobs. But that stuff is far from terrible and the movie does do a good job of fitting within the ’80s. Well, except for how often it has to remind you of what decade it is with a constant barrage of random Top 40 hits of the time. Not that I dislike ’80s music, I love a lot of music from that decade, but the selections didn’t seem cohesive and it felt like some millennial giving their Amazon Echo a very generic statement like, “Play ’80s music!”

This was also the most human and emotional Transformers to date. It develops its characters well, you truly care about Bumblebee and the humans and seeing Bumblebee feeling lost, without his memory, is executed greatly. Sure, it’s a cheesy, feel good movie but what’s wrong with feeling good?

What really wowed me is that most of this film is fan service but it understands what fan service is, delivers it damn well and sort of makes up for all the other atrocious Transformers movies I stopped watching after the second one.

Also, the robots look damn near perfect. Going back to the incredible opening scene, all the Autobots and Decepticons featured there looked exactly as they should if you are using the G1 era as your source. Between Wheeljack, Soundwave, Shockwave and all the others, it felt great to see them in a live action movie the way they were meant to be seen, which is all I ever wanted from the five films before this one. In fact, when Starscream and the Seekers turn into Cybertronian jets, they look just like they did in the pilot of the G1 cartoon, with a sort of sleek pyramid shape.

Megatron is nowhere to be seen but the two main villains were really solid stand-ins. The female robot was voice by Angela Bassett and the male was very much a perfect recreation of Vortex. The two of them were also triple changes. So where the Vortex looking Decepticon looked like the actual Vortex helicopter mode, he was also able to turn into a muscle car.

Hell, Cliffjumper shows up for one scene and he looked perfect. It was great seeing him get an appearance. considering that he’s been completely overshadowed by his brother, Bumblebee, since the original cartoon started. I always liked Cliffjumper better, as a kid.

Hailee Steinfeld put in an energetic and convincing performance and was the best human protagonist in the history of Transformers movies. The kid crushing on her was pretty useless but I didn’t hate him. However, the kid playing her little brother was terrific and I wish we would have seen more of him. Also, Pamela Adlon as her mother was a very strong plus for me.

In the end, Bumblebee was the Transformers movie I never thought I’d get. It’s far from perfect but it is a great step in the right direction. While this was intended to be a prequel to the Michael Bay films, I think they should just use this as a reboot and relaunch the franchise off of the shoulders of this film. And with that being said, I don’t want this to be the last time we see Steinfeld’s character.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the original Transformers cartoon and animated movie but NOT the Michael Bay films, as this is so much better than those.

Comic Review: M.A.S.K.: Mobile Armored Strike Kommand, Vol. 2: Rise of V.E.N.O.M.

Published: December 13th, 2017
Written by: Brandon M. Easton, David A. Rodriguez
Art by: Andrew Griffith, Drew Moss, Juan Samu
Based on: M.A.S.K. by Kenner Products

IDW Publishing, 162 Pages

Review:

I really wanted this comic to be good, as I was a huge fan of the toyline when I was a young boy in the ’80s.

There are a few reasons as to why this just doesn’t cut the mustard but the biggest is that it doesn’t know what the hell it needs to be. This is the second and final volume in IDW’s run on the M.A.S.K. property but it sacrifices the property itself by wedging in G.I. Joe and Transformers characters, essentially being a crossover with those other Hasbro franchises.

And when it isn’t focused on other franchises, it just keeps giving us origin stories and nothing with any real meat to it. There is nothing here to make me care about M.A.S.K. on its own.

I feel as if IDW didn’t have any faith in M.A.S.K. and tried to draw more attention to it by throwing these characters into a G.I. Joe and Transformers story. It reminds me of when Marvel would have a new or struggling comic book in the ’90s so they had to throw Spider-Man in it and on the cover in an effort to generate more sales. It isn’t a tactic that worked a quarter of a century ago and it doesn’t work now.

The writing is a mess, the story is all over the place and then the art isn’t very good either. There just isn’t much here worth giving a crap about.

