It’s been 11 years since a Transformers movie left audiences feeling good at the movies. 2017’s The Last Knight pummelled out almost every last inch of joy the 2007 original sparked. With its lacklustre returns dooming the Transformers universe films into the unknown, it is a relief to see that Bumblebee recaptures and reinvigorates a franchise in much need of some Energon.
Travis Knight (who helmed the wonderful Kubo and the Two Strings) proves that while juggling intergalactic robot aliens at war with their human counterparts is a big deal, it doesn’t always have to punch you in the face all the time. And that, is a welcome break from the Michael Bayness that had engulfed the previous films.
With that said, Knight doesn’t shy away from appeasing long time fanboys. Bay was notoriously against making the Transformers exact replicas of their cartoon selves. Knight however, throws us long suffering fans a bone. The opening sequence (a nice throwback to the animated movie from 1986) takes place on Cybertron and is what has been missing from the Bayverse. It’s a few minutes long and says, “I got you”, to those long time fans.
Bumblebee escapes Cybertron to find a new home for the Autobots and finds himself on Earth, circa 1987. We know this because of the title cue, but also because of the glorious 1980s colour palette and music. Once the opening synthesizers of Bon Jovi’s “Runaway” start blaring out, the movie really finds its footing. Bumblebee meets Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld), a just-turned-18 young woman who like most teenagers, is finding her pre-adult life difficult. Charlie’s dad has passed away and she struggles to find happiness in her world.
She gets picked on, her job sucks, and she can’t seem to finish the project her and her dad worked on before he passed. Her character is one that is both relatable and sympathetic- qualities missing from just about every human character since the first two movies. Steinfeld’s Watson is resourceful, witty, and good at fixing cars. She’s actually a weird amalgamation of Shia LeBeouf’s Sam and Megan Fox’s Mikaela, except less shouty- which is a good thing. The point is, we like her.
She meets Bumblebee and the two bond. Like a good John Hughes flick, its awkward hellos and music that forms the connection. The two have to fight off incoming Decepticons who are after the location of Optimus Prime and the Autobot base. They get help from a pretty well rounded human cast, highlighted by the seemingly hopeless boy-next-door Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.), Sector 7 agent Jack Burns (John Cena being John Cena) and Charlie’s family.
Knight and writer Christina Hodson have done a good job with the humour. It’s a subtle blast of humour (Bumblebee no fan of Rick Astley or The Smiths? Gold), and thankfully, nothing painfully juvenile like scrotums on a giant robot or one urinating on a human.
It is this deftness that works. Sure, we get explosions and robot battles, but we also get some quieter, lighter touches. Both Bay and Steven Spielberg are credited as Executive Producers on this flick but its the latter whose influence seems more prevalent.
But more importantly, Knight has made us care about this franchise again. At least I do. Bumblebee is supposed to be a prequel to the 2007 film, and while we do get a lot of connections to that film, it still has a lot of work to do to connect directly to the original (but then again, everything became so confusing that maybe, it’ll be more of a reset than a prequel). Nonetheless, it’s great to see that with someone other than Bay at the reins, the Transformers have life. Sure, there’s some pure nostalgia written in (Stan Bush! Yes!), but there’s hope, and there’s joy.
A big blockbuster that’s got the touch. I guess you could say its more than meets…
Directed by: Travis Knight
Written by: Christina Hodson
Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Ortiz
Released by: Paramount Pictures
Running time: 114 minutes