To date, there have been six live-action Transformers movies, starting with 2007’s Transformers. Including the most recent entry – Bumblebee – I’ve watched five of these films, opting to skip 2017’s Transformers: The Last Knight.
Why did I skip The Last Knight? Well, because I’ve struggled to work my way through this movie series.
I’m fine with Transformers (2007) – I feel like it’s a pretty influential action blockbuster; but the series has been on a steady decline ever since. Revenge of the Fallen (2009) was a mess; Dark of the Moon (2011) was too long and too loud; and Age of Extinction (2014) was so long winded it’s entirely possible it might still be playing on my Blu-ray player – I don’t ever remember it ending.
When The Last Knight hit cinema screens last summer I had no interest in watching it and the reviews didn’t fill me with confidence either. Eighteen months on and I still have no interest in seeing it, not even if it crops up on Amazon, Netflix or the like.
So, when I first heard Bumblebee was on the horizon I was less than excited about the prospect of yet another TF film. That was until I started seeing the trailers, which suggested this film might be more appealing.
And it is!
Of all the live-action TF films, Bumblebee is easily my favourite. Now, that’s not to say I think it’s an amazing film, but in my opinion (and comparatively speaking) it’s easily the best.
Bumblebee takes all of the good elements of the first Transformers film (the relatable central human characters, the heart, the comedy, Bumblebee etc), jettisons all of the bad (the indistinguishable Transformer designs, the overt sexism) and creates an enjoyable story. It’s a story that plays heavily on nostalgia and is a clear retread of the original, but it’s one that doesn’t wear out its welcome or make you want to scream at the screen in frustration.
For all intents and purposes, Bumblebee is Transformers 2.0 – a reworking of the one Transformers film that most people quite like. As such, while it is technically a prequel to the decade-long series, at times it does feel a little like a soft reboot or even a do-over if you like.
Prequel, standalone tale, soft reboot – whatever you want to call it, it’s very entertaining. It’s also easy to get swept up in what is on offer, largely thanks to the talent that has been brought to the table.
The two standout stars of this movie are actress Hailee Steinfeld, who plays headstrong teenager, Charlie Watson; and writer Christina Hodson who ensures this film doesn’t feel like the cinematic equivalent of an FHM magazine like previous TF films. Steinfeld is a joy to watch and brings strength and likeability to the film’s lead character, while Hodson stops this film from being another boys-only-tale by writing a female character who feels like she has been written by a female!
The absence of series director, Michael Bay is also a Godsend (Travis Knight takes on directing duties). Personally, I don’t really care for Bay’s choice of direction so I’m glad that this film is Bay-lite.
All that aside, Bumblebee is the real star of this picture, retaining all of the charm audiences have come to expect from this popular Autobot, while offering warmth reminiscent of E.T. or some other blast from the past (via Steven Spielberg). It’s been noted in numerous reviews, that this feels like an old Amblin movie and it’s true – you can feel the Spielberg influences throughout.
As for the other good stuff, well, the inclusion of Generation 1 designs (aka ’80s-style character designs) is a welcome addition to the series and for the first time in the history of this movie series it’s possible to grasp what is going on during action scenes. HURRAH!
OK, so the G1 stuff is used sparingly, with the majority of the G1 designs being utilised during the Cybertron-set opening sequence, but it’s still good to see. Nods to 1986’s Transformers: The Movie (Judd Nelson and ‘The Touch’) are also fun inclusions and help to sell the movie.
The other saving grace of this film is the story which never tries to be overtly complex, instead it opts for a very straight forward adventure. Sure, it’s not original and it’s certainly not award winning stuff, but that’s fine – just being a competent tale is sometimes enough.
If I have one criticism, it’s the over reliance on ’80s nostalgia – something I would never normally grumble at, however I feel it’s worth highlighting because sometimes it gets a little too much.
Bumblebee is set during the 1980s and wants audiences to remember this at every single moment during the course of the film. That’s fine, but there are ways in which to do this which don’t just mean throwing in an ’80s pop hit every five seconds.
The Duffer Brothers, J. J. Abrams and the team behind this year’s Summer of ’84 (François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissel) have all managed to recreate the 1980s atmosphere through their direction, utilising themes and stylised shots to recreate the decade. This was something that was sadly missing from Bumblebee and at no point did I actually feel like I was watching a movie from the 1980s.
But this is a minor problem and nothing that concerned me too much – ’80s nostalgia is popular, so from a commercial point of view I understand why it is so prevalent. Overall, Bumblebee does too many things right to worry about the odd stumble here and there.
For a franchise that has alienated me for so long, with it’s boisterous, sexist, headache-inducing aesthetics, I finally feel like the studio has served up a winner, even if its a ‘by-the-numbers’ winner. But, whether Bumblebee is the start of something new remains to be seen.
Coming out of this movie I found myself happy that Paramount Pictures has produced a Transformers movie I really like, but at the same time I still have no real desire to watch any more from this series. Bumblebee is fun, but I fail to see where the series can go from here.
Bumblebee is a winner and much better than Aquaman or Ralph Breaks the Internet – two big films vying for a slice of the box office – but I feel this victory is fleeting. Hmm… perhaps now that the series has reached its zenith, it might be time to hit that reboot button and head in a new direction altogether.
Beast Wars anyone?