M.A.S.K. vs. G.I. Joe vs. Transformers story could be great but M.A.S.K. needs to swim on its own first.

Rating: 4.75/10
Pairs well with: other M.A.S.K. comics, as well as comics for other Hasbro properties like G.I. Joe and Transformers.

Comic Review: M.A.S.K.: Mobile Armored Strike Kommand, Vol. 1: Mobilize

Published: August 23rd, 2017
Written by: Brandon M. Easton
Art by: Juan Samu, Tony Vargas
Based on: M.A.S.K. by Kenner Products

IDW Publishing, 146 Pages

Review:

Man, I really wanted this to be good.

I was a big fan of M.A.S.K. when I was a kid in the ’80s. I used to watch the cartoon daily and I owned a lot of the toys, including the massive Boulder Hill headquarters playset.

IDW Publishing had also done a really good job with other Hasbro properties, specifically G.I. Joe and Transformers for several years before this came out.

The problem was that M.A.S.K. got its comic adaptation too late, as it started off as part of the Revolution crossover that saw the world of M.A.S.K. meld together with G.I. JoeTransformersROMMicronauts and Action Man. That crossover really muddled things up for me and it’s where IDW’s great G.I. Joe run ended.

I don’t blame IDW for the crossover, as it was something that Hasbro wanted as an experiment to see how their multiple toy brands could co-exist in a shared universe because shared universes are hot right now and Hasbro wants to attempt this on a larger stage: motion pictures.

While this takes place mostly after the crossover, the worlds of G.I. Joe and Transformers are still referenced here and it doesn’t allow M.A.S.K. to establish its own unique mythos and story. The tech used in this is descended from Cybertronian tech, which sort of cheapens the rich property that M.A.S.K. once was.

I’m not trying to be overly negative but I think that M.A.S.K. can and should stand on its own, at least this early into its comic book run.

The tone of the writing also didn’t mesh well with the art style. The covers were great but the interior art was a bit too kiddish for the seriousness of the story. I felt like something along the lines of Robert Atkins’ art style during his G.I. Joe run would have been more appropriate.

I did mostly like the story and how things were set up between the M.A.S.K. team and the villainous V.E.N.O.M. I liked that Miles Mayhem trained the heroes but was now their primary enemy.

But sadly, I thought that this was too light on the vehicle action. It seemed like the masks and their powers were used more frequently than the cool, transforming vehicles. The vehicles are why every kid liked M.A.S.K. in the first place. They need to be front and center in every issue and utilized in the story. In fact, I forgot that the masks actually did anything other than making a cool fashion statement.

I have the second volume and I plan to read it and review it as well. Hopefully, it finds its groove and builds off of this mostly mediocre start.

Rating: 5.75/10
Pairs well with: other M.A.S.K. comics, as well as comics for other Hasbro properties like G.I. Joe and Transformers.

Talking Pulp: The Death of Optimus Prime and Why It Was Great

August 8th, 1986. That was the day where everything changed.

Transformers: The Movie hit theaters and little boys and little girls had their hearts broken when they witnessed, on the big screen, the death of the franchise’s biggest hero, Optimus Prime.

I was seven years-old when I saw the movie and it had a profound effect on me. I was crushed when the film got to that moment but unlike most of the kids in the theater, I got over it as the film rolled on. Because even though I was shocked, I knew that everything changed and nothing was safe. I mean, that was kind of cool. No one had any idea where the movie could even go after that moment, which was very early on in the story.

In that moment, I knew that even though all seemed lost, the stakes had never been higher and that the Autobots faced their greatest challenge. I knew that fresh, exciting and different days were still ahead. And I may have not actually understood this with great detail but I remember vividly what I felt: shock, awe, surprise and an overwhelming desire to see the Autobots overcome adversity, hardship and evil. It also made the villains darker, which I loved.

I guess that this had a huge cultural impact because parents were so upset that they made their feelings widely known. Hasbro responded by having G.I. Joe: The Movie altered so that Duke’s death, the G.I. Joe’s beloved field commander, was rewritten so that he just fell into a coma for the rest of the film. It doesn’t matter that you saw a venomous snake bite him through the heart with actual blood splatter, he lived to be okay.

