Jack Bottomley, Media Correspondent
Despite grossing over $4 billion dollars, there is no denying that director Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise has been a bit divisive to say the least.
Based on the Hasbro toy line, Bay’s first of five Transformers films was released back in 2007 and very much set the modus operandi for the series. Namely, relishing action heavy set pieces, slick cars, effects heavy metal crunching mayhem (since dubbed ‘Bayhem’) and – there’s no avoiding it – some questionable creative decisions.
These elements have both won over many audiences but left others less than thrilled but now, for the first time in the franchise, Bay takes a back seat to produce, leaving the directors chair ready for Travis Knight (who helmed Laika studios’ animated masterpiece Kubo and the Two Strings) for this prequel/reboot Bumblebee, detailing the origin story of the fan favourite yellow Transformer.
The film, set in 1987, sees Bumblebee (voiced initially by Dylan O’ Brien) crash land on Earth after having to hastily retreat his home world of Cybertron after being part of an Autobot resistance led by Optimus Prime (franchise regular Peter Cullen) against the tyrannical Decepticons. Looking to establish a base on our planet and regroup his team, he soon finds his presence detected by the enemy urging him to remain in hiding. However, hope may lie in the most unexpected of places, as young teen Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) discovers Bumblebee and begins to form a beautiful bond that may not only save him but her as well.
From the very first sequence on a war torn Cybertron, this movie is clearly a restart of many of the core elements of the Transformers movie franchise.
Carrying huge inspiration not only from the toys themselves but from the much loved ‘80s animated TV series and 1986 movie, the film straight out of the bat changes one of the biggest issues with the franchise – the Transformers’ look. In the past these shape-shifting robotic beings have resembled walking scrap piles or unidentifiable metal figures, which has knowing who is who a bit of a task, especially during a fight. Save for Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, it has been hard to tell the good from the bad but this time the Transformers designs have been tweaked enough to resemble the characters iconic designs more closely and in this one immediately noticeable change you find yourself comforted that all involved know precisely what they are doing.
Replacing relentless action for Spielbergian storytelling, Bumblebee is without doubt the best Transformers film yet and the level of improvement from previous offerings is impressively huge. The film is indebted to the ‘80s in style, references and tropes, as it makes heavy use of The Breakfast Club and draws noticeable parallels to the likes of E.T. Yet, what impresses most is the balance of action (the set pieces are exciting and coherent) and drama, which gives this series something that it has often lacked, a heart beneath the spectacle and a joyous soul!
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Steinfeld is superb as Charlie and, refreshingly, she is not just a rebellious moody teen but is actually the one in the right over her well meaning but struggling family. Charlie has a real internal struggle that marries into the overall story (that is equal parts robot and human in its focus) and through Bumblebee’s mission; she finds the resolve, purpose and strength to overcome the dark cloud of grief.
WWE wrestling star John Cena also does a fine job as US Army Ranger Jack Burns, in a kind of atypical part but one that he pulls off with the right levels of grit and charisma. Young Jorge Lendeborg Jr. is another supporting standout, as he plays the endearing boy next door Memo, who comes to join Charlie on her unexpected adventure and connects with her better than he could have ever hoped.
Once more the voicework from the likes of Peter Cullen, Dylan O’Brien, Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux is on-point (vocal performances have never been one of this franchise’s problems) and the origins of Bumblebee’s communication issues are quite well explained.
Bumblebee is a heartfelt throwback to the Amblin golden age of movies and is fun, well made and crafted with affection for the source material and the characters.
The buzz is very real!
Director: Travis Knight
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, Dylan O’ Brien, John Cena, Peter Cullen, Jorge Lendeborg Jr.
Release Date: Out Now
Bumblebee, 10th January 2019, 9:40 AM