TL;DR – From start to end this film is just fun, with more humanity than the last films combined.
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is a mid-credit scene
I have always had a difficult relationship with the Transformers films, at the start I was so glad to see them be brought to the big screen. But Transformers I failed to stick the landing, and every other film from then was well … okay, sorry, they are not great. Yes, you get the big fight scenes and explosions aplenty, but Michael Bay’s very particular style just did not match the franchise. All of this combined into The Last Night (see review) which was just painful to watch at times with its awfulness. With all of this, when they announced that they would be doing a spin-off prequel, I gave a sigh in exasperation, as the thought of sitting through a Transformers cinematic universe when it was being handled so poorly was not a great feeling. However, as more information was released, it became clear that this was going to be a different type of film, and after seeing it, I can tell you that this is the best Transformers live-action film to date.
So to set the scene, we open on Cybertron, where the Autobots have lost the civil war to the Decepticons and are trying to evacuate. Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) gives B-127 (Dylan O’Brien) a mission, go to Earth, protect it and see if it could be a base for the Autobots to regroup and prepare to retake their home from their oppressors. Unfortunately, B-127 lands in the middle of an army training mission slightly upsetting Jack Burns (John Cena), and more, unfortunately, he was followed by Blitzwing (David Sobolov). After a battle across the training grounds B-127 kills Blitzwing, but not before taking extensive damage and having his voice box removed, and as a last-ditch effort, he transforms into a Volkswagen Beetle to hide and heal. It is here where we meet Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld) who just wants a car to get some freedom and because she has been hurt in the past by life and its unfairness. Well, one day she finds this yellow Beetle under a tarp and accidentally calls the wrong people to her location.
I have to make it clear from the start that different styles of filmmaking works for different people. So I know a lot of people that really like the Michael Bay Transformers films, and to be fair they made a metric ton of money. It was just that those films were not for me, and one of those reasons is the characterisation of the leading cast. Critic Lindsay Ellis did a whole series of videos that look at this, but in the end, it was really hard to barrack for the human race when there was no humanity on show. This is not the case in Bumblebee, as everyone feels like a decent human being with wants, desires, and the ability to have rational thoughts.
Hailee Steinfeld continues to show that she is a fantastic actor that brings a lot of emotional depth to her character. Because Charlie is dealing with the death of her father, and not being quite okay with his replacement Ron (Stephen Schneider), it could have been very easy to play Charlie as a brat. But Hailee brings complexity to the role, so yes there is that rebellion focused at her mother Sally (Pamela Adlon), but there is also hurt at the past, and hope for the future once she meets Bumblebee. Add to this, John Cena continues to show just how good he is in roles that straddle that action/comedy divide. Not only can he hit each of those action moments, and you buy it thanks to his physicality, but his comedic timing is some of the best in the business. Even Bumblebee has this humanity as you see him try to learn to communicate, but also he is quite young so he has not even worked out who he is yet.
it comes to the action, it is on a much smaller level than other films, but
that just makes the fights more intimate. A really good example of this is the
first fight at the start between B-127 and Sector-7 and then Blitzwing. You get
explosions, transformations, a back and forth between the two sides, and just
when it looks like all is finished player 3 enters the game. It is also filmed
in a way that you can actually follow what is going on, so it less of an orgy
of visuals on the screen, and more of concerted effort to make sure everything
flows together. This continues across the film and is helped by some really
good cinematography. There is a scene where the camera pulls back while
Bumblebee transforms around Charlie, and it is one of the coolest scenes in any
of the films. All of this is supported by
some really first-rate effects that
combine visual and practical elements to give the best of both worlds.
Now, when it comes to the overall design of the film it very much sits in that 1980s aesthetic, in fact, you could say at times it is aggressively 80s. You can see it in the costumes, the music, the set dressings, and also the cultural references. Indeed, the soundtrack is filled, and I mean filled, with many of the classic songs from the era that really hits that nostalgia button. From here we are going to touch a little bit on the story, so there will be some [SPOILERS] ahead. There are hints to Alf, to Star Wars, ET and other cultural touchstones of the time which are also referenced in the story. It also means that we are in the middle of the Cold War, which gives a good basis for why the government acts the way it does, which feels less haphazard than it does in the other films. This leads to a wonderful moment when the Decepticons Shatter (Angela Bassett) and Dropkick (Justin Theroux) pretend to be the good guys to get the humans to hunt Bumblebee for them, and Jack goes we can’t trust them, they are literally called the Decepticons. Interestingly, from the film, we can tell that they are using Bumblebee as a soft reboot of the Transformers franchise, as the story does not line up with the history that we have had up to here. I think this is the right step, and it also meant that they went back to the classic Generation I design for the Transformers. Which yes I know, it is a totally transparent ploy to get you to buy more merchandise, but it is still a welcome one.
In the end, do we recommend Bumblebee? Yes, yes we do. Now I know when I say this is the best Transformers film so bar, that this is not a high bar to cross. But this is a film that found its human heart, but also loses none of the fun that should be there seeing giant robots battle across the landscape, or trying to not accidentally crush everything in a house. I really hope that they keep this style and polish going forward.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Bumblebee
Directed by – Travis Knight
Written by – Christina Hodson
Based on –Transformers by Hasbro
Music by – Dario Marianelli
Cinematography by – Enrique Chediak
Edited by – Paul Rubell
Starring – Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, Stephen Schneider, Rory Markham, Len Cariou, Dylan O’Brien, Peter Cullen, Grey Griffin, Steve Blum, Andrew Morgado, Kirk Baily, Dennis Singletary, Angela Bassett, Justin Theroux, David Sobolov & Jon Bailey
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: 12; New Zealand: PG; United Kingdom: PG; United States: PG-13