Hasbro certainly didn’t want more backlash from angry parents with kids that had their hearts crushed like Duke’s in the snake’s mouth. But really, Duke’s “death” was more violent and shocking to see than Optimus Prime’s. I mean, Duke was human, there was blood and his human facial expression really sold the moment. But I’ll probably save this whole topic for an article at a later date. I just wanted to shed some light and add some context on the Optimus Prime death situation from a cultural perspective.

Anyway, Transformers: The Movie moved forward past that tragic scene. Optimus Prime’s Matrix of Leadership was first passed to Ultra Magnus but by the end of the movie, it found the one Autobot truly worthy of carrying it into the future: Hot Rod. Hot Rod unlocked the power of the Matrix and evolved into Rodimus Prime, a sort of hybrid between himself and Optimus, as he grew taller, broader and went from being a cool hot rod to a hot rod mixed with a semi truck.

Rodimus (with the Matrix) defeated the Decepticons and their new leader Galvatron (a suped up version of the former leader Megatron). Rodimus also helped destroy Unicron, who was basically the Transformers version of Marvel’s Galactus but actually cooler. By the end of the movie, Rodimus Prime rose to the occasion and the Autobots that survived this nearly apocalyptic event would go on to protect Earth from Galvatron and his minions in the future.

When the later seasons of the Transformers cartoon hit the airwaves, it took place after the movie and things were very different. Many episodes were dark and bleak and while this probably didn’t appeal to parents looking out for their kids’ best interest, as a kid, I really liked these episodes.

It was the first time that I experienced something I love in entertainment, going darker and getting grittier. As a kid, I thought it was cool as hell and it made this show about cartoon robots seem more real and more mature. In a way, the show was growing up and evolving with me. People look down on this era of the show but if I’m being completely honest, I preferred this era. Plus, the feeling that no one was truly safe, carried over from the movie.

I also preferred the characters and the toys that came out that tied into this post-Movie era. The toys got more elaborate and creative. You had Headmasters, Triggermasters, more creative and futuristic vehicles and Hot Rod was always f’n cool to me, even as Rodimus.

On the Decepticon side, as much as I loved Starscream and his Seekers, I really loved Cyclonus and the Swoops. Megatron is my favorite Transformer of all-time but Galvatron was less bumbling and seemed like he was a more capable madman. Also, Cobra Commander from G.I. Joe even shows up in an episode with the name “Snake”. It’s obvious that it’s Cobra Commander and he is there to assist the villainous Decepticons, years after Cobra has ceased to exist.

You also got really cool Combiners like Predaking and awesome battle stations that transformed into massive robots. I owned Fortress Maximus and it was probably my most beloved toy in the ’80s. It was also a sign of pride for me, as I saved up over $100 to buy it with my own money. I also bought Skorponok and Trypticon because they were two of the coolest f’n toys ever made.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love so many of the original Transformers, as well as the earliest episodes, but there was just something more grown up about the show after the death of Optimus Prime.

If Optimus Prime didn’t die and the show didn’t take a darker turn and get more mature, I probably would have lost interest in it. There were already 65 episodes before The Movie. The formula had run it’s course and change was needed to make things fresh and interesting again. Plus, Hasbro had all these new toys to sell and the old robots were just in the way of the new ones. This is the same reason why the G.I. Joe and Cobra teams changed so frequently on G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

But then, like a beacon of light and hope at the end of the dark tunnel, Transformers did something really amazing. The show found a way to resurrect Optimus Prime.

I remember seeing the ad for the Return of Optimus Prime and it’s like the world stopped. After truly enjoying the post-Optimus era, absence made the heart grow fonder and it’s as if I didn’t realize how much I wanted him and needed him during his absence. Optimus Prime going away for awhile made the character stronger. Everyone I knew, back when I was in second grade, was glued to their television sets on February 24th and 25th, 1987 for that two-part story that closed out Season 3.

