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Directed by: Travis Knight
Starring: Hailee Steinfeld, John Cena, Jorge Lendeborg Jr.
Rated: PG-13 for Sequences of Sci-Fi Action Violence
Running Time: 1 h 54 m
TMM Score: 3.5 stars out of 5
STRENGTHS: Simplicity, Humor, Hailee Steinfeld, Lack of Michael Bay
WEAKNESSES: Some Dialogue, Predictable
Eighteen-year-old Charlie finds out her new car is actually a robot alien fugitive.
I was sixteen when “Transformers” hit theaters in the summer of 2007. I was that film’s target audience: a stupid teenage boy. While I would say that first entry in the franchise is at least passable, if not enjoyable (though that may be my remembrance through a rosy filter of nostalgia), beyond that first entry, the series is nigh unwatchable. I remember seeing the third film (“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” (2011)) in theaters with someone who was, at the time, my girlfriend. About halfway through the incredibly lengthy film (runtime 2 hours 34 min), I grew anxious (because the movie was total garbage), but I thought my girlfriend was enjoying it, so I said nothing and just waited impatiently for the credits. After we got out the movie, we discussed, and to my great surprise, I found that my then-girlfriend hated it as much as I did. She had also thought that I was enjoying the film, and stayed quiet on my account. So we had both stayed (in misery) thinking the other one was happy (come to think of it, that’s like a messed up metaphor for that whole relationship). That was my last encounter with the Transformers series. I hated “Dark of the Moon” so much I would’ve been happy to have never, ever, ever, ever, ever watched one of those movies again… I skipped the Marky Mark (“Boogie Nights”) entries, thinking I had had more than enough Optimus-induced headaches for one lifetime.
And then they announced “Bumblebee.” I thought to myself: why are Travis Knight (the Academy Award nominated director of “Kubo and the Two Strings”) and Hailee Steinfeld (Academy Award nominated actress- “True Grit” (2010), and “Edge of Seventeen”) wasting their talents on a stupid Transformers movie? And then the reviews started to come in, and they were generally positive. Still, I had no real intention of seeing this film, until an old film professor posted about how this film was everything a Transformers movie should’ve been.
I realized that I would have to see this movie, and let me say, that for the first time since the original entry, I’m actually happy I watched a Transformers movie. This is a far from perfect film, but it is superior to every other entry in the Transformers series by a long shot.
“They literally call themselves Decepticons. That doesn’t set off any red flags?”
After Cybertron falls, the Autobots must flee the planet and seek refuge amongst the planets of many different galaxies. The leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime, sends Bumblebee to planet Earth, but after Bumblebee is attacked, he is forced to hide, disguised as a yellow Volkswagen Bug. Eighteen-year-old Charlie (Steinfeld) discovers and befriends Bumblebee, and soon the two find themselves chased by a number of parties including two Decepticons, and US government Agent Burns (John Cena, “Blockers”). Charlie’s neighbor Memo (Jorge Lendeborg Jr, “Alita: Battle Angel”) tags along for a good portion of the adventure, whilst trying to win her affections.
There are goods and bads that come along with any sort of sci fi film with a plot as farfetched as this one. Honestly, as the Transformers started off as toys made by Hasbro, it should be no surprise to anyone when I say that the premise for these films are slightly childish (don’t hate me- I don’t say that as a bad thing). I mean, think about it- sentient futuristic machine-aliens that have the technology to travel through space and disguise themselves as any mechanized thing they want and, for some reason, they all decide to transform into Earth’s primitive transportation vehicles. It doesn’t make too much sense if you think about it for too long, but at the same time, I understand why a lot of people love it. If I were to have grown up in the 80s watching The Transformers TV Show, I can guarantee I would feel completely different about the series than I do now.
As it is, I didn’t grow up watching Transformers. I have no biases one-way or the other towards the series, but I feel that a movie like this, will, for some people, drip nostalgia. It’s impossible to say how the individual viewer will feel when watching it; I personally thought this was far better than it had any right to be, but it’s still a 3.5/5 star movie for me. At the same time, I gave “Alita: Battle Angel” 4/5 stars, and that film, for a lot of people, will be a 3/5 Star film. I guess what I’m trying to say is that with some films that teeter on the border of decent and good, it’s really the viewer’s preference. For me, this was a 3.5/5, but for your personal taste might render this film a 4.5/5. It’s certainly not a bad movie, and that’s the most important part.
I think the thing that made this movie work the most was Hailee Steinfeld. I have continually been impressed with what I’ve seen of her work (though I haven’t followed her career closely, I have seen her in a few things). There are plenty of cheesy lines and cheesier moments in this film, but somehow Steinfeld to make even the more cringe worthy moments feel genuine. One of the biggest problems with the original Transformers series is that it lacks any kind of heart. The series was always more concerned with how many things it could blow up and how big those explosions would be, while this film, for the first time since the first movie, seems a touch more grounded. The film is more about the relationship between Steinfeld’s character and Bumblebee than it is about blowing up San Francisco. By making us care about that relationship (even if that relationship felt a little funny at times) I found myself more invested in the story itself.
There are plenty of issues with this film. First of all, it pretty much follows the exact same storyline as the first film. Hailee wants a car more than anything, she gets a new car, and then she finds out it’s a Transfomer; that is the exact same journey Shia LaBeouf’s (“Fury”) character takes in the first film. The pacing feels very paint-by-numbers as well; I could almost pinpoint to the minute the moment another fight scene would begin. But, while I complain about the simplicity of the plot, I also think that simplicity worked in its favor. The last few Transformers movies I saw were so needlessly complicated in their plotlines that I found myself growing impatient, bored, and downright irritated. This movie is very simple and a touch predictable, but it also allows the characters time to grow on you. The whole plot of this film is pretty much: Bumblebee has to stop two Decepticons from sending a message to other Decepticons. It’s not a deep plot, but it’s better than “Dark of the Moon”, where I honestly couldn’t tell you what happened.
If you come to the Transformers movies just for the explosions, don’t worry, there’s plenty of that, but again, it’s far more grounded. The film really takes the time to lay out the stakes and stick to those stakes. It never goes off the rails, billions of people don’t die in the climax, and for that, I give this movie a ton of credit.
I didn’t expect to say this, but I liked “Bumblebee.” I don’t think it’s perfect, and just because I enjoyed this entry does that mean I’ll see the following entry. This was a rare good misstep for the Transformers series. They have had far more bad entries than good ones, but this might be the best one yet. Still, this is a franchise film, and it feels like a franchise film. When I say that this is the best Transformers movie, that doesn’t mean it will ever sit on my own personal movie shelf. While I’ve seen this movie once, and that was good enough for me, I could absolutely understand why someone else would fall in love with it.
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