Going back to the 80s to get some proper Generation 1 action!
It’s both hard and depressingly easy to believe that up until now, there have been five Transformers films (each steadily worse than the last). And now, with the release of Bumblebee we’ve made it to the half-dozen.But Bumblebee is different. It’s not more of the same in the mould of Michael Bay’s Transformers – it’s both fresh and nostalgic, boasting coherent action scenes, sympathetic villains and a strong lead.
It’s set in the 1980s, and it’s the Transformers film Transformers fans have been waiting for; it’s more about the classic comic book lore, and less about weird comic relief and flashy action for the sake of it.
Director Travis Knight succeeds where Michael Bay failed, and manages to inject the film with a surprising amount of soul and heart. The film has a really strong start, with a captivating action sequence, bold colour scheme and a storyline straight out of the comic books. The Decepticons and Autobots are faithfully translated from the page to the screen, and the core relationship is genuinely heart-warming.
Bumblebee is different. It’s not Bay’s Transformers – it’s both fresh and nostalgic, boasting coherent action scenes, sympathetic villains and a strong lead
One of the most surprising things about the Bay-era films was how poor the action sequences actually were; you’d expect these films, if nothing else, to excel with bombastic robot fight scenes, but too often they were unintelligible, with no tangible sense of narrative.
Bumblebee succeeds in combining a cohesive narrative with exciting action scenes, an inspiring lead character and huge fighting robots. Crucial to its success is that it remembers its target audience; this isn’t an overly sexed-up film all about machismo and not much else that inexplicably runs for three hours. It’s a film for kids and it’s fun, colourful and exciting.
The action starts roughly twenty years before the events of Transformers. Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld) is dealing with her father’s death, but before long manages to secure a sweet ’67 Beetle. It won’t come as much of a surprise to anyone that the car actually turns out to be much more than just a car; it’s actually an Autobot who’s at first named B-1287, before being given the altogether more movie-friendly moniker Bumblebee.
Charlie and Bumblebee become fast friends, and before long the teenager finds herself involved in an all-out war that moves from Cybertron to Earth. One of the things that marks this as a step forward for Transformers (and films of this type in general) is Charlie’s character arc. She’s allowed to have her first car, rebel a little bit, have a love interest (Jorge Lendeborg Jr) and come of age in a teenage way that’s so often the exclusive reserve of male characters.
One of the film’s strengths, is that there’s a manageable amount of bots and villains and heroes to get to know; it’s very much ‘less is more’
Some fans of the franchise’s previous movies may find the lack of ‘bigger is better’ mindset here to be a little anti-climactic – and it certainly feels that Knight only gets away with paring back the action, allowing characters to grow and offering a nostalgic vibe rather than a blockbuster-superhero atmosphere because it’s following in the gigantic footsteps of the other Transformers films. We’ve had the huge explosions and manic metallic fight scenes, which means this charming family-friendly film comes as a breath of fresh air.
The way the film navigates Charlie’s relationships – familial, romantic and human-to-transformer – is reminiscent of Knight’s masterpiece Kubo and the Two Strings, and there’s more than a little E.T. the Extra Terrestrial about it, too (perhaps in part thanks to Steven Spielberg’s input as Executive Producer). The film is perhaps a little heavy-handed on the 80s nostalgia, but this only goes to strengthen the weekend-comic-book feeling that feels so true to Transformers origins.
One of the film’s strengths, and what makes it such a great Christmas holidays option for the family, is that there’s a manageable amount of bots and villains and heroes to get to know; it’s very much ‘less is more’. John Cena’s performance as a somewhat sympathetic villain – who actually has a comprehensible and understandable backstory – is excellent, and a couple of new Decepticons add to the drama.
The Transformers film Transformers fans have been waiting for
There’s plenty for young viewers to enjoy, though there are enough Easter eggs and references to classic films and 80s culture for slightly older cinemagoers to get on board, and there isn’t a single Transformers fan who will fail to be moved by the obvious nostalgia and genuine fondness for the classic characters shown by the filmmakers.
Enjoyable even for the most casual of Transformers fans (and those who perhaps weren’t fan of the old smash-n-grab flicks), the combination of a great young female lead, a coherent narrative, a great retro soundtrack, a superb one-liner from Cena and a good amount of classic robot-on-robot action makes for the highest point in the Transformers franchise thus far.
Michael Bay who?
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