No matter the quality of a Transformers film, the ‘transforming’ sequences are always the most gratifying. From my younger age to my current age, I never tire of these glorified VFX fests featuring a robot turning into a car or a robot turning into a plane or a robot turning into a tank and so on. Even this clunky motorized sound effect that accompanies the swooshing transformation is always immensely satisfying. To draw this obtuse introduction to a close, my enjoyment of the Transformers films starts and ends with “but that whoosh noise when the robots do the thing!” And that’s it. So when I hear a standalone film starring Bumblebee is actually getting solid praise my ‘AllSpark’ was … ‘sparked’.
Eighties: Picking the 1980s was a genius move for the creators as the energetic nature of music, movies, and videogames are exactly the punch Bumblebee needed to revitalize an exhausted franchise. Furthermore, casting youthful and vibrant Hailee Steinfeld is definitely the right decision in passing the overly serious attitudes of Shia LaBeouf and Mark Wahlberg. Even Director Travis Knight is a more than welcome addition to the cast as his endeavors into wondrously luscious stop-motion giant Laika Studios have proven wildly successful. I felt Bumblebee was heading into a lighter direction and straying from these dramatic ‘end of the universe’ set pieces. And, after watching the film, was overall pleased with the chosen direction albeit a tad wobbly.
Buzzing: We find Bumblebee secluded in a scrapyard disguised as a yellow Volkswagon Beetle as opposed to his usual Camero. Found and fixed by Charlie (Steinfeld), the pair form a friendship – Charlie finding someone to listen to her and Bumblebee as someone to help evade the potential government threat. Inevitably, a Decepticon danger land on earth and, with the help of the government, attempt to track down Bumblebee. This generic tale of teen meets extra-terrestrial is elevated by the spectacular SFX surrounding Bee as even his most acute facial expressions are so human-like making for interactions with Charlie feel more genuine. And somehow the chemistry between a human and mute robot shines. Well, not entirely mute. Bee utilizes his radio to talk through The Smiths and a-ha.
Stop-motion Nation: Like many others, I feel that the fight scenes in previous Transformers are messy clashes of robot porn erupting in sparks and fire and who knows what. Coming away from them, I’d feel boredom and usually a headache. Knight, being an advocator for stop-motion, makes the action sequences look and feel much more coherent. Transferring the fluidity of stop-motion onto a robot battle improves the flow of the action and makes the punches hit harder. Knight has a knowledge for precise camera movements which complements the edits creating a satisfying and enjoyable experience.
Downgrade:Bumblebee loosens the constraints of the franchise by forming a tighter and self-contained film. But, whilst the constraints are loose, they still hold back in terms of generic narratives, under-developed side characters, and sub-par dialogue reminding audiences that this is part of the bigger Transformers universe which it can’t escape from. Even the bubbliness of the aesthetic and Hailee Steinfeld can’t save Bumblebee from the mediocrity of Transformers live-action.
Let’s trade every Shia and Marky Mark performance with Hailee Steinfeld in the future.