You’ve got the touch. You’ve got… spoilers.
Bumblebee is a movie you go into with a ton of expectations. In my case, I was expecting the worst and came out pleasantly surprised. Your mileage might vary depending on yours. To put you at ease, this is the only movie in the Transformers franchise (Michael Bay is only producing this time) that clocks in below two hours and the least expensive to make (although 102-128 million still sounds very expensive to most of us). The result is a movie that is a lot more focused on character development than making a big explosion. I dare say that even the CGI looks a lot better. Still, I’ve got a few things to say so strap yourself in.
Director Travis Knight has opted to make a movie about the relationship between Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld) and the title character Bumblebee (pretty decent CGI) in a way that reminds us of other 80’s classic properties, most notably E.T. This is the part where I have to mention Steven Spielberg is one of the producers. This is not accidental, the entire movie is set in 1987. This won’t be something that you will forget, because the movie makes damn sure that you know you’re in the eighties every five minutes. Expect cassettes, posters and of course a cool eighties soundtrack all the way. This is one of the movie’s most notable strength and weakness. It can get to be too much at times.
The best thing the movie has going for it is Charlie with Bumblebee. The relationship works because of two fine performances here. One is Hailee Steinfeld, which plays the main character as a loner, a rebel and an expert mechanic. She might also be the first young female character that is not hyper-sexualized in a Transformer film. The fact that it took so many films to get this right is appalling. The movie does establish all her traits early on, making it obvious that she’s still not over the death of her Dad, that her mother doesn’t get her, that she’s a natural as a car mechanic and of course that she’s a fan of a proper rock band (The Smiths). Don’t worry, you won’t miss any of these facts. The film has a way to make sure all the proper checkboxes are checked so you never miss what each character’s role is.
The other performance is Bumblebee himself. The yellow bot tries its very best to play the adorkable part and I think it nails it a lot more on the quiet moments when it’s just Charlie and the robot. These times is when the movie shines, but unfortunately it also highlights the bluntness it conveys the rest of the movie. If you’re reading some sarcasm, you’re right. I did find the movie’s lack of subtlety a little patronizing sometimes. You can figure which is everyone’s role pretty early on, but it does feel like we’re going for an explanation aimed at a much younger crowd. I will say this, the director did find a way to tell us everything without going for narration. We know who the Autobots are, we know who the Decepticons are. Optimus Prime name will be dropped. He won’t be the only one you get to see though.
We get some short but sweet battle scenes direct from Cybertron that would almost make up for the trek to the theatre by themselves. Optimus Prime, Ratchet, Cliffjumper, Shockwave, Soundwave and Ravage appear clearly (we get to hear Soundwave say a few lines in his classic synthesizer voice). I’m also pretty sure I saw the three Seeker planes: Starscream, Skywarp and Thundercracker. All pretty sweet, but the scenes are short. The real villains that come chasing after Bumblebee are two new cons: Shatter and Dropkick which are triple-changers. There’s also supposedly another triple-changer early on, which is supposed to be Blitzwing. In short, you will get a lot of G1 goodness.
I wish they’d pick one ending. The movie ends several times. It has one scene after the goodbye, but then another one follows, then another one and it does seem we could’ve stopped at the first one. I do see why this is done, it does feel like we love this characters enough that we want to see them a little longer. To its credit, the movie has managed to make us care enough about them that we don’t mind but story wise, we’re dragging the ending longer than we need to. We don’t necessarily need to know what happens after the story is over. I guess they just felt we wouldn’t say no to some extra stuff.
Recommended with some reservations but you’re going to see it anyways. Seriously speaking, even if the movie is kinda blunt and keeps knocking you over the head with 80’s paraphernalia every other five minutes, this is pretty much the most enjoyable of all of the live-action Transformers CGI-fests we’ve gotten. It’s not all over the place and the relationship between Charlie and Bee is very believable even with CGI and all. There’s actual easter eggs and throwbacks to a lot of 80’s nostalgia lying around in the background. It’s an overall enjoyable movie which does a lot more justice to the Transformers than any of the movies that came before it. That is something worth seeing.
That will do for now.