Updated: Jan 24, 2019
Directed by: #TravisKnight
Written by: #ChristinaHodson
You would be forgiven for letting this one pass you by. So absolute was the ruination wrought by Michael Bay’s dismal and offensive depiction of a once much-loved #childhood toy; I’d considered the franchise beyond salvation. But director Travis Knight (CEO of #LaikaStudios) has taken the helm and brings with him his knack for storytelling and experience in animation; making good use of both in this thoroughly enjoyable action flick.
The film opens on war-torn #Cybertron, just as it’s about to fall to the #Decepticons. A desperate rout begins with sporadic fighting continuing. In a desperate last act to save his fellow #Autobots, Optimus Prime tasks B-127 (#Bumblebee) with establishing a base on planet Earth where they intend on seeking refuge. #Bumblebee flees in an escape pod, and, after crash landing in the middle of a Sector 7 training exercise during the 1980s, he’s tracked down by the #Decepticon Blitzwing. A brief but brutal fight ensues, leaving Blitzwing dead and #Bumblebee badly damaged; having had his voicebox torn out and his memory core damaged. As he grows weaker, his system begins to shut down. But before it does, he scans a Volkswagen Beetle and goes into hiding. Until he’s eventually discovered by Charlie.
Charlie (played by the utterly charming Hailee Steinfeld) is 18-years-old and struggling to find her place in the world. The first thing you’ll notice is how much more relatable and how considerably more likeable Charlie is in comparison to any of the franchise’s other characters. The obligatory love interest/sidekick comes in the form of Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr), Charlie’s neighbour. And while there is a definite romance hinted at here, it’s not the ridiculously ostentatious, over-the-top rubbish we’ve been subjected to before. Memo is also not the painfully obtuse, sexualised dolt Bay’s been throwing at us for years either. Instead, he’s a well-thought-out character who contributes much to the film. The two teenagers also share a relationship which seems far more natural: it’s genuine and caring; but it’s also awkward, as the pair struggle to express their feelings—as teenagers often do.
Bumblebee benefits a great deal from Knight’s experience of animation. Robot transformations—which used to be little more than a jumbled mess of movement—are now far more precise and purposeful. Paul Rubell’s editing has also seen a vast improvement. Action sequences are now considerably more controlled and refined; and much less of a ‘cluster-fruitcake’. The upshot to the long takes and slower editing is that these impressive sequences now have significantly more heft. Each punch, each crash and each gun blast feel as powerful and as consequential as they should. Great work has been done on the technical side of the film, and everything feels crisper and more meaningful for it.
There are a few problems which seem to have carried over from the previous films, however. The plot is unoriginal at best and feels all too familiar at times. Although the better script and more engaging characters did prevent these moments from losing my interest entirely, they were still noticeable. The film’s biggest problem, however, is that it’s still overburdened with clichés and absurd plot conveniences. You know, those kinds of moments when the protagonist is about to be killed by the bad guy, who then decides to walk as slowly as possible towards them whilst monologuing, just to be killed at the last minute. Yeah—they’re annoying and they shouldn’t happen.
To be fair though, these issues generally only occur during the final act of the movie. The first two-thirds of the movie—which deals chiefly with Charlie and #Bumblebee’s relationship—is definitely the strongest. With its Iron Giant-like quality, there’s a real warmth to this aspect of the film; and it was this which impressed me the most.
#Bumblebee is a very enjoyable watch. There are still more problems here than there should be and it undoubtedly could have been better. But Travis Knight has done something here we no longer thought was possible. He’s made a #Transformers film we can thoroughly enjoy, with characters we actually give a crap about. It’s still a big stupid, robot smashing each other in the face kind of film; but there’s really nothing wrong with that. And, to be honest, compared to previous instalments, it’s a bloody work of art.