Ever since the debut of the first live action Transformers movie, fans of the animated series have been clamouring for a proper interpretation of these beloved robots in their original disguise, instead of the computer generated mess that has plagued our movie screens since 2007.
In that respect, Bumblebee delivers with an opening scene that harkens back to 1987 and the very first episode of the Transformers cartoon. It plants you right smack in the middle of the Cybertronian war which eventually forced the Autobots to leave their home planet.
You’ll glimpse a host of familiar first generation one and next generation characters like Rachet, Arcee, Cliffjumper, Soundwave, Shockwave and Starscream, along with Optimus Prime in his classic Freightliner FL86 design.
Unfortunately, while fan service is a great hook for lovers of the original movie, it cannot carry a film alone. Bumblebee’s treatment of the Transformers franchise is a departure from the over-the-top Michael Bayhem spectacles (see our review of *shudder* The Last Knight), but it still suffers the same trappings of sorely underdeveloped characters and equating caricature with personality.
While on the run, Bumblebee the Autobot seeks refuge in a junkyard in a small California beach town. That’s where he meets 18-year-old Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld, channelling the misunderstood teen perfectly and a true delight to watch), who quickly finds herself caught between government forces and, of course, the Decepticons.
In a nutshell: the movie attempts to apply John Hughes sensibilities to what essentially is an action film about giant robots. It is a very odd pairing which probably sounded like a good idea on paper but doesn’t translate well to the big screen.
My main problem with the film is that the character arcs basically lead nowhere and the characters do not really factor into each other’s journey. For example, Charlie tries to overcome the loss of her father by finishing the car that they both were working on before he died, but abandons that completely when she finds a beat up old Volkswagen Beetle i.e. Bumblebee laying in a junkyard.
Bumblebee is tasked by Optimus Prime to protect Earth and it’s inhabitants but he doesn’t seem to mind that they die at his hands or the hands of his enemies. There is even a token Latino friend/love interest (Jorge David Lendeborg Jr) who has little use beyond comic relief, which is also the same fate for John Cena’s character Agent Burns.
I understand the filmmakers’ desire to bring back some of the magic of their childhood, but they were so focused on recreating the nostalgia of the 80’s that they missed out on a great opportunity to tell a heartwarming tale about a girl and her robot friend.
Just take a page from The Iron Giant and you have the makings of a solid film. If you need references on how to balance action and heartwarming buddy robot antics, just fire up Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
Bumblebee is one of my favourite characters from the animated series and its other iterations and while there are pockets of true hilarity, the film feels half baked as it tries to be too many things at once. Yes, we know that the filmmakers wanted to channel John Hughes into this movie with the blatant references to The Breakfast Club but it does the movie no favours when it is done without a clear narrative.
Nevertheless, Bumblebee is still the best Transformers live action movie to date, which is already saying a lot thanks to the ultra low bar that Michael Bay set with his previous movies.
Bumblebee is playing in Singapore theatres now. Tell us what you think of the movie!