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Bumblebee is the best of a bad bunch

There’s one thing that Michael Bay’s Transformers movies all have in common. While they have ranged from average at best to utter crap none of them (in my opinion) have paid long term fans proper service.

Bumblebee and Charlie standing silhouetted against the sunset

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From almost unrecognisable characters, to cluttered confusing action sequences, to Shia Lebeouf and Megan Fox, to Mc Dreamy, to giving robots from cybertron some kind of earthen racial stereotype, the whole franchise has grown into a bit fat garbage bonfire of awful.

But what do I know? I played with Transformers as a kid and I have to say I thought that the premise of sentient shape changing robots was as ridiculous then as it is now but at least they were fun to play with. Although Megatron and that trigger. Who thought of that? Of course, a dude in a loincloth with a magic sword fighting a skeleton man for control of a giant skull castle was much more relatable for me.

But I digress.

What’s it about?

Bumblebee is an origin story, a prequel to Michael Bay’s hideous movie series that does attempt to win back the favour of the fans. Director Travis Knight—who you might know from the pretty decent Kubo and the Two Strings—achieves this though appealing to older fans sense of nostalgia by setting the film in the 80’s, including gen one characters like Soundwave and Wheeljack and by having something that was sorely lacking in the other films—character development and an actual story.

Although that story is kind of derivative. It’s as if Stranger Things took a bunch of laxatives with a picture of E.T. on the box and sprayed it all over the screen. Michael Bay is still on board as a producer so that stain remains too.

Here’s the deal, it’s 1987 war is raging on Cybertron, and Bumblebee has escaped to Earth as a fugitive from the Decepticons. He’s lost his memory, his voice and is hiding in a junkyard until he’s discovered by Charlie, an 18 year old girl full of teen angst, struggling with the loss of her father and trying to find her place in her broken family and the world. Bumblebee reveals himself to Charlie (not in a creepy Megatron trigger way though) and they form a loving friendship in the face of her personal struggles and him trying to remember why he is on Earth in the first place.

Who’s in it?

It’s part ET, part Iron Giant and pretty much the same plot as every other A, B or C grade kids movie that involved a misfit kid befriending something from parts unknown in the 80s. Honestly, if the robot had’ve sat in her bicycle basket while they flew across the face of a full moon I would have in no way been surprised.

The cast are pretty good. Quite likeable in fact. Jorge Lendenborg Jr, is really cool as the interested boy Memo, Stephen Schnieder is decent as Charlie’s stepdad Ron, Pamela Adlon is ok as Charlie’s Mum Sally and John Cena is apparently in it but … I didn’t see him. Props must be given to Hailee Steinfeld who takes the lead as Charlie, her performance is the absolute highlight of the film and she adds to the relationship human/Autobot relationship that has been sorely lacking from any of the other movies. Although even with all her so-called problems and teen angst I still found her character to be artificially sweetened. Don’t get me started on the high-dive trophies. You’ll see.

The movie does replace seizure inducing action sequences with actual drama and dialogue, which means when you hit the inevitable final battle at least there is something to fight for. You will get to see some of your old favourites, but don’t get too excited, their parts might as well be cameos. The excessive push for you to take note of the 80’s setting is annoying; with the song a minute soundtrack, endless Smiths references and retro band t-shirts. The story has been lifted from a bunch of Speilberg drafts—replete with a phone home trope—and it’s all a little bit too polished to come across as authentic. In the special effects department some of the CGI is a little off, particularly the interactions between Bumblebee and Charlie.

The verdict

They’ve done a good job to keep Bay at bay long enough to make this at least a decent offering in the franchise but I feel like Travis Knight, who is an incredibly talented director was wasted on this one.

It is definitely the best and most enjoyable movie in the recent Transformers series. But in saying that it’s like being asked to pick your favourite skin condition, all of them are uncomfortable to a degree and you’re likely better off without them.

If Transformers, The Last Night is necrotising fasciitis then Bumblebee is merely hives.
See what I did there?

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