Throwback in disguise.
Within the first 15 minutes of this Transformers origin story-slash-possible-reboot directed by Travis “Kubo & The Two Strings” Knight, I was in heaven. The battle for Cybertron between the Autobots and Decepticons. Soundwave doing his minion cassette ejecting thing, Shockwave issuing commands to the Seekers and the troops, Bumblebee and Optimus fighting valiantly and retreating strategically. Bumblebee being a fugitive at Earth and accosted by Blitzwing who looks like Starscream for some reason. It took us 11 years until a live-action movie got it right.
I do love my G1 Transformers and the nonsense that came with it – I was a huge fan of Vinnie DiCola’s music work in the Transformers movie and even went so far as to scour DVD volumes of the Transformers Headmasters/Masterforce Japanese episodes, among other things a Transformer mark would do.
Which is why it’s a tad disheartening that the rest of the movie is going back to the formula set by Michael Bay’s template.
Stop Me If You Think You’ve Heard This One Before
Human outsider protagonist (played by Hailee “Spider Gwen” Steinfeld) feels underappreciated by her family, she listens to the cool stuff like The Smiths to remind audiences that the film’s in the 80s, she ends up getting a vintage yellow Volkswagen as a gift for her birthday who ends up being Bumblebee, they bond, and they have the army looking for him.
Why? Because a bunch of Decepticons (red and blue ones; I know they’re called Shatter and Dropkick, but the colour-coding made it easier to distinguish the two) are hunting down Autobots all across the galaxy for Optimus Prime’s location. Somehow their not-so-subtle and imposing disposition managed to fool the US Army’s Sector 7 division into helping them. Everyone except John Cena’s no-nonsense-but-gold-hearted Jack Burns who sells the role as a sorta-antagonist who turns face as expected in these films. I have to point out it’s pretty hilarious that he’s the only one in Sector 7 who thought that the Decepticon moniker raises a ton of red flags.
Is the formula stale and full of fluff? Yes, but to the film’s credit, the film doesn’t take itself too seriously and does go over the top. The action scenes are well-edited; I can actually keep track over which robots are fighting who. Side characters Memo (the supposed love interest), Sally the mom and her new husband Ron, and the stepbrother Otis played their parts adequately and don’t come off as grating.
Cena himself is a riot to watch as he balances badassery and comedy as a commander in an 80s action film. And kudos to Travis Knight for not following the Michael Bay template by adding in racist robot elements, “parents taking pot” gags and pissing jokes.
This Charming Man
Most importantly, Charlie is likeable and has good chemistry with Bumblebee. Perhaps a little too good.
Without spoiling the film, there are a couple of scenes where Charlie touches Bumblebee’s robot face as he gets close to her. There’s even a bit where she asks if he wants to be fixed while saying the words “I’ll be gentle,” followed by her laying him down on his back and putting her hands inside him.
This is also capped off with a quiet moment where Charlie’s backstory is revealed to the bot while Sam Cooke’s “Unchained Melody” plays, right to a choreographed bit where Bumblebee pulls her close while the music peaks on “I need your love.”
I don’t know about you, but I do get a Shape of Water vibe between the two, albeit in PG form. There are even a few scenes that look a little too similar to some shots from that film where Sally Field’s character and the fishman interact and initiate “the gaze”. The kind that leads to R21 scenes that end with either one of them puffing a cigarette. Or each other.
Let that thought sink in as you sit through Bumblebee right after you enjoy the plethora of action and explosions, the genuinely laid-out 80s soundtrack featuring Simple Mind and good ol’ Stan Bush, and the typical “car robot fudges up real-life scenarios and suburban settings” comedy bits. That’ll at least make you ponder, or writhe in horror, while you sit through this decently-made Transformers film that skims most of the bulls***.
Long story short: popcorn flick fun for all ages, but try not to think too hard about it if you want to keep your mind sane.