The new “Bumblebee” movie trailer is out! Bumblebee is FINALLY back to changing into a Volkswagen Bug (so his name makes sense), and as a robot he’s much less of a Bay-mess and more reminiscent of how he’s looked in every other place for the last 30+ years. Plus, this movie isn’t directed by Michael Bay at all, but by Travis Knight! So, fans of Transformers should be thrilled, right?
And it’s not because this one finally has a girl lead – that’s fantastic, and something Bay could never do. It’s not because of how he looks, either. At least he doesn’t look like one of those magnetic metal shard sculpture toys that “cool” uncles have on their coffee tables. This new Bumblebee actually looks pretty cool.
It’s because, once again, a director has decided that Bumblebee is best without the ability to speak.
Now, that might not seem like such a big deal, right? I mean, what kid didn’t see Bumblebee and Sam in the first Bay movie and think, “Aw, I want a Bumblebee!”
But, that’s the problem.
Bumblebee is a thinking, feeling being. Stripping the ability to talk reduces him to being some kind of pokemon, that you can imagine catching and making yours (which is also weird, but not what this article is about!). Ripping out his voice makes him unable to express how he actually feels, what he thinks about, who he really is. The old term for mute is “dumb,” which is what these movies make of Bumblebee. His personhood is stripped away, making him a loyal pet. A dog, who can also give you a ride to the mall. How fun!
For the last 30+ years, in 20+ different animated series, 10+ different comic book series, 3 hit console games (not counting the ones based in Bay’s universe), a pile of game apps, and much more, Bumblebee has been a talkative, youthful Autobot who you can identify with, and dream of being like, and friends with, rather than wanting to OWN.
That small difference is actually huge. There are HUGE ethical problems with wanting to OWN a fellow intelligent being, AND with taking on that sort of attitude simply because you can’t understand their speech.
If you haven’t heard Bumblebee’s voice, here’s a clip from the original Transformer’s movie (warning, Spike (cartoon version of Sam, though he’s now adult here, cusses in this, which made my mind explode as a kid!). Skip to 1:16 if YouTube doesn’t do it for you:
Beyond these ethical issues, this is simply weak and lazy storytelling. In the Bayverse, Bumblebee lost his ability to speak “through battle,” and even though he can clearly play clips from his radio that aren’t on the radio right at that moment, he is too stupid to dice the clips up into useful noises, and communicate. Then, at the end of the first movie, he suddenly CAN speak, and says he’d like to stay with Sam! Only to start the second movie not speaking again, but this time, because he’s refusing to.
We should expect better storylines, for entertainment we pay for.
The fact that this movie has a new director is encouraging – perhaps we can someday get free of Bay’s versions of transformers as pets and prop pieces, rather than fully developed characters and stars. We can see a story actually about Bumblebee, rather than about a girl who finds a pet and learns a valuable lesson in whatever.
Maybe after this we can get a Transformers movie with Transformers characters who we can get to actually know, who can learn lessons of their own, who we can identify with rather than wishing we could keep. Maybe we’ll get a Bumblebee who struggles as a fully developed and actualized person with flaws, opinions, feelings, dreams, and hopes. The Transformers are an ancient race of sentient machines who have been in civil war for over 4 million years.
Maybe give them a voice, to tell their story.