"Bumblebee" Movie Non-Spoiler Review
"Bumblebee" Movie Non-Spoiler Review
Release Date: December 8, 2018 (early screening); December 21, 2018 (mass United States release)
Run time: 1h 53min
Director: Travis Knight
Cast: Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr., John Ortiz, Jason Drucker, Pamela Adlon, Stephen Schneider
On the run in the year 1987, Bumblebee finds refuge in a junkyard in a small Californian beach town. Charlie (Hailee Steinfeld), on the cusp of turning 18 and trying to find her place in the world, discovers Bumblebee, battle-scarred and broken. When Charlie revives him, she quickly learns this is no ordinary, yellow VW bug.
Tragedy, loss and challenges in life can often define us. This holds doubly true for those fictional characters we call Heroes. As average, every day people living our lives, we want to see heroes rise above adversity in extraordinary ways. Meeting such challenges often forms the emotional core of a story and that is what "Bumblebee" does with aplomb.
Unlike past Transformers films, "Bumblebee" was brought to life by a new team including director Travis Knight (Kubo and the Two Strings) and writer Christina Hodson (Unforgettable). Michael Bay and Lorenzo Di Boneventura are still onboard as producers, but from a creative standpoint this film has a very new crew and that serves the film well. Blending an assortment of tropes from Transformers history, 80's Hollywood films and a soundtrack that will make any fan of the 80's smile, "Bumblebee" feels like a breath of fresh air and the result is funny, touching, action-packed and exciting all at the same time.
Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit, Pitch Perfect 3) plays Charlie Watson, a teenager who is trying to find herself again after a terrible loss. While the film has the shortest running time of all the Transformers films, it takes its time helping us get to know Charlie and see her struggles. This (and Steinfeld's fantastic performance) help you empathize and root for the character at the same time. Charlie may have an attitude, but at her core she is a good person who wants to do the right thing, and her journey through the film ultimately turns her into a hero.
In parallel, we find Bumblebee in less than ideal circumstances at the beginning of the film and (as seen in trailers) he has to do his best to avoid the human military organization Sector 7 as well as other humans who may not be as kind to him as Charlie. Bumblebee starts off very strong in this movie and then he goes through major changes which offer the emotional hook to the character for the rest of the film. By the time he and Charlie meet, we understand that both of these characters are linked by tragedy and we become eager to follow them on their journey to save the day and find themselves in the process.
These two storylines were perhaps the biggest surprise of the film. From their foundation, there is a spring of funny, optimistic and fun scenes that have nothing to do with combat or who has the bigger cannons. The comedy in the film is light-hearted and almost every single gag drew big laughs from my audience. One of this film's strengths is that it gives us time to care about Charlie and Bumblebee even as a neferious plot builds in parallel involving the Decepticons Dropkick and Shatter.
Speaking of characters, Dropkick and Shatter are amazing. Both characters have a very strong presence from the start of the film. Their first few lines of dialogue give us a good sense of their personality and it remains consistent throughout the film. They are both deliciously evil. Angela Bassett (American Horror Story, Mission Impossible: Fallout) does an amazing job giving Shatter a voice that is commanding and dripping with insincerity as she hatches a plan to deceive the humans into helping her. Acting as a grumpy, violent counterpoint to Shatter is Dropkick, who manages to be funny and scary at the same time. Actor Justin Theroux (Maniac, The Leftovers) gives Dropkick the perfect voice as he grumbles and yells his way through the movie seemingly frustrated all the time. It is so incredibly rare for Decepticons (who are not named Megatron) to get this level of attention in a Transformers film that it was almost shocking, but absolutely welcome.
Special shout out to David Sobolov as Blitzwing, who appears early on in the film in a powerful battle scene. Sobolov has been with the Transformers franchise since the "Beast Wars Transformers" era and it is wonderful seeing that legacy continue onto the big screen!
So emotional hooks and robots with actual personalities are one thing, but I know that for many fellow Geeks, we care about lore. We want to know about those aspects of Transformers history that make their way into stories like this, and I will say that in this respect the film delivers. Between the already revealed scenes on Cybertron, the use of many aspects of previous films (such as Sector 7) and name dropping at least one very Transformers-based term the film fully embraces elements of both previous live action films and the original 1980's cartoon.
From a technical standpoint, this film also delivers. There is a very different visual philosophy at work in this movie. Unlike previous films which generally opted for up close fights where you were in the "middle" of the fight, seeing only bits and pieces of the Transformers characters, this film goes in the opposite direction. Taking a cue from 80's action movies and even the G1 cartoon, the fight scenes are often done in wide shots with quick cuts to individual characters for reactions. This made the excellent fight choreography easy to see and follow and I was very impressed and grateful to see these robots in disguise shine on the big screen.
There is one question that has popped up over and over since this movie was announced: Is this a prequel or a reboot? Based on what I saw last night, this movie is a reboot in my opinion. There are some storytelling back flips you can do to make it a prequel, but I place this in the same category as "X-Men: First Class" which took some elements of previous "X-Men" films and worked them into a new narrative. This is a good thing, it offers the Transformers live action franchise a new direction to go in and by the end of the film there are a lot of possibilities for sequels.
A strong dramatic storyline, humor, awesome action and incredible special effects combine to make "Bumblebee" a must-see movie for Transformers fans. Look for a spoiler-filled review closer to the time of the film's mass release in the United States (December 21st).