The Transformers will always hold a special place in my heart. Along with the Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Transformers make up the holy trinity of toys in my mind. They are what I grew up with playing and imagining so many different stories with as a kid. The nostalgia I feel for the franchise is real which made what Michael Bay did with the Transformers during his run of movies even more disappointing. Now I’ll admit I did, and still do, enjoy the first Michael Bay Transformers movie. It is the second and third movies that Bay made that just completely turned me off to ever watching one of his movies, to the point that I’ve never watched or will watch Transformers: The Last Knight.
With that said I was ecstatic that someone other than Michael Bay that would be directing the Bumblebee Transformers movie. It was made even better knowing the fact that it was Travis Knight, the director for the excellent Kubo and the Two Strings, who was directing the movie.
Knowing that and seeing how the Bumblebee movie looked visually from the trailers I jumped at the chance at purchasing a ticket to catch an early screening of the movie, two weeks in advance! And I am glad I did because the Bumblebee movie is an enjoyable movie that hit on many nostalgic heart strings.
Now before continuing I will say from this point forward there will be minor spoilers. If you want to completely avoid spoilers for the Bumblebee movie you may want to not scroll down.
From the very opening of Bumblebee this movie felt like an apology for what was done to the Transformers franchise. It was so refreshing to see Cybertron look like it did in the cartoons. What especially helped bring the opening scene on Cybertron to life was the designs of the Autobots and Decepticons being a mix of the G1 cartoon and War For Cybertron video game. It set the right tone that Bumblebee was out to capture the spirit of what makes the franchise so special.
Outside that positive fanservice what makes Bumblebee work as a whole is the fact that for the first two-thirds it feels like you are watching a TV show. Of course a lot of the development is truncated to a movie time frame but it still works. From the opening on Cybertron to Bumblebee landing on Earth to Hailee Steinfeld’s Charlie Watson introduction, it all could’ve been a dedicated episode. It wasn’t until the last third where we built to the setting to the big final clash that the fact Bumblebee is a movie and not a TV show.
It helps that Knight and company did not pull the trigger on going from one big action sequence to another. There are only about three big action sequence in the movie and they were all meaningful to what was going on. What helped make these action scenes standout was the design of the Transformers. Having Bumblebee and the other Transformers be allowed to have their vehicle parts be part of their robot form is a big help. The bright colors make the action much easier to follow than all of Bay’s Transformers movie.
Speaking of design, by having the vehicle parts be part of the Transformers forms it allowed the personality of each It added personality to each Transformer in the movie as they each had their own dedicated color pallet. That color pallet made the work put into the faces of the Transformers stand out since it was not battling with the various metal parts that were exposed in previous live-action incarnations.
Having the story set in the 1980s was another major help to the overall direction of the movie. Knight and company were able to focus on just making the movie look good without having to worry about current technology. That led to some great 80s references that included homages from the G1 Transformers cartoons that work within context of the time period. I am sure 80s kids will love the overall look of Bumblebee’s setting.
As much as that all helped make Bumblebee a better the biggest positive for movie was the fact that it is a character driven story. At the center of all this was the development of Bumblebee and Hailee Steinfeld’s Charlie Watson’s characters. Hailee Steinfeld brings an infections energy to the role of Charlie that makes it easy to get behind her character. Even when Steinfeld’s Charlie is acting like a complete jerk it is not without reason. The background of the character explains each of her decisions made throughout the movie.
More importantly, Charlie’s backstory explains why she would build an instant connection to Bumblebee. Once Charlie and Bumblebee bond the friendship feels genuine as they each help the other improve. That in turn makes how the movie ends on an even stronger note because of the rewarding bond that was built up over time.
Because of how well developed Steinfeld’s Charlie was it made Jorge Lendeborg Jr.’s Memo’s character better. On his own Memo wasn’t a very deep character. He was just the dorky love interest to Steinfeld’s Charlie and never goes outside that role. Still the back and forth between Charlie and Memo is done well enough that for whatever the weakness are with this love interest are easy to overlook since it is not his story.
John Cena’s Jack Burns is much more of a toss up. When Cena is able to play Burns in the sarcastic direction he is able to shine thanks to his background in the WWE. Unfortunately once Cena has to turn Burns into a more serious character he ends up being more 50-50. Maybe Cena was intentionally trying to ham it up for the screen but just about every serious moment he had got a chuckle from the audience I watched the movie with. There are hints that he is improving as Cena did get more comfortable in his military douchebag role, though it never got completely there before the story wrapped.
With all that said, Bumblebee is not a perfect movie by any means. There are certain leaps of logic that don’t make sense. Those leaps make the actions certain characters take come across a lame way to get to the big emotional moment of the movie. There is one particular choice during the last third of the movie involving the Decepticons that came off as out of character given what we saw those same characters do earlier on in the movie. That decision was the biggest head scratcher in an otherwise fun movie.
Overall, Bumblebee was a happy surprise of a movie. This was exactly the movie that the Transformers franchise needed. Just about everything wrong with Bay’s Transformers movies are improved upon by Bumblebee. It was clear from the way the Transformers were designed and characters were developed that Travis Knight and his crew grew up with the franchise. Having Hailee Steinfeld on board to drive the movie forward just further helped make Bumblebee a movie that I recommend Transformers fans check out this holiday season.
Movie Rating: 7.5 Night Girls out of 10