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Remember when these things used to take themselves SOOOO seriously????…
We are now marking the era of a new kind of Transformers because while Bumblebee still has plenty of great action set pieces that are customary for the franchise but it actually dials down the world ending intensity and drama, doesn’t flatten any cities and actually has some genuine heart and earnest humor to it all.
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.
To put it simply, getting a new director into to the franchise is exactly what the Transformers franchise. With the wanton destruction of Michael Bay now taking a back seat, we get a fun adventure wrapped up inside of a coming of age story that still has plenty of larger than life action but also some characters that we can genuinely get behind and get emotionally invested in.
Make no mistake; Michael Bay still holds a producer credit on this film and there’s plenty of action to live up to his track record but with director Travis Knight in his first live action feature (you’d know his work previously on several of the Laika Animation productions) brings a genuinely softer touch to the affair while still paying reverence to the action on the screen.
Characters get a chance to breathe and the human element isn’t pushed to the background as a secondary player in favor of the flat out action. The script from writer Christina Hodson who had previously only given us some laughable efforts like the horror film Shut In or the psychological thriller Unforgettable hits the nail on the head giving us a young woman at the centre of a genre story that doesn’t look like she should be a Victoria Secret model.
The core of everything that happens in this film is actually incredibly grounded as we see Charlie struggle with genuinely complex emotions in her fight to evolve, not only as a young woman but as a human being as well. She’s a fish out of water in this California beach town and in a movie produced by Michael Bay to see that actually be celebrated is a wonderful thing. Knight and Hodson actually make sure that the human drama comes first…and the encounters with the alien robots actually play a secondary (yet important) role in all that…rather than the other way around like we have already seen ad nausea in the first five Transformers movies.
Don’t get us wrong, all of those previous films certainly serve their purpose, but with this sequel we don’t necessarily get a throwback moment to the cartoon series of the 1980’s but we do get a reminder that it’s OK to have fun with stories like this and that the fate of the city, country, planet or universe don’t ALWAYS have to be in the balance. Smaller stories can still pack a hell of a punch.
Hailee Steinfeld is finally coming into her own after living a good portion of her life on the big screen especially after memorable performance in 2010’s True Grit when she was only 14 years old. Here as Charlie she is playing a magnetic young woman who is bucking the sociality norms of the time and proud of it, but is still a woman at her core. Steinfeld walks both lines with ease and aplomb if only because she can still draw off the emotions of trying to become your own person that are fresh in her memory. She’s got the charisma to carry a film and then some as she firmly ensconces herself as a leading lady on the rise.
John Cena was pretty fun here as Agent Burns, getting to be a bad guy without having to lean into it too much, much like Steinfeld’s character he more or less gets caught up in a misunderstanding of epic proportions as the action all unfolds. Cena has slowly but surely earned his chops and has earned his way out of cameos and straight to video affairs as a real deal bankable Hollywood star. The likes of John Ortiz, Pamela Adlon and Jorge Lendeborg Jr all round out the ensemble well enough, but this Steinfeld’s movie and she carries her weight better than some in previous Transformers films.
The picture and the sound quality on the 4K Blu-ray are top notch as expected as it brings a big noise to the small screen action. The special features include a dive into the ‘Sector 7’ Archive, several deleted and extended scenes, outtakes, a quick look at all the different Transformers in the film and a 5 part making of Bumblebee.
It’s not the Transformers movie that anyone may genuinely expect, but in this day and age Bumblebee just might be the one that we need. It’s a strong, female driven action film frame in a coming of age narrative, and it works pretty damn well. We need more popcorn cinema like this.