Produced by Lorenzo di Bonaventura,
Tom DeSanto, Don Murphy,
Michael Bay, Mark Vahradian
Written by Christina Hodson
Based on Transformers by Hasbro
Directed by Travis Knight
Starring Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena,
Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Ortiz,
Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon
Bumblebee is the best live action Transformers film made to date.
This is not a huge achievement, especially coming after Transformers: Last Knight, which was ridiculous at best, and at worst, a goddamn trainwreck.
Set in the year 1987, a year after the original animated Transformers movie premiered, the filmmakers fill the screen with Sony Walkmans, cathode ray tube televisions, wood paneled decor and acid washed jeans like they read it in a book. They also cram a plethora of new wave, punk, heavy metal and alt college rock music like a who’s who of the MTV generation retrospective. References to the Russians and the Cold War along with walkie-talkies and Ford Broncos are everywhere.
They try so hard that the details stops being a part of the film and instead the vast ephemera becomes a distraction.
The first 10-15 minutes takes place on Cybertron, the Transformers’ home world, and we are thrust into the middle of a raging battle much like we have wanted for over a decade of these films coming out. We see classic iterations of Optimus, Soundwave, Shockwave, Ravage; Autobots and Decepticons all beating the living crap out of each other like a modern day computer animated rendition of the afore mentioned classic Animated Movie. It is amazing and I really wish they would just give us a movie with no people and just Transformers doing their thing.
From there we see Bumblebee receive his mission from Prime to find a suitable base and rallying point for the Autobot resistance. So off to Earth he goes. There, he immediately runs into a military troop on a training op. as well as a Decepticon scout. In their ensuing fight the Deception and Bumblebee obliterate most of the soldiers. All except John Cena’s character, Agent Burns, who’s loss of men causes him some deep seated hatred of all Transformers.
Badly damaged from the fight Bee goes into shutdown mode, but not before scanning a 1976 Volkwagon Super Beetle.
Flash forward to an undetermined amount of time and we are introduced to Charlie, played by Academy Award nominee Hailee Steinfeld, an angsty disenfranchised teen. It’s her birthday and she wants a car. We establish she is an amalgamation of every 80’s movie teen trope. Through a kismet of events she acquires Bumblebee and they start a very Iron Giant relationship.
It as if the writer, Christina Hodson saw The Iron Giant, and thought “What if it was a girl and what if we throw in a smattering of E.T. and Lilo and Stich?”
What happens is you get, Bumblebee.
The character of Bumblebee is the one exception to the whole. Here we see Knight and writer Hodson shine. Through the amazing animation provided by ILM they have very much created a fully realized character in Bee. He was definitely the most sympathetic and fully fleshed out character in the whole film. Both subtle at times and ostentatious at others.
Much like the Iron Giant, I truly felt bad for him. All his pain and wonder are beautifully animated through his eyes and expressions without beating the horse completely dead like other aspects of the film. It is the little spark of what I imagine is Knights gifts as a film maker shining through all the dreck and mayhem. I just wish there was more of this and less heavy handed faux emotions we get with the other characters.
After seeing all the classic Transformers on Cybertron it is a little disappointing to get two Michael Bay-esque ones as the primary antagonists in the form of Triple Changers, Dropkick and Shatter (voiced by Justin Theroux and Angela Bassett, respectively).
I am sure Hasbro, the owners of the Transformers IP, wanted new and exciting toys to sell the children and that is why the filmmakers didn’t use Starscream along with his lieutenants, Skywarp and Thundercracker, or even Soundwave, and Ravage, Laserbeak, and Rumble as the main baddies but really these two generic looking robots are only cool because they transform into jets, cars, and helicopters other than that they are completely forgettable.
Director, Travis Knight, who’s first directorial effort, Kubo and the Two Strings was a masterpiece of story, editing, cinematography and concept goes in to his sophomore effort with a pretty big handicap no matter what movie he made. Here he does his best with an okay script that tends to pander and beat you over the head and spoon feeds the audience every single “important” plot point. What it says to me is that the very powerful and influential hands of his masters, Bay and Spielberg, only wish to create an entertaining and easy to digest movie that fulfills the expectations of the audience and takes no chances.
It must have been strange and hard for, Knight, the President and CEO of Laika Films, who has been responsible for overseeing such great films as Boxtrolls, Paranorman, Coraline, and the previously mentioned Kubo. These films were full of heart and soul and whose stories are exceptionally well told using traditional stop motion animation.
Here, I feel that he was hamstrung and because he was working on such a huge budget film he was not able to take chances or give us his very best and as such, Bumblebee is one hundred and fifty percent adequate as fun popcorn action films goes. It is however a Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg produced schlock fest of explosions, mayhem and mediocre storytelling with just a glimmer of the heart we are so used to seeing in other films he has directed and produced.
Bumblebee is, at least, somewhat charming, relatively sweet, full of action with enough nostalgia and classic Transformers to make most fans enjoy it.