Movies for Breakfast BUMBLEBEE Review
Transformers are back on the big screen, and this time it is actually good!
On the run in the year of 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard in a small Californian beach town. Charlie, on the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, discovers Bumblebee, battle-scarred and broken.
After five movies with Michael Bay, the Transformers property has gotten a new director in Travis Knight. He previously directed the animated film Kubo and the Two Strings, so I have been personally excited to see what he could do with the Transformers property given how that movie turned out. It is truly refreshing to have someone else sitting in the director’s chair for a Transformers movie. By the 10-minute mark the feel of the movie is already completely different than the previous iterations. The writing for Bumblebee was handled by Christina Hodson, who is now also working on the upcoming Birds of Prey movie for Warner Bros. Being a prequel, there is no expectation to relay any of the events of the previous movies, and the focus is entirely on Bumblebee on Earth in the 1980’s. As such Bumblebee introduces us to a new human protagonist in Charlie Watson, played by Hailee Steinfeld, who assists Bumblebee throughout the film.
The movie starts off on Cybertron which is easily my favorite scene in any Transformers movie to date. The look of Cybertron and the old 80’s cartoon designs of the Transformers, both Autobot and Decepticon, as they battle out on the planet. It is reminiscent of the scenes on the planet during the original run of the cartoon. This scene alone makes me wish we could see a full movie taking place on Cybertron. The action-packed robot on robot battle was fun to watch before getting to the more one on one battles we will see the rest of the movie. While the beginning of the movie throws a lot of characters and cameos on screen with a lot of action, the rest of the movie is a drastic yet welcome change of pace. Throughout the remainder of the film the focus is on three Transformers, our hero Bumblebee and two Decepticons Shatter and Dropkick. Bumblebee has been sent to Earth to sustain is as a base for the Autobot refugees, while Shatter and Dropkick are tracking down the refugees and discover Earth. The smaller cast of Transformers really makes it easy to follow the different characters in Bumblebee, with designs that stand out instead of generic grey models. The two Decepticons aren’t treated like generic villains, instead we get to know their personality with their interactions with the humans.
Was it mentioned that this movie takes place in the 80’s? Because while watching this movie there is no way for anyone to forget. Every reference made is there to remind the viewer that everything happening is in the 80’s. People are watching Alf, all the songs that play are from the 80’s, there is mention of the cold war, references to a web of technology interconnecting in the future. While it does help put the viewer in the space of when this movie takes place, it does so in an overbearing way. Nearly every 10 minutes a reference is made to get the point across that this is the 80’s. While it is appreciated that they made sure to keep consistent, some of the references feel a little forced. Bumblebee does have some scenes that are done very well with pushing the 80’s tone. The music alone is a good blast from the past and does make the movie feel different than its predecessors. The writing for the Bumblebee does bring this world to life, but still suffers a bit in other aspects. A lot of the dialogue between Charlies family comes off as very fake. Even the way characters react and express emotion to each other comes off as unbelievable at times. The dialogue scenes in this movie are hit or miss, while some are strong and make an impact, others ruin the moments surrounding it. Even going as far as having characters make statements or comments purely just to let you know they are a bad person. It would have been nice to cut some of the dialogue between Charlie and her family, as the theme that she is an outcast from her family is repetitive.
Bumblebee plays out exactly like a breakup letter to the previous Transformers movies. Everything from the original designs being brought to life, the use of a much smaller cast to drive the plot, and even the sense of a smaller scale everything works towards. While the earth is in danger, there isn’t some grand battle with an army, it is Bumblebee stopping two Decepticons from sending out a transmission about the Earth. While the plot is simple, it’s the nice kind of simple. It gives chance to appreciate every moment that is happening on the screen instead of everything being blended together between different parts of a massive battle in a giant city landscape. The fight scenes are easily some of the best seen in the series so far. The number of explosions is also downplayed a lot in this movie compared to others in the series, while the action scenes of transformer on transformer violence is brought to new heights. Instead of everyone using lasers and explosions, the battles feel like they pack more punch to them as they are more physical. We get to see one on one battles between these Transformers as they use their environment and abilities to get the upper hand, instead of relying on explosion after explosion. It is easy to follow the action of every fight and doesn’t rely on constant jump cuts to make it seem like something is happening.
Typically, the human aspect of the Transformers series has been one of the weakest ones. There isn’t much that the humans really do to help in the situations the transformers are in, but for Bumblebee the humans seem to have some impact. For starters Charlie Watson is highly proficient in mechanics and can help repair parts of Bumblebee. When she first is introduced to the Volkswagen transformer she repairs him from a nonworking state. Aside from there are scenes in the film showing her try and help repair Bumblebee from the damage he sustained in the opening scenes of the movie. Sadly, the military outfit still feels as useless as ever. Their weapons seem to have almost no effect on any of the transformers except for scenes of inconsistency when they are able to perform damage. It does help put into perspective just how powerful the Transformers are, but they almost come off as completely useless in most scenes. Given that this movie takes place as the first bit of contact any humans have had with the Transformers though, its easy to give this a pass as they would not have technology capable of putting a dent in any of them. It does take away from some of the tension scenes are meant to bring when they are involved in a battle though, knowing there is nothing they can really do.
Bumblebee is a very welcome change to the Transformers franchise. After seeing The Last Knight, I had all but given up on the franchise as a whole. Bumblebee shows that there is still hope for the series on the big screen though. The writing is not always the best, but the characters and action scenes well make up for it. Given the smaller scale of the movie it feels a lot more personal, and there is an actual opportunity to get to know every character with influence in Bumblebee. Let alone the action scenes are some of the best we have seen from the Transformers film series up to this point. The human protagonist of Charlie Watson even feels helpful in a way compared to the likes of Sam Witwicky and especially Cade Yeager from the previous films. Bumblebee has sparked new interest in seeing where the world of Transformers can go on the big screen. In 2017 I never thought I would say this, but I cannot wait for the next Transformers movie.