And what a story that was! Optimus Prime took the Matrix back, Rodimus stepped aside and everything was restored. Plus, the Autobots now had the edge over the more sinister Decepticons.

The point here, is that Optimus Prime dying created backlash and made children cry but it was necessary in making Transformers survive. It enriched the mythos, it paved the way for new characters, new toys and it opened the door for riskier and more interesting storytelling. It changed the tone of the franchise, which I feel was needed after the 65 episodes before The Movie.

I think Hasbro was smart in doing what they did. Without the death of Optimus Prime, we might not have Transformers today. The sacrifice of the franchise’s most popular hero gave that franchise meaning beyond just being some cartoon made to sell toys.

Also, no matter how much money they dump into these modern Transformers movies, they have yet to come up with a story that can even exist in the same orbit as the original animated film. Without the death of Optimus Prime, what was that film? It probably would’ve just felt like a normal multi-part episode like G.I. Joe: The Movie did because they didn’t commit to the bit and kill off Duke.

With Transformers: The Movie, Hasbro did everything right.

And now I leave you with Stan Bush’s “The Touch”. Drink it in, bathe in its glory.

TV Review: The Transformers – Original Miniseries & Seasons 1 & 2 (1984-1986)

Also known as: Transformers: Generation 1, Transformers G1 (informal titles)
Release Date: September 17th, 1984 – January 9th, 1986
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: Transformers by Hasbro and Takara Tomy
Music by: Johnny Douglas, Robert J. Walsh
Cast (voices): Peter Cullen, Frank Welker, Chris Latta, Michael Bell, Corey Burton, John Stephenson, Jack Angel, Casey Kasem, Scatman Crothers, Charlie Adler

Hasbro, Sunbow Productions, Marvel, Toei, AKOM, Claster Television, 65 Episodes, 22 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

“Sometimes even the wisest of man or machine can make an error.” – Optimus Prime

*Written in 2015.

The original Transformers television series, simply called The Transformers and now commonly referred to as Transformers G1 (for Generation One) was a sister show to Marvel/SunBow’s G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

It had the same art style, the same producers and directors and the voice cast of both shows were pretty much identical. It was also obvious to kids at the time but we didn’t care that Starscream and Cobra Commander had the same voice. All we cared about is that this show was just as badass as G.I. Joe.

Also, like G.I. Joe, this animated series was used as a vehicle to sell a tie-in toy line produced by Hasbro. It worked well, as the Transformers characters were some of the best-selling toys of all-time. In fact, after Star Wars, Hasbro’s G.I. Joe and Transformers lines have to be the hottest selling toys of the ’80s for boys.

In regards to the show, there were great multi-part episodes and many stand alone episodes. This was the typical format of male action cartoons of the era. We were treated to great stories, a rich mythos and interesting characters. The show was well executed and was one of the highlights of 1980s pop culture.

It has gone on to spin-off a bunch of other animated series, as well as live-action films (those are atrocious though), video games, comic books and thousands of toys. The franchise, born from this animated series, is still one of the most lucrative of all-time and continues to try and reinvent itself every few years.

In the end though, there has never been an incarnation of Transformers that has been as iconic and near perfect as the original animated series. And while people consider this era, the original miniseries and the first two seasons, which take place before the animated feature film, as the peak in Transformers entertainment, I am one of the weirdos that actually prefers the show after the film.

The reason why I wanted to single out the two halves with different reviews is that the second half, after the movie, is darker and has a slew of new characters and situations. The movie changed everything and it significantly altered the show’s tone. I will review the second half of this series at a later date.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: The other Marvel/Sunbow Transformers and G.I. Joe stuff.

Comic Review: Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, Vol. 1

Published: June 26th, 2012
Written by: James Roberts
Art by: Nick Roche, Alex Milne
Based on: The Transformers by Hasbro

IDW Publishing, 128 Pages

Review:

This is the first Transformers comic book that I have read from IDW. I used to read the old Marvel stuff when I was a kid and I read some of the Devil’s Due stuff during the ’00s. But in my experience, IDW has done really well with all of the franchises from my youth and I don’t expect their handling of the Transformers property to be any different. They, at least, can’t do as bad of a job with the franchise as Michael Bay has.

So yes, it is better than Michael Bay’s Transformers movies and it benefits from tapping into the style of the original Generation 1 Transformers cartoon, comics and toys. However, I was pretty underwhelmed by this story, overall.

It is a good starting point, even if it takes place after a major war. The gist of the story has to do with rebuilding after a cataclysmic event on Cybertron. Other Cybertronians start returning and they want to live on a world free of war and conflict. Optimus Prime is rejected by the Cybertronians and he leaves to who knows where. The rest of the story deals with Rodimus Prime forming a team to go in search of the legendary Knights of Cybertron, who are believed to be able to unite Cybertron and bring about true peace. Rodimus’ team is comprised of 200 robots, some of which were even former Decepticons or have a shady past.

I really wanted to like this book and to get back into the Transformers universe again but it just didn’t resonate with me. I liked it for the most part but it didn’t leave me wanting to rush out and get the followup volume. I’ll probably read it eventually but there’s a lot of other comics that are much higher up on my priority list, at the moment.

The story just didn’t take off. Sure, this is a setup for the More Than Meets the Eye series but it moved slow, was pretty uneventful and even as an origin of sorts, I just didn’t care enough to get emotionally invested in the adventure to come.

That doesn’t mean that this series doesn’t shape up to be something great. At some point, I will find out if it picked up some steam and moved forward in a good way. But like I said, I’ve got other stuff to read first.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: Other IDW Publishing Transformers collections.

Comic Review: G.I. Joe Vs. The Transformers, Vol. 4

Published: January, 2007
Written by: Tim Seeley, Josh Blaylock
Art by: Andrew Wildman
Based on: G.I. Joe: A Real American HeroThe Transformers by Hasbro

Devil’s Due Publishing, 160 Pages

Review:

At long last, I have gotten to the fourth and final volume in Devil’s Due Publishing’s G.I. Joe Vs. The Transformers epic crossover series. This is what everything was building towards, as it features the emergence of Cobra-La and Unicron, the two biggest threats in either franchise and the main antagonists of both franchises’ original motion pictures. Fans of both G.I. Joe and The Transformers should understand the scale of this threat. This is essentially the Infinity War story for the Hasbro/Marvel/Sunbow shared universe.

However, as enjoyable as this tale was, I was slightly disappointed with it. Don’t get me wrong, it had some really cool bits but it was fairly underwhelming. I liked it about the same as the previous story, which featured Serpentor. I felt that one was a step down from the previous two and while this one isn’t another step down, it just isn’t as good as the first two G.I. Joe Vs. The Transformers crossover events.

Sure, we got to see Golobulus and Unicron in all their glory but neither was that difficult to defeat, after a massive buildup. Unicron was easily defeated by Flint and Cosmos, who flew into Unicron’s massive body, got to his brain and infected it with metal dissolving spores grown by the people of Cobra-La.

Most of the story takes place in Tibet, at the site of the Cobra-La stronghold. So the vast majority of what we see is just snow and caverns. There’s not a lot in terms of cool and nice looking landscapes. This certainly isn’t as beautiful of a book as the first volume in the crossover that saw a major battle take place on Cobra Island that featured G.I. Joe, Cobra, the Autobots and the Decepticons. And for the threat present in this story, this volume feels the least grandiose.

Still, this was a good way to wrap up this shared universe between the two franchises. We get more time with some of the beloved characters but some are noticeably missing, as this series liked to take some liberties and kill off fan favorites.

It kind of sucks that Megatron was killed very early on and we never got to see Galvatron in any of the volumes. Also, we never got to see Hot Rod become Rodimus Prime. While he shows some leadership skill at points, he’s just kind of an immature jackass most of the time.

G.I. Joe Vs. The Transformers was a really good series, despite a few low points. I enjoy the franchises so there was a lot of stuff to sink my teeth into. Most of all, it was really fun and that’s mainly all I actually want out of these two great properties from my childhood.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: The other G.I. Joe Vs. The Transformers collections.