Bumblebee is undoubtedly the best live-action Transformers film. Yeah, I know, it’s possible you won’t see the low bar it had to step over to surpass the Michael Bay debacles. Still, this exceeds expectations and shows it is possible to do the Transformers franchise right on the big screen.
Director Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings) decides to stop fighting the trend and make Bumblebee more of a comic book origin film. That’s a proven formula and Knight shows how easily it can be adapted with other action franchises.
Knight kicks off the film with a spectacular opening act sure to thrill longtime Transformers fans. There’s no confusion regarding the various Autobots as Ratchet, Brawn, Cliffjumper, Wheeljack, Sideswipe and Arcee are easily identifiable. Ditto for fan favorite Decepticons like Soundwave and Shockwave.
With the Decepticons getting the upper hand in the battle on Cybertron, Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) orders an Autobot retreat. Bumblebee (Dylan O’Brien) is dispatched to Earth, which will serve as the new Autobot base. In a battle with a pursuing Decepticon, Bumblebee loses his voice function and is forced to temporarily shut down.
Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld) has no idea about the pending war of Transformers. She’s still grieving her dead father even as her mother has remarried. Charlie still dutifully works on the car she and her father were repairing, but she really wants a car of her own. Little does she know the beat down Volkswagen Beetle is going to change her life.
Screenwriter Christina Hodson crafted a very funny script that’s warm and has an actual heart besides robots loudly smashing into each other. It helps that Hodson seems to have a far better comprehension of what makes the Transformers work.
Bumblebee does carry over a few of the issues from the Bay films. The biggest is the focus on the human characters. At this point it’s probably too much to ask that a Transformers film solely feature the Autobots and Decepticons. The opening act is about as close as we’ll get. On the positive side, Steinfeld is a far more engaging lead than Shia LeBouf or Mark Wahlberg.
The setup helps make Charlie more essential to the plot and her bond with Bumblebee is charming. This could have easily been called A Girl and Her Robot and been just as fitting. Although unable to speak, Bumblebee makes for a cute lead with his childlike antics and eager to please nature. Some of the best moments of the film feature Charlie trying to help her new pal adjust to life on Earth.
With the 1987 setting there’s a slew of 80s references and some fun Easter Eggs for Transformers fans. The best is a sly nod to the Transformers’ 80s rival the Go-Bots. It’s hard to complain too much about the 80s setting since it allows for an excuse to feature a soundtrack including Duran Duran and Tears for Fears.
One big downside to focusing on a human character is they become virtually indestructible. That leads to a massive lack of suspense whenever they’re placed in threatening positions. There’s no chance anything is going to happen to Charlie.
Things get decidedly more dangerous when a pair of Decepticons assassins Shatter (Angela Bassett) and Dropkick (Justin Theroux) track Bumblebee down in their search for Prime. This is an odd plot hole since Prime was captured the last time Bumblebee spotted him.
There’s also some inconsistencies with the tone. Considering the playful nature of Bumblebee’s antics, Decepticons dismembering Autobots and obliterating humans seems out of place. To retain a PG-13 rating, the disintegrated humans get zapped into a weird protoplasm instead of blood and guts.
- Movie Reviews
- Supergirl: Elseworlds Part 3 review S4 E9
- Is the Transformers Masterpiece Edition MP-44 Optimus Prime the best yet?
- Marvel Legends action figure reviews
Hey, if Bay can make all the women in his Transformers films va-va-voom sexpots attracted to nerds, why can’t Hodson flip the script? Here’s the thing. Charlie doesn’t need a love interest. The only thing worse than scene-stealing humans in a Transformers movie is scene-stealing humans focusing on their love life in a Transformers movie.
But it was disappointing that Charlie’s would-be love interest Memo (Jorge Lendeborg, Jr.) is such a nerdy geek. On one hand it’s great that Memo brings some diversity to the mix, but he’s written too goofy and desperate. After a while it felt like Hodson wrote Memo so silly so he wouldn’t take away any of Charlie’s shine. Memo could have been the cool platonic friend and that awkward one-sided romantic subplot wouldn’t have been an issue.
WWE star John Cena proves a lot of fun as super commando Agent Burns. He has a legit reason to be distrustful of the Transformers and has a sensible reaction when the Decepticons propose an alliance. This was one of those performances that shows why Cena has a serious shot at becoming the next great WWE centerpiece to transition to Hollywood’s biggest star like Dwayne Johnson.
The improvements to the character designs make the action scenes much easier to comprehend. Knight stages relatively simple fight sequences that carry a greater impact because he wasn’t so indulgent throughout the film. The less is more approach definitely works.
Maybe the film’s biggest misstep is trying to fit into the horrible Bay continuity instead of taking the time for a complete reboot. This film deserves far better than being forced into the Bayformers franchise. Hopefully Knight and Hodson get another crack at revitalizing this universe. Making this a credible franchise would be the greatest transformation of them all.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Photo Credit: Jamie Trueblood and Will McCoy/Paramount Pictures