After five live action Transformers films (which systematically battered my eyes like they committed a crime), it’s safe to say that I wasn’t overly keen to revisit Transformers on the big screen anytime soon. And this is coming from a lifelong Transformers fan – one that grew tired and frustrated at how the films handled the goldmine that was this franchise and frequently let the audiences down. As news and images broke of Bumblebee, it was clear that this was no standard Transformers film, and the approach that director Travis Knight has taken with this gem of a movie will leave fans delighted and optimistic about the big-screen future of the robots in disguise.
Bumblebee is the best Transformers live-action film to date. I have a soft spot for the first movie in 2007 because it did deliver a fun ride but as the sequels piled up, so did the very real chance of epilepsy as the sickness-inducing action scenes and sensory overload kicked in and made everything largely useless onscreen. Nothing can be further from the truth with Bumblebee – it’s a glorious homage to the 1980s with a story that plays to the characters strengths whilst delivering stunning spectacle and action that only compliments the narrative.
Laika supremo Travis Knight, (whose first directorial effort was the stunning Kubo and the Two Strings, and who has worked as the lead animator on ParaNorman, Coraline and The Boxtrolls), brings all of his experience of storytelling to this tale. You can see that this has a different feel to past Transformers movies right from the start. Firstly, the film takes place in 1987, the decade where Transformers first came to life. This is more than just a nostalgia kick as this era is perfectly suited to host this origin story. We see a war-torn Cybertron with classic Generation 1 (G1) styled Transformers in the midst of battle as Bumblebee (voiced by Maze Runner’s Dylan O’Brien) is transported through space on a secret mission by Optimus Prime (returning vocal legend Peter Cullen). Tasked with establishing a base on the planet Earth for the Autobots to regroup, Bumblebee goes on a solo expedition but is pursued by Decepticons. After landing on Earth, Bumblebee is forced to go into hiding after a brutal battle leaves him badly injured.
Meet Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld). She’s just about to turn 18 and feels at odds with her current predicament. Her mother (Pamela Adlon) has started a new relationship with a man (Stephen Schneider) but Charlie is having trouble letting go of the past. She loved her late father immensely and spends her days doing odd jobs at the local garage, a pastime her dad taught her. At the garage, she spies an abandoned VW Beetle and gets to work restoring it. But this is no ordinary car and soon Charlie gets more than meets the eye when she discovers it’s alive. Bumblebee befriends her and the two form a great bond – one that will be tested by the military and the Decepticons, who have an unfinished score to settle with the Autobot and who are perfectly willing to destroy the planet to get to him.
Bumblebee plays like a classic 80s family movie, or even a John Hughes teen comedy, but with robots from space thrown in for good measure. The story and screenplay by Christina Hodson oozes charm and relatability at every opportunity and coupled up with Travis Knight’s obvious and uncanny visual flair makes for a really rewarding watch. But don’t think that this in any way means the nuts and bolts of a Transformers movie isn’t there. It is – and then some!
The first masterstroke was getting the Transformers to look like Transformers. Optimus Prime and Soundwave in particular look and sound sensational, and Knight makes sure all of the battle scenes are coherent and shot well. It’s exactly what we as Transformers fans have always wanted, and the prospect of more in this story being told is really exciting. Don’t forget that this only features a few robots in major roles so there is still a huge amount of scope to deliver something truly incredible from this hybrid universe (which has nods to everything from the original cartoon series, the 1986 animated film and the Michael Bay movies).
The cast are all superb with the amazing Hailee Steinfeld once again proving that she is one of the finest actresses of her generation. Her onscreen family are all well-fleshed out too with Pamela Adlon always watchable, Stephen Schneider quite hilarious as her new boyfriend and Jason Drucker has some choice moments as Charlie’s annoying younger brother Otis (who incidentally looks like Timothée Chalamet has taken on this role and de-aged himself by 10 years). Then there’s WWE superstar John Cena who basically plays to type as a military man who is tasked with hunting down Bumblebee. John Ortiz, Jorge Lendeborg Jr. and the voices of Angela Bassett and Justin Theroux add to the solid supporting cast with Dylan O’Brien really great as the voice of Bumblebee.
Bumblebee is a fantastic movie that delivers a great action-packed family adventure with lots of heart and humour. The Transformers have never looked better onscreen and are paired with a pitch-perfect 80s-set movie complete with some truly amazing music from, among others, The Smiths, Duran Duran, Steve Winwood and Nu Shooz. It transforms Bumblebee into a perfect holiday-season package and delivers a Transformers film that boldly aims for new highs by honouring its past legacy. It is exactly the type of Transformers movie we deserve… finally.
Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Pamela Adlon, Stephen Schneider, Jason Drucker, John Ortiz, Len Cariou, Kenneth Choi and the voices of Dylan O’Brien, Peter Cullen, Angela Bassett, Justin TherouxDirector: Travis KnightWriter: Christina Hodson Released By: Paramount Certificate: 12A Duration: 113 mins Release Date: 26th December 2018