“Every adventure has a beginning.” A movie tagline that speaks truth, but which, more than likely, has been used multiple times whenever an origin story is concerned. For the Transformers franchise, it rightly falls to the beloved yellow Autobot Bumblebee to tell the tale. The announcement that yet another instalment of the series was set to be released filled this writer with dread, and one may be forgiven for instantly placing a red flag over what is presumably destined to become another Michael Bay “bang, crash, wallop, we have ourselves a movie” production. But friends, do not fear, for Travis Knight, director of the Oscar-nominated Kubo and the Two Strings, has been handed the reins on this one, and with Christina Hodson behind the script, the outcome is a nothing short of a lovely and entertaining sci-fi spin-off.
Cybertron, home of the Transformers, has fallen and Optimus Prime has sent Bumblebee off in search of a new planet for the Autobots. After crash-landing on Earth in 1987, the titular hero finds himself immediately hunted by a US military unit lead by Agent Burns (John Cena). After barely escaping with his life, Bumblebee flees into hiding in a junkyard, disguised as a VW Beetle, until he is discovered by Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), an 18-year-old struggling to find her real purpose in a world that has taken so much from her. Together, the two learn to build up their confidence and capabilities, but little to their knowledge, Decepticon Hunters are hot on the Autobot’s tail.
Unlike previous Transformers movies, this film takes a more scaled-back approach, following a high-intensity and pulse-raising prologue with a gentler, nostalgic story about friendship and survival against various trials and tribulations. It can certainly be confirmed that the lack of Bay has freed the origin story from the failings of its predecessors, though that is no less down to the powerful lead performance of Steinfeld, alongside her Autobot counterpart – who has been animated with intricate detail and attention. The world in which the duo fight their personal battles together does not have bugs crashing down whenever a robot fight ensues, and instead, greater character development sees a strong backstory for Charlie, her pain eased by her new robot friend. When people are looking for heart, Transformers are able to bring warmth to the world, a notion evermore present in this feature. Even Cena’s customary military officer – who delivers more than a few cheesy one-liners – adds to the story by offering a number of perfectly timed comic gags to lighten even the darkest of rooms: “They literally call themselves Decepticons; does that not raise any flags?”
As expected with a Transformers film, the cinematography and CGI is nothing short of spectacular, something that can always be guaranteed. Then there is the soundtrack – an outstanding mix of 80s classics which are inserted masterfully without saturating the film. Impressive care has been taken with where these songs (and remixes) have been placed in the picture and for how long they are played, an intricate detail that undoubtedly helps portray the mood and ambience in every scene, while – of course – giving Bumblebee his trademark voice.
Despite plot similarities with Steven Spielberg’s ET, this reviewer can quite confidently say that Bumblebee is the best Transformers film since the first release in 2007, and given the number of movies that followed on from that date, perhaps this is a sign that the franchise is turning a corner for the better, learning from past mistakes and looking on to the horizon with optimism and hope.
Bumblebee is released nationwide on 24th December 2018.
Watch the trailer for Bumblebee here: