Review by J.T. Johnson
What happens when you take director Michael Bay out of “Transformers”? You finally get a film that is not only good but is true to the original Transformers from the 1980s. The irony is that the new film isn’t even called “Transformers” and “Bumblebee” is the sixth film in the franchise.
Set in 1987, a massive war is being fought between the Autobots and the Decepticons. Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) sends Bumblebee to Earth in order to establish a base where the Autobots can temporarily hide. Unfortunately, he is followed by a couple of Decepticons and while he manages to subdue them, Bumblebee is injured with his memory banks damaged and his voice taken away from him.
Some time later, teenager Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld) is looking through a junkyard in order to work on the broken down car that she used to work on with her father. She finds a Volkswagen Beetle with a familiar yellow paint job. Once Bumblebee reveals himself, a friendship forms between the two but it is threatened not only by more Decepticons but also agents from Sector 7 led by Jack Burns (John Cena).
The best possible compliment I can say about the movie is that it is a great mashup of “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” and “Transformers”. It follows the familiar 1980s tradition of a teenager that encounters something not of this world that sends them on a fun adventure. The movie also does a great job of providing some great ‘80s nostalgia with references to famous music of the decade and to movies such as “The Breakfast Club”.
The greatest part of this nostalgic ride, though, is that it stays true to the original Transformers that we all grew up with. It was great seeing an Optimus Prime that actually looked like the Optimus we remembered rather than the jumbled mess of metal that also looks like an unrealistic hot rod version of an 18-wheeler.
The one thing that the films in this series have always had going for them was that the special-effects are always on point. This film is no different and may be the best yet. The action sequences are amazing to watch and part of that is the restraint that is shown compared to the over-the-top insanity found in the previous films.
Another problem with the previous films has been in the human department. In fact, in past films, the human characters are often less emotional and unrealistic when compared to their robotic CGI counterparts. Part of this has to do with the fact that screenwriter Christina Hodson actually wrote a character that I actually cared about.
Charlie Watson has the traditional teenage story of a girl that has suffered a significant loss before the film and Bumblebee arrives to inadvertently help her get through these tough times. While it may not stray too far from that formula, Hodson works very well within these parameters. The other reason Charlie’s story works is that they also got a great actress to take the part.
Steinfeld breathes life into her character and is completely convincing when she befriends Bumblebee. She brings the emotional weight needed and is also great during the action sequences. Thanks to her and Hodson, Charlie is character that I would actually like to see again should the franchise pick her story back up in the future.
As mentioned before, “Bumblebee” finally sets the live-action “Transformers” series on the right track. I don’t know what Paramount’s future plans currently are beyond this point, but they definitely have a good example to follow with this action-packed tale that also doesn’t forget to have a heart.