Movie Review: Bumblebee (Spoilers!)

To be honest, when I first heard that they were making “Bumblebee”, I didn’t want to watch it, given the track record of every “Transformers” movie except for the very first one. However, that changed when I saw the first trailer and learned that Travis Knight, the director of one of my favorite movies, “Kubo and the Two Strings”, would be helming it. I started to become cautiously optimistic about it, and I’m glad that it didn’t disappoint. It was a surprisingly solid movie with the best live action Transformer designs yet, great fight scenes, and a great performance from Hailee Steinfeld. (Also, I’m glad that this was my first movie of the year!)

“Bumblebee” was directed by Travis Knight, with a screenplay written by Christina Hodson. It is the first in the “Transformers” film franchise not to be directed by Michael Bay, and serves as a prequel to his movies, or a soft reboot of the franchise (not sure yet which one it is supposed to be.) This movie was released on December 21, 2018 in the United States, but was only released last week in the Philippines, as December and the first week of January is reserved for our annual Metro Manila Film Festival.

Image Source: Bumblebee Facebook Page

The movie opens on Cybertron, in the middle of a battle between the Decepticons and the Autobots, which the Autobots were losing. After telling the others to escape, Optimus Prime instructs Bumblebee to head to planet Earth to set up a base their before they can join him there. On Earth, in 1987, Bumblebee is met with resistance from a military squad led by Colonel Jack Burns (John Cena), and an attack by the Decepticon Blitzwing. Hurt, Bumblebee shuts down and transforms into a dilapidated yellow Volkswagen Beetle, and goes into hiding in a small car repair shop. While there, he meets Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld), an eighteen year old teenager who is still in mourning over her father’s death. Charlie and Bumblebee form a special bond with each other, and together with neighbor Memo (Jorge Landeborg Jr.), they work together to escape the military and two Decepticons who have also landed on Earth who are looking for Bumblebee, and later, work together to save the world as well.

One of the best things about this movie was that the storytelling and pacing were tight, and that it was a simple and straightforward story with no extra and unnecessary story lines to make the movie bloated. And because of this, the audience was really able to emotionally connect with both Charlie and Bumblebee, and the bond that they formed as the movie went on. Aside from this, I like the fact that everything was paid off well in an emotionally satisfying way in the end.

The movie’s director and main cast- Travis Knight, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., Hailee Steinfeld and John Cena
Image Source: Bumblebee Facebook Page

Travis Knight was definitely the right man for the job as he was able to hit all the right emotional beats needed for this movie to work, and also because he was able to respect the actual spirit of what the Transformers cartoon was. (The first few moments of the film were just spectacular, and I’m pretty sure that every hard core Transformers fan had been waiting to see something just like that.) The fight scenes weren’t just pieces of metal flying around, but you could actually see the moves they were doing against each other, each Decepticon and Autobot could be distinguished from each other, and each of them had a distinct personality.

I also loved the fact that this movie really felt like it really did come from the ’80s. It felt very lived in, and I also liked how this was a coming of age story meets the “Iron Giant” or “E.T.”, but in a way that stands on its own.

Both Bumblebee and Charlie felt like grounded characters from the get go, and also had character arcs that paid off well in the end. I loved the fact that Bumblebee’s personality was able to shine here as well, even though he can’t talk.

I also didn’t mind how campy and corny the military scenes were, because sometimes it felt like they were going for that ’80s campy vibe anyway, and it kind of worked within this universe as well.

“Bumblebee” was a fun and enjoyable movie, and if this is indeed a soft reboot for the franchise, I cannot wait to see its true potential unlocked by directors like Knight, and others that respect and love this franchise as well.

Now, you know the drill, from here on out, there will be spoilers!

As soon as the movie started, I knew that I was going to enjoy this movie all the way to the end with Knight’s direction, especially as he is someone who is a fan and understands what Transformers fans would want to see. The movie kicked off right on Cybertron, in the middle of an epic battle, and right from the start, you knew that this was going to be different as the designs reminded me of the old Transformer designs, and as you could actually distinguish the different Autobots and Decepticons fighting there.

Most of the movie was set on Earth, and focused on establishing that relationship between Bumblebee and Charlie, while grounding both of their characters as well. Because of this, we were able to emotionally connect to both of them as individual characters and the duo they were in this movie. Which allowed all of the emotional beats down the road, from the Bumblebee torture scene, to Charlie finally getting over not being able to dive since her father passed away, worked.

Image Source: Bumblebee Facebook Page

To be honest, Memo wasn’t really needed, but I do like the fact that unlike in most action movies, Charlie was able to dictate the pace of their relationship. In fact, she only gives him a peck on the cheek, and tells him that they are “not there yet” at the end when he tries to hold her hand.

I liked how we were given an explanation of how Bumblebee lost his voice and how he found it again by playing songs on the radio, and how Charlie’s experience with Bumblebee allowed her to rediscover her relationship with her own family (plus stepdad), and that she was also ready to start moving on from her father’s sudden death.

The action scenes were nothing short of fantastic, especially as you could really clearly see the moves that they were using against each other.

The military subplot wasn’t too overdone, unlike in the previous “Transfomer” films, which allowed the movie to remain simple and straightforward, and I loved the two new Decepticons that were introduced here as they had personality as well, instead of being just generic Decepticon fodder.

The ’80s soundtrack was great, the direction was great, and the acting was good across the board, especially from Hailee Steinfeld.

With this, “Bumblebee” is a good and promising new start for the Transformers franchise, as it somehow course corrects everything that was done in the past. I hope, that moving forward, they will be able to continue using this as a template to make better “Transformers” films, with the right directors and creative teams adapting great storylines from within the franchise itself.

Have you seen “Bumblebee”? What did you think about it? What ‘Transfomers” story lines would you like them to adapt in the future? Aside from Knight, who else would you like to see direct a movie within this universe? Let me know in the comments below!

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