It's hard to believe that it's taken this long for there to be a Transformers film that actually feels like the source material. Fans of this franchise have had to wait through five incredibly sub-par films spread over more than a decade to get a movie that not only looks and feels like the Transformers of the comic books and original animated series but is also vibrant, emotional, and most importantly fun.
BUMBLEBEE is all those things.
Directed by Travis Knight (KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS) from a script by Christina Hodson (UNFORGETTABLE) the film is a prequel that does match up with where we find the titular robot at the start of the 2007 film but very much feels like a massive course correction for the series.
The film opens on the Transformers' home world of Cybertron where the heroic Autobots are engaged in a battle against the villainous Decepticons while trying to escape from the planet. Bumblebee is tasked by Autobot leader, Optimus Prime to head to Earth and keep it safe until the rest of the Autobots can make it there to set up a new home base. Right away, with the opening battle on the alien world, the differences between this film and the earlier entries could not be more apparent. The robots look very much like their classic designs and the action choreography is clearly laid out, making the fight easy to follow, allowing the audience to get fully invested in what's happening on screen. It's a far cry from the nearly incoherent action that plagued the series through all of its previous entries under director Michael Bay
Once on Earth, Bumblebee loses his ability to speak and his memory due to damage he received from battling a Decepticon that followed him to the planet. He is eventually discovered by Charlie, played by Hailee Steinfeld (TRUE GRIT), a teenage mechanic grappling with the loss of her father. From here, the film becomes heavily influenced by Brad Bird's THE IRON GIANT as Charlie and Bumblebee bond with each other over silly activities and music (taking place in 1987, the film has a wonderful soundtrack full of 80’s hits). These scenes work exceptionally well despite their obvious influences due to the charming physical performance of Bumblebee and the exceptional acting of Steinfeld. Bumblebee is wonderfully animated and just exudes a child-like innocence in these early scenes that makes him easy to root for. The influence of Knight's animation background is readily apparent in every moment with Bumblebee. I could have watched an entire film of just Bumblebee and Charlie hanging out together with no real conflict. That is a testament to how well these scenes work.
The film has a very simple narrative which is refreshing after multiples entries in this series have been so overly convoluted. Eventually, it all leads to a confrontation between Bumblebee, the Decepticons sent to track him down, and the US military led by John Cena (BLOCKERS).
So, what about the film doesn't work? Its biggest flaw is that the best action scenes of the film are front loaded into the first twenty minutes of the movie causing the film to sputter out as it reaches the climax. This is a minor complaint though considering what an improvement BUMBLEBEE is over the previous Transformers films.
Charming performances, fun action, and beautiful effects work all make BUMBLEBEE worth your time even if the film feels a bit derivative at times.
BUMBLEBEE is in theaters nationwide now.
- Matthew Essary
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