There was a long time when I had no desire to see this latest installment in the Transformers franchise. I was intrigued by the idea of a prequel and that it wasn’t led by Michael Bay but it wasn’t enough to take the sour taste from my mouth. As trailers and posters released I found myself a bit more interested but still not excited. Then the film came out to reviewers and it was the first Transformers live action movie to receive a fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. I still wasn’t excited, the taste of rotten Michael Bay garbage was too fresh. There was no way that a Transformers movie could be good anymore.
Today I decided to give it a shot and it was worth it. It is now clear that Michael Bay needs to take a back seat with this franchise. Director Travis Knight did a fantastic job with this prequel to the Transformers Saga that we have come to know. He took a franchise that relied on visuals and action above all else and gave us a film with love-able characters, an interesting story and brought back the nostalgia from the cartoon.
Hailee Steinfeld (Enders Game, Pitch Perfect 3) knocks the role out of the park. Playing the role of Charlie, a teen girl almost to her 18th birthday, we see a young woman who is processing the loss of her father, listens to awesome 80’s tunes, and loves cars. From the opening moments we get to know her character at a deeper level than we ever got to know Shia Labeouf’s character Sam. Rather than a horny teenage boy with little charm we get a young woman who has attitude, real feelings and is relatable. She isn’t obsessing about getting into Megan Fox’s pants but instead working a job, going to school and trying to fix the old car her and her father had been working on.
It is on her birthday that she meets Bumblebee. As we learn in the trailer, she gets the run down bug not knowing it is actually an alien from another planet. They form an instant bond and within about 10 minutes of seeing them together I was convinced that this should just be a separate universe because Charlie and Bumblebee has a far deeper bond than Sam and B ever had. The films dives into that relationship rather than focuses on Allsparks or other Transformer lore. Don’t get me wrong, all of that is fun stuff from the TV show but Bumblebee instead focuses on character development and relationships. Late into the second act I was actually thinking I didn’t want to see any action. Instead I wanted to keep seeing Charlie and Bumblebee hang out together and develop a friendship.
The character building was so good compared to the other films in the franchise that it felt like the main arc of the film was actually secondary to the story. When the third act came around and the action picked up I was entertained but more so because of the build up of relationships. This is how a film should feel. The audience should care about the characters and their relationships so that the peril they experience later on means something.
Bumblebee isn’t without its flaws though. While I have been showering it with exorbitant praise a big stain on the film is John Cena. I like Cena as a comedic actor and he is ok as an action hero but he was bad here. A high ranking military officer he is constantly trying to destroy all Autobots, most notably Bumblebee. This itself isn’t bad but the writing and acting mesh so poorly that it was distracting. Cena’s character Agent Burns is boring, bland and uninteresting. We don’t learn anything of substance about him other than that he loves his country. This alone isn’t enough to make his character engaging to watch.
The CGI and special effects are spot on and what we have come to expect from massive blockbusters like this. Refreshingly the action was not over the top and excessive like the other films in the franchise. There were explosions, heavy hitting Autobot fights and more but it was enough rather than too much. These moments fit into the story to help tell the story being offered rather than being there to help audiences be more interested in between moments of incoherent nonsense like we saw in the last two Transformers films.
The small cast, grounded approach and focus on characters and relationships elevate Bumblebee above its peers. The connection I felt for the main characters made this film extremely fun to watch and one that I look forward to owning at a later date. It has enough action and visual fidelity that I look forward to a second viewing in 4K but not so much that it feels like it is there to make up for the lack of a story. The 80’s aesthetic was a lot of fun and gave us call backs to plenty of nostalgia in the form of products, style, music and more. Bumblebee is far from perfect with the extremely distracting John Cena character Agent Burns but the lovely relationship between the titular character and Hailee Steinfeld’s Charlie was enough to make this a much watch this season.
4 out of 5 Couch Cushions!!!