The first live-action transformers movie hit theatres in 2007 with a bang. The Michael Bay helmed action spectacle gave fans their first look at a photo-realistic, whirring and clanking Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), and was a visual feast for the eyes. It made bank at the box office and ensured that there were more Transformers movies to come.
Unfortunately, with each subsequent release, the Transformers sequels suffered from a reduction in quality, coherence and a general disregard for the source material. And with 2017’s Last Knight not reaching the box office numbers hoped for by Paramount, it was clear that a change of direction (literally) was needed.
Enter Bumblebee. While not a reboot in the strictest sense, the film is an attempt to go back to basics and recapture the magic that made us fall in love with Transformers in the first place.
Set in the 80’s, Bumblebee follows the titular robot as he arrives on earth, befriends a young girl named Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) and attempts to thwart the Decepticons attempts to destroy Earth and any allies of Optimus Prime. It’s a simple premise that doesn’t really try to do anything ground-breaking, but after the overwhelming CG mess that the previous Transformers movies devolved to, Bumblebee is truly a breath of fresh air.
Directed by Travis Knight, known for his impressive stop motion creations at Laika Studios, the movie is essentially a boy and his dog (er… girl and her robot?) style film. There are still explosions and action set-pieces but they don’t take the forefront. Instead the movie eschews all the over the top craziness of the Bay movies and pulls the focus in on Charlie and her budding relationship with Bumblebee. This makes for a more intimate movie that builds a connection between the audience and the fully CG Autobot.
Bumblebee (or Bee as Charlie calls him) is portrayed with a childlike innocence, a toddler learning the ropes, and though his design is more simplified in this version, his behaviour and mannerisms have reached a level of nuance heretofore unseen in the Transformers franchise. Bee is once again a mostly voiceless protagonist in this film, but the deft manipulation of his body and face makes him incredibly evocative, speaking to the incredible love and care Knight and his team have put into bringing Bee to life. It’s easy to see Knight’s animation background from the thought put behind each of Bee’s movements.
The film works because mainly due to how well Bee is portrayed, but it is also due to the believable bond that Steinfeld helps sell onscreen. My intial impression of Charlie was a self-entitled teenager, but that did soften as the film progressed, and once she crossed paths with Bee she transformed (pun intended) into a more likeable protagonist. Having Jorge Lendeborg Jr. occasionally appear as Charlie’s infatuated neighbour added to Charlie’s likability, even if his humour was slightly derivative.
John Cena was great as the main human antagonist, being the stereo-typical military douchebag while also managing to have some laugh out loud moments himself. His instant hate for the Autobot is never really explained, and he is essentially there just as a generic foil, but Cena does a good job with the material he was given.
As mentioned before, there is nothing really new with the latest Transformers movie, and there are moments in the film that will make you roll your eyes. Having said that, going back to grass-roots was something sorely needed by the franchise and has produced the best movie in the series to date. I hope that this marks the start of a new era of Transformers, and I am once again fully invested in this franchise.
I give Bumblebee a 7.5 out of 10, and yes there is an end credit scene 